Death Valley Ghost Towns in California

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Leadfield – Copper and lead claims had been filed in the Leadfield area as early as 1905 but it wasn’t until 1926 that the area was heavily mined. In February of that year, Charles C. Julian, a flamboyant California promoter, became president of the town’s leading mining company, the Western Lead Mines. Julian’s promotions were responsible for bringing great numbers of people into the area and in April, 1926 the town was laid out with 1749 lots. The financial downfall of Charles Julian and the playing out of lead in one of the main mines, led to the end of the town. Today, the area is scattered with mines, dumps, tunnels and prospect holes. There are remains of wood and tin buildings, a dugout and cement foundations of the mill. It is located on the Titus Canyon Road. This is a one way high clearance unpaved road that sometimes requires 4-wheel drive.

Lee, California/Nevada –  Also called Lee’s Camp, this place got its start after the wild Bullfrog rush in 1904 causing prospectors to flock over the region. Two of these prospectors were ranch brothers named Richard and Gus Lee, who decided to leave their ranch at Resting Spring, California and give prospecting a try. With the help of a man named Henry F. Finney, they soon found two gold ledges in November, 1904, which they named the State Line and Hayseed Mines, just inside California. As word got out, hundreds more flocked to the area in search of their fortunes and the Lee Mining District was formed in March, 1905. A few months later, in October, a similar condition existed on the west side of the Funeral Range, and the Echo Mining District was organized. The two districts, were then merged and became known as the Echo-Lee Mining District. Another man by the name of David M. Poste had found gold in the low hills east of the original Lee Camp in Nevada, and the Poste Mining District was formed on that side of the state line. Before long, two townsites were created to cash in on the boom, one in California and the other in Nevada. Both were called Lee, after the Lee brothers who had started the rush.

Within sight of each other straddling the state line, another addition grew up between the two called Lee Annex. As the two townsites were developed in January, 1907, the Bullfrog Miner observed, “it is claimed that a camp is never fairly certain of a good future until it has a townsite fight,” and such a fight was now on. The Nevada company promised to soon have a telephone connection, a corral, feed yard, a restaurant, rooming house, and, of course, a saloon. In California, the Lee townsite boasted a restaurant, a rooming house, saloon, and a general store by February. In the end, Lee, California would win out when the principal owner of the Hidden Treasure Mining Company and Lee, California promoter, struck pure water about three miles east of Lee an immediately announced plans to lay a pipe line and build a pumping station to bring the water into Lee, California. The district reached its peak the same year with about 600 residents and gained a post office.

However, by late in the year, the effects of the Panic of 1907 began to be felt in Lee and the decline began. Storekeepers and other merchants, who depended upon a steady flow of cash to stay solvent, bgan to leave in the first half of 1908, although there were still eleven mining companies active in the Echo-Lee District. By June, Lee had dwindled to only three stores, a saloon and a restaurant. Still, the town and the mines continued. But, not for long. The post office closed in 1912. Today, there is little left but empty mine shafts and tunnel, a few stone foundations, an old stone bridge, dugouts, a set stone walls, and much debris. It is located near the Nevada state line, at the eastern foot of the Funeral Range, 30 miles south of Rhyolite.

Lila C 1943

William T. Coleman’s, Lila C Mine, purchased in the early 1880’s, it was named for his daughter. Coleman never developed the mine and lost it to Francis Smith, when his finances collapsed in the late 1880’s. Smith incorporated it into the Pacific Coast Borax Company, but did not immediately work the mine as he was focused on the mine in Borate. However, when those ores were nearly exhausted, the company turned its attention to the Lila C, which would soon prove to be one of the richest in Death Valley. Development began in 1903 and they soon discovered three beds of colemanite 6-18 feet wide and at least 2500 feet long. Steam traction engines hauled ore to Manvel, 100 miles away, until 1907, when the Tonopah & and Tidewater Railroad reached the area. A spur from the railroad was then built to the Lila C, allowing for much cheaper transportation costs.

At that time, the camp’s name was changed to Ryan, in honor of John Ryan, a borax company executive. That same year a post office opened. The camp of Ryan peaked at about 200 people The opening of the Lila C. Mine caused the price of borax to drop 2 cents a pound to between 4 ½ to 5 ½ cents, causing a shutdown of the mine at Borate, as well as mines in Saline Valley and on Frazier Mountain. Through 1914, the mine would produce over $8 million in borax. With the mine playing out, the company town as well as its post office was moved to a site then called Devair and/or Colemanite. It too was called Ryan and the old Lila C, was then referred to as “Old Ryan.” The Lila C totally stopped production in January, 1915. It is located 6.25 miles southwest of Death Valley Junction. There is nothing left today except tailings.

Little Lake CA

Little Lake, California –  Still inhabited up until just the last few decades, Little Lake got its start as a rest stop for travelers long ago. Once called Little Owens Lake, it was first a seasonal marsh until it was dammed in 1905 as a part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system. While building the aqueduct, the Southern Pacific Railroad built the “Jawbone Branch” from Mojave to Lone Pine, which was completed in 1911. Standing in stark contrast to the black basalt lava formations surrounding it, the lake soon beckoned entrepreneurs who built a gas station, store, restaurant, and hotel at the south end of the lake. A post office was first opened in 1909, operating for two years, before being moved to Narka. In 1913, it was transferred back. In 1923, the Little Lake Hotel was opened doing a brisk business for tourists and sportsmen heading north to the eastern Sierras, or south towards urban Southern California. Old Highway 6/395 once passed right through the town, which thrived in the 1940’s-50’s. However in the mid 1960’s the highway was rerouted to the east behind the town, causing fewer visitors to stop.  In 1982, the railroad discontinued its line through the community, causing farther decline. In 1989 a fire ravaged the upper floor of the hotel, and it was closed. The post office closed its doors for the last time in 1997 and the following year the railroad tracks were torn up. In the summer of 1998, two flash floods wiped out what little was left to the town. Since then, the ruins have been removed and the old town is nothing but a flat place in the desert today. It was located 38 miles south of Keeler on U.S. Route 395.

Lookout City CA

Lookout City, California – In the Argus Range at the top of Lookout Mountain on the west side of the Panamint Valley, the Lookout District was formed in May, 1875. The principal mine was the Modoc which was bought in 1876 by George C. Hearst and other capitalists who formed the Modoc Consolidated Mines Co. of San Francisco. The mining camp that grew up around the mine consisted of two general stores, three saloons, company offices, and as many as 30 other wood and stone structures. Other mines were soon developed in the area below including the Minnietta Belle. At first the Modoc, Lookout, and Minietta ores were reduced in the Surprise Valley mill at Panamint City, but in the fall of 1876 Hearst had two 30-ton furnaces built at the Modoc Mine. Remi Nadeau, freighter for Cerro Gordo and Panamint City, built a road up the Panamint Valley from the foot of the Slate Range to the Modoc and Minietta mines and was soon hauling charcoal by wagons and mule back to the Modoc furnaces from the ten charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon.

The Minietta Mine operated on and off until 1915. In 1924 this silver-lead-gold mine was reopened and the Modoc Mine was leased. Their slag piles and dumps were reworked, yielding gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. In the mid-1930s the Minietta was leased and refinanced and a mill and modern equipment were to be installed. If gold and silver prices held, the future of the mine seemed bright. By 1938 the Modoc Mine had produced $1,900,000 worth of ore and the Minietta $1,000,000. Today there are several stone walls and foundations of the former townsite, as well as numerous mining ruins. Lookout is located on a mountain top about 15 miles southeast of Panamint Springs, California. It can only be accessed with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Loretto, California – Though mining in the area dated back to the late 1880’s, no actual development was completed until the early 20th century. Getting its start as a copper mining camp in 1906, Loretto boomed briefly along with other copper belt neighbors Ubehebe and Greenwater. Before long the camp boasted several sturdy stone cabins and businesses as well as about 150 people. The district even attracted the attention of steel magnate and mining investor Charles Schwab. A smelter was built, but the ore was found to be rich only near the surface and did not continue deeper. Soon, the camp was abandoned. In the 1970’s, the Bristlecone Copper Company came in to rework the mine dumps and built a modern smelter. It shut down in 1977. Today the area features a few stone walls, mining portals, and mining equipment. It is located off of Loretto Mine Road, southeast of Deep Springs, California.

Panamint City, California – Once called the toughest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town, Panamint City got its start after several bandits, who were using the area as a hide-out, discovered silver in Surprise Canyon in 1872. Read more HERE

The roof line of Scotty's Castle shows the Spanish Moorish influences, Dave Alexander

The roof line of Scotty’s Castle shows the Spanish Moorish influences, Dave Alexander

Scotty’s Castle – Located in Grapevine Canyon, the Death Valley Ranch, more popularly known as “Scotty’s Castle,” was the desert hideaway mansion of Chicago insurance magnate Albert Johnson. Serious construction started in 1925, and continued into the early 1930’s. However, Johnson’s insurance company went into receivership in 1933, a victim of the Great Depression, and work on the 8,000 square foot house was never completed. While Johnson financed the mansion, the site is more closely associated with Walter Scott, who was locally known as “Death Valley Scotty.” Close friends with Johnson, Scott often stayed at the ranch and after the Johnsons died, he lived there for the rest of his life. Today, it is administered by Death Valley National Park and the mansion and various out buildings can be toured   See Full Article HERE(check if open, read notes at end of article about recent flood-closing until 2020)

Skidoo, California – The ghost town of Skidoo, California in Death Valley was once a booming mine camp. Read more HERE

Willow Creek – The History of the once promising mining camps of Willow Creek and Gold Valley situated in Death Valley, California can be read about HERE

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June 2018.

Also See:

Death Valley Ghost Towns & Mines (index)

Characters of Early Death Valley

Death Valley, California

Death Valley Ghost Towns in Nevada

Desert Steamers in Death Valley


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