Calico Ghost Town – Yermo, California - Atlas Obscura

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Calico Ghost Town

A desert ghost town—occupied for only 12 years—was once home to more than 500 silver mines. 


Calico in Southern California is the ghost of an Old West mining town that boomed in the 1880s, and went bust only 12 years later when the price of silver plummeted. At its height, this town in the Mojave Desert had 3,500 residents, over 500 silver mines, and produced over $20 million in silver. That’s well over half a billion dollars in today’s dollars.

The name of Calico came from the patchwork of colors in the surrounding mountains. The town was established deep in the Mojave Desert with the opening of a post office in 1881. Silver was the name of the game in this boomtown, and boom it did – boasting at one time three hotels, five general stores, butchers, bars, at least three restaurants, and a boarding house. There was a newspaper, a schoolhouse, a Wells Fargo office, a sheriff, lawyers, and doctors. And lest they feel cut off from the rest of the world, Calico was bustling enough to have its own telephone and telegraph service.

But the boom-times didn’t last long, and after only 12 years, as the bottom fell out of the price of silver, the bottom fell out of Calico too. They tried to hold on, and borax for a time substituted for the shiny metal that had made Calico’s fortunes. But the Borax also gave out eventually, and by the turn of the 20th century the town was completely deserted. Several of the buildings were moved to nearby Barstow, and for several decades not much happened. But in the 1950s along came a man with a vision for Calico, and Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farm fame) bought up the whole place. He restored the town to mostly how it was, in certain cases rebuilding some of the old structures as they were back in the 1880s.

Since the rebuild by Knott, the old ghost town has been open to the public as a county park and museum of the Old West, frozen in time as it once was. Now a registered Historical Landmark, and a reminder of the hope of people who once followed their dreams to the frontier.  

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