Monday, November 30, 2009

In Walter Knott's Footsteps: Calico (1)

The little town of Calico, near Yermo, California, sprang to life with a silver boom. At it's peak the place had about 1,200 residents. But like most boom towns, things went bust. After a short but lively existance, from 1881 to 1896, Calico quickly faded into a "ghost town," as seen in the photo above.
In 1951, just ten years after opening his highly sucessful mock ghost town in Buena Park, Walter Knott purchased the entire real ghost town of Calico. He already had a couple personal links to the site. First, he had briefly worked as a carpenter during a short-lived scheme to revive one of Calico's mines. Secondly, Walter's uncle, lawman John C. King helped found Calico and was a key partner in its most productive mine: The Silver King.
The Knotts rebuilt many of the long-since-missing buildings in town, and added a few additional buildings they thought would help the tourist trade. Like Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm, Calico soon had a general store full of tourist tchotchkes, a saloon serving boysenberry punch, a train ride, a gussied-up mine to explore, mule rides, a "Mystery Shack," and much more. In the photos below you can see what the town looked like during Knott's reconstruction effort in the 1950s and what it looks like today. Note that both images are taken from a similar angle to the older image above.
Ultimately, government interference kept Walter from making Calico the kind of financial success he had hoped. In 1966, he gifted the whole town to the County of San Bernardino, and it became a regional park. Today, visitors can see all the layers of the site's history: From prehistoric rock formations, to silver mining boom town, to 1950s roadside attraction, to county historical park. All of it is fascinating. I'll share more Calico photos with you in the coming days.


Major Pepperidge said...

Love comparing the old photo with the photo from today, thanks!

What kind of government interference was involved (just out of curiosity)?

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Just wonderful Chris, thanks for more great photos and information.

I'm curious about the government interference too, not much going on out there except isn't there a military base pretty close by?

outsidetheberm said...

Great piece. Thanks, Chris.

On government interference - don't even get me started. One could write a book. It's incomprehensible until you've been there...

walterworld said...

Thanks for posting about Calico!

I remember becoming aware of Calico from the Vacationland magazines I read as a child in the 70's.

Very glad I was able to make a visit with my family back in 2004. My younger daughter and I rode the mine train and checked out the Mystery Shack, which was a whole lot of fun mainly due to the old-timer host who took us through the 'old' crooked house...

Hope to make it back some time :)

Let's Talk Knott's said...

I love Calico. Nice finish to your Walter K road trip.

Doug said...

Great post and outstanding photos.
I too have fond childhood memories of family visits to Calico.
I cut my archaeology teeth at the near by mining camp site of Waterloo. It is just around the corner from Calico, and was active at about the same time. There is great Southern California history and prehistory in this region.