You'll soon be able to stay in this historic California ghost town
Cerro Gordo is a California ghost town that was put up for sale this summer. That's according to Travel + Leisure. It has two new owners. One is Brent Underwood who owns a backpacker hostel in Austin, Texas. The other owner is his business partner, Jon Bier. The investors say they plan to refurbish the 22 buildings left standing while also adding 21st-century accommodations like Wi-Fi. They also plan to add more basic necessities, like, well, running water. Underwood tells NBC4 that their hope is “to maintain the historical nature of the property and respect the piece of history.”
During its heyday, Cerro Gordo was California’s largest producer of silver and lead. Some 4,800 people lived there the 1860s and 1870s. The bustling mining town proved itself to be a lucrative venture, but it also saw an average of one murder per week.
Then the mine shut down and by the early 20th century, Cerro Gordo had transformed into a desolate ghost town. Today, it remains abandoned. The only visitors are tourists that trek through the area to glimpse a relic of the Wild West. But the good news for history buffs is that Underwood and Bier have bought Cerro Gordo.
They will acquire more than 300 acres of land in Owens Valley south of the Sierra Nevada. The price was a cool $925,000. This included the mineral rights and 22 structures. A hotel, bunkhouse, superintendent’s house and several homes still stand on the property. That was according to the website that was set up prior to the sale of the property.
“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters and Mother Nature herself,” the listing read. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings. The rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”
The U.S. Army forcibly removed the native Paiute people that inhabited Owens Valley. This sent them south of Bakersfield to Fort Tejon in 1863. A prospector named Pablo Flores is recorded as discovering the area’s high-quality silver veins. Flores began mining and smelting operations in 1865.
The town was called Cerro Gordo, or “Fat Hill.” This was in reference to its abundance of silver. It really took off after the businessman Mortimer Belshaw arrived on the scene in 1868. He brought the first wagonload of silver from Cerro Gordo to Los Angeles. Cerro Gordo came to be known as a “silver thread” to the city. according to Cerro Gordo’s website, Belshaw built a “superior smelter as well as the first wagon road up the mountain.”
As gun-slinging workers flocked to the town, Cerro Gordo became the sort of place that gave the Wild West its reputation. “Miners lubricated with whiskey settled fights over women and politics with pistols. Claim jumpers tunneled into the base of the mountain from all sides, prompting more gunfights,” Cecilia Rasmussen wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2006.
“There was no genteel side of life here—no schools or churches—but Cerro Gordo had its charms.”
But in the late 1870s, the falling price of silver, coupled by a devastating fire in Cerro Gordo’s mine, brought activity in the town to a halt. Mining operations were started again in 1905, when Cerro Gordo was bought by the Great Western Ore Purchasing and Reduction Company. But the revival was short-lived; by 1920, only 10 men were employed in the mines.
For the past few decades, the tumbleweed town has been owned by members of a single family. They felt it was “the right time” to sell the site, Jake Rasmuson of Bishop Real Estate, which facilitated the sale of the property, told Emily Petsko reporting for Mental Floss.
The former owners ran tours of Cerro Gordo, which continued to operate until the town was sold. It will be up to new owners Underwood and Bier if they will continue the tours.
Rasmuson told Annabel Fenwick Elliott of the Telegraph that the owners did not place any restrictions on the purchase of the property, but hoped that the new owners would appreciate Cerro Gordo’s rich history.
Prior to the sale he said, "we would be more than happy to receive offers from any individual or group that will continue to care for this fantastic piece of history. We would really like to find buyers committed to preserving the integrity of Cerro Gordo."