Withstand the test of time
One of the best authentic 19th-century Old West mining towns in this region is California’s Bodie State Park, located three hours south of Carson City on the Nevada-California border.
Waterman S. Body (also spelled Bodey) founded the community that bears his name after gold was discovered in the region in 1859. It’s said the difference between his name and the town’s name is due to an illiterate sign painter, although some historians believe it was done to ensure proper pronunciation.
Within two decades, Bodie had grown to more than 10,000 residents. Along with the usual frontier town development, such as saloons (reportedly more than 65), churches, schools and union halls, the town also gained a reputation for lawlessness.
Murders were said to be so commonplace that the fire bell was used to toll the ages of the deceased as they were buried—and it rang frequently. There were also plenty of robberies, stage holdups and fights.
Despite its success, the town faded in the late 19th century and was largely abandoned (although the buildings were protected by caretakers) by the mid-part of the 20th century. A devastating fire in 1932 destroyed a large portion of the town.
In 1962, the California Department of Parks and Recreation acquired the site.
Visitors today will find a fairly extensive series of buildings and remains of old Bodie. Dozens of structures, ranging from homes to businesses still stand. Despite the large number of preserved structures, present-day Bodie represents only about 5 percent of the town at its peak.
From Memorial Day to the end of September, the Bodie Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving and interpreting the community, conducts regular guided tours. The tours are highly recommended because they are informative and provide an excellent overview of the town’s rich history.
For tour information, go to http://www.bodiefoundation.org/bodie-tours/.
A good place to start a tour of Bodie is in front of the Methodist Church, a classic weathered wooden frontier church with a small bell tower. The church was built in 1882 is the only house of worship still standing in Bodie (it apparently survived because it was restored in the 1920s and used until 1932).
Around the church are a handful of historic residences, some of which are lived in by park rangers. Each has an interesting story, such as the James S. Cain house, built by the town’s largest lumber company magnate and landowner.
As you walk the streets—using the invaluable state park brochure that describes each building—you learn more about the community. You pass the Livery Stable, which once accommodated dozens of horses, then continue by the wooden Firehouse, which over the years survived numerous fires that destroyed much of the town, and the Bodie Miner’s Union Hall, now a museum and gift shop.
Surrounding the town are other interesting survivors. To the south is the cemetery, which actually consisted of four separate burial grounds; one for the Masons, one for members of the miner’s union, one private cemetery and one for the Chinese who lived in the area.
To the northeast are the substantial remains of the Standard Mill, which yielded nearly $15 million over a 25-year period and sparked a major rush to Bodie in 1878. The original mill burned in 1898 but was rebuilt the following year.
To the right of the mill was the residence of Theodore Hoover, brother of President Herbert Hoover. Years after he departed Bodie, he became the director of the School of Mines at Stanford University.
The Standard wasn’t Bodie’s only productive mine. Nearly $100 million was produced during Bodie’s heyday.
Bodie is best visited during the summer months when the dirt road is dry. The park is open year-round, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from late May to late September and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the rest of the year. For more information go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevadans love to visit.