During its heyday, Cerro Gordo was California’s largest producer of silver and lead. Some 4,800 people lived there the 1860s and 1870s, and the bustling mining town proved itself to be a lucrative venture—even though it saw an average of one murder per week.
Then the mine shut down. By the early 20th century, Cerro Gordo had transformed into a desolate ghost town. Today, it remains abandoned, save for the tourists that trek through the area to glimpse a relic of the Wild West. But there is good news for history buffs with cash to burn: as Emily Petsko reports for Mental Floss, Cerro Gordo is now available for purchase.
For a cool $925,000, the new owner will acquire more than 300 acres of land in Owens Valley south of the Sierra Nevada, along with mineral rights and 22 structures. According to a website set up for the property (http://www.ghosttownforsale.com), a hotel, bunkhouse, superintendent’s house and several homes still stand on the property.
“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters and Mother Nature herself,” the listing reads. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings, and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”
Soon after the U.S. Army forcibly removed the native Paiute people who inhabited Owens Valley, sending them south of Bakersfield to Fort Tejon in 1883, a prospector named Pablo Flores is recorded as discovering the area’s high-quality silver veins. Flores began mining and smelting operations in 1865. But the town, called Cerro Gordo, or “Fat Hill,” in reference to its abundance of silver, 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—and built a “superior smelter as well as the first wagon road up the mountain,” according to Cerro Gordo’s website.
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. At separate ends of town, two buxom madams and their bevies of painted, frilled and scandalously clad ladies welcomed miners and threw lavish parties. The miners found them just as alluring as the silver.”
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 now feel it is “the right time” to sell the site, Jake Rasmuson of Bishop Real Estate, which is facilitating the sale of the property, tells Petsko.
The current owners have been running tours of Cerro Gordo, which will continue to operate until the town is sold. It is not clear what will happen after that point. Rasmuson tells Annabel Fenwick Elliott of the Telegraph that the owners have not placed any restrictions on the purchase of the property, but the goal is to find a buyer who appreciates Cerro Gordo’s rich history.
“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,” he says. “We would really like to find buyers committed to preserving the integrity of Cerro Gordo.”