Julian ~ The Ghost Town that Escaped


The lifespan of a mining town in the old west was as volatile as the dynamite used to blow up the rock and release the ore. Seems that just as soon as most of the ore was hauled from the mines, the town would dry up and blow away, becoming ghost town. Two famous ones in California that boomed and are now nothing but ghost towns are Calico and Bodie.

ghost towns
Calico Mining Crew

Calico in Yerma, California was established when silver was discovered in the mountains there in 1881. $20 million in silver ore came from the 500 mines surrounding the town over the next 12 years. Then, when silver lost its value, everyone packed up and left. Today, Calico is a historic site, restored for people to visit and see what life was like ‘back in the day.’ Calico makes for a very interesting destination today, but no one lives there anymore.

Bodie, California

The same thing happened to Bodie, California. The place was a small mining camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains when gold was discovered in 1859. Although nearby towns boomed, Bodie inched along until 1876 when more gold was discovered by the Sandard Company. Suddenly miners poured into the town and its population shot up to 7,000. $34 million in gold ore came from the mines there over the next eleven years. And then, like Calico, Bodie slowly died. In 1915 it was officially labeled a ghost town.

So how did Julian in San Diego’s back country escape the fate of becoming a ghost town? 

In 1870 gold was discovered 60 miles east of New San Diego and the Julian Mining District was formed. Over the next 6 years more than 600 people made Julian their home and enjoyed all that living in a boom town entailed. then in 1876 with most of the gold excavated out of the mines, the bulk of people left searching for better goldfields elsewhere. The population dropped to 100. What made Julian’s fate so different than Calico’s or Bodies had to do with a number of things–good soil, climate, and more than anything it seems, Julian became a place for family.

Although the town had its share of saloons and dance-halls and rowdy miners, it was never the “Wild West Town” like other mining towns. The early settlers of Julian saw to the opening of their first school–and the first year 100 children attended. When teacher after teacher married and had to stop teaching due to the law at the time that forbade married women to teach, the school trustees decided to hire a man for the position. When the miners learned of it, they threatened trouble, and the trustees relented and hired another woman.

When the mines played out, instead of leaving, a core group of 100 people remained and turned to agriculture. James Madison was the first to recognize the perfect soil a

Julian CA
Julian California

nd weather for apple growing and he, along with Thomas Brady started an orchard of young apple trees. Others followed suit, adding pear trees. Today Julian apples have won many awards and the town is world famous for its apple pies.

There were two main ways to socialize in town. One was through church (Free land was given for the establishment of churches.) The second was at the frequent dances. Dances and fundraising socials would often last through the night and into the early morning hours. The dance hall in town even had a separate room for mothers to leave their babies to sleep away the night so the mothers could continue dancing. A number of good-natured tricks were played on neighbors and friends in Julian. Couples tried to keep their romantic feelings a secret so they wouldn’t end up the recipient of these pranks. The people of Julian were known for enjoying each other and having fun in a big way. (To me, it sounds like the town had a lot of personality!)

Today, Julian is a tourist town with a small-town feel. It caters to those who want to get away from the city. They come for the mountain air, fresh apple pies, mining tours and–for many San Diegans (including me) — the snow in winter. I have always had a soft spot for Julian. As an author, it is great to vicariously live in the town of 1876 through the characters in my books. I am grateful it survived its gold rush heritage and has given me such inspiraFamiliar Stranger in Clear Springstion for my stories.

Do you have a soft spot for any particular place?

Leave a comment to be entered into my drawing for a copy of my latest book!

Familiar Stranger in Clear Springs

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27 thoughts on “Julian ~ The Ghost Town that Escaped”

  1. I love historical places and old mining ghost towns are great. Living in the Antelope Valley we have lots of scenery, high desert and ghost towns not far. Bodie and Calico are close enough to visit. Which makes me want to go to Bodie since it is an elementary type field trip option and locally though not a ghost town we are near historic Tehatchapi for a quick jaunt. Even a ghost is there. Maybe more. For me I would love to explore in more detail, which I did a bit that day with my then reporter brother for an article and an interesting indigenous Native tribe in the area. So I would love to spend a weekend in Tehatchapi which I now give as my local soft spot.

    • Hi Elaine!
      Thanks for stopping by Wildflower Junction to visit! I love the sound of “Antelope Valley”–very western and romantic feel to it. Being a semi-native Californian, I had to find out exactly where Tehatchapi was located so I checked out it’s website. That would make a great weekend getaway. The closest I’ve gotten to it is driving through Bakersfield which has a decidedly different flavor. Isn’t it something how varied and beautiful the landscape of California is? I’ll put your name in my “Stetson” for the drawing! Check back tomorrow to see if you won!

    • Hi Janine. Thanks for stopping by! I wish I could bottle up some of that mountain air there and send it to you! You’d love the scent of pine and apples! I’ll drop your name in my Stetson!

  2. I have not had the opportunity to visit a lot of the western United States. Being a southern girl I think of our old plantation living as our “ghost town” and would then put Oak alley plantation at the top of my list of places to visit to see how it used to be. Some of these homes “mined” sugar cane and other cotton, but it was still trying to make the best living possible with the opportunities presented.

    • Hi Geralyn! I liked your play on the word “mined.” You make a good point about the old plantations being the “ghost towns” of the south. I never thought of them that way but you are right. They are the south’s heritage. I visited one once just outside of Charleston and it has stayed a haunting memory for me. Such a beautiful place with all that Spanish Moss and the canals. A friend from school told me that I hadn’t seen nothin’ plantation-wise until I visited Savannah, so I’d love to do that sometime. One place I’d like to go down there is the Biltmore in Ashville. It won’t have the same “feel” as a plantation, but I’d still like to see it.

      I’ll be sure to put your name in my Stetson for the drawing. Thanks for stopping by and check back tomorrow to see if you won!

  3. Hi Kathryn, very interesting. And sad. I hate when towns die. It leaves such sorrow because a lot of times a person’s hopes and dreams die too. I have a soft spot for all of them but mostly for Cripple Creek, Colorado. It was a booming, vibrant place as long as the mines operated. And it’s so beautiful there. Deadwood, SD is another although they’ve managed to restore a lot of those historic buildings and draw a lot of tourists so they can keep going. History just reaches out and grabs you there. So many ghosts.

    • Hi Linda! Thanks for stopping by! I hadn’t thought of a ghost town like that for a long time, but you are right, it is sad to see a town die. Many pretty little farming towns here where I now live in Illinois have had tough times when the interstate passed them by. Change…you can’t stop it.

  4. I don’t have a favorite,but love going to different ones in different states,,very interesting post,,my Dad used to take us a lot when we were little

    • Hi Vickie! That is how I got interested in history too. My dad was a teacher for a while and had the same vacations that we did. Over spring break we would head somewhere close–the desert often. In the summer we would take longer road trips across the country–once in awhile all the way to Connecticut! Very memorable times and I learned so much about entertaining myself and my siblings on them.

    • PA is such a beautiful state catslady! I have been to Gettysburg there and through Pittsburgh on the interstate. I bet there are other towns there that are special– Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I do not travel much, but love learning about the history of places… thinking about who could have lived there… what things were like for them… interesting things!

    • Thanks for stopping by Colleen. It sounds like your thoughts and mine go down the same path when it comes to daydreaming LOL. I get frustrated when I pass an interesting place on the interstate and would like to stop, but don’t have the time! ARGH!! Putting your name in the hat now!

  6. Sedona Arizona you can see the whole desert from a mountain outside both flagstaff and Sedona and Sedona has all the beautiful red rock.

    • I’ve seen pictures of Sedona and know there is an artist colony there. Yep! That one must be a great place. What a presence those red rocks and desert must be. Thanks for stopping by Kim!

  7. Although I’m both a western romance addict as well as western history, my answer to your question about favorite place in all honesty is a town on the north coast of Scotland where I lived for a year when I was in my early 20s. Wonderful lifetime memories and friends that are always with me.

    • Hi Eliza! Welcome to Wildflower Junction here at P&P! What an amazing adventure for you! I am envious. I can see where a place like that would leave a soft spot in your heart. Thanks for coming by and commenting. Your name is going in the “Stetson.”

  8. What a great post, Kathryn! As close as I’ve been to Julian…I haven’t gotten there yet, sheesh. But it is on the list. I have tons of favorites…Holcomb Valley in Big Bear is one of the toppest on the list. It’s an old mining area, too but long dead. It’s so quiet you can almost hear the past. xo

    • Hi Tanya! I haven’t been to Big Bear since I’ve grown up. I always see that it has the first snow, however and more of the white stuff than Julian! I’ll have to check out Holcomb Valley on the internet. I love your last line… Have you used that in a book?

  9. There are so many places that I guess you could say that I have a soft spot for. One would be the tress my best friend and I loved to play in on her grandparents farm. As an adult my husband and I camped in the mountains near Walden Colorado. I loved the area and spent my time reading books about the local history that the library loaned me.

    • Hi Connie J.
      Lucky you to have so many places you love! Lots of good memories! My grandparents had a farm which I loved so much I got married on it! They raised beef cattle — Black Angus– and corn and soybeans. Colorado is a beautiful state. Thank you for stopping by! Your name is going in the hat!

  10. I love small towns. I grew up in a small town in the Adirondack mountains of NY. We now live outside a small town in NE TN in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Neighbors come together to help one another much more frequently in small communities. As kids, we tended to behave ourselves because we knew if we acted up, our parents would likely know about it before we got home. We lived in Colorado Springs for 3 years and loved it. Loved the area and we took advantage of all it had to offer. The city itself was too big then and is worse now.
    We have always taken advantage of every place we have ever lived. There is so much to experience and see we will never tire traveling to find what there is to see and do. We have so many wonderful special memories.

  11. Hi Patricia B!
    My husband came from a small town and has many stories about neighbors watching out for neighbors and how as a teenage boy that had a curbing effect on his ‘ahem’ fun. For me, growing up in the city, there was lots to do but I can’t remember a time that I happened to run into anybody I knew outside of where I knew them. Thanks for commenting Patricia! Good to have you stop in a chat!

  12. The drawing is now over for my post and I’ve pulled a name from my Stetson!
    (www.randomnumbergenerator) Miss Eliza’s name has been drawn! Congratulations Miss Eliza!

    Contact me at kathryn @ kathrynalbright dot com with your address and I’ll get Familiar Stranger in Clear Springs into the mail for you!

    Thanks for stopping by and come back again!

  13. Learn something new every day. I grew up in San Diego, but anything east of Escondido was a mystery to me. I never recall hearing of, or going to Julian. Thanks for sharing this information.

  14. Hmmmm, don’t guess any one spot beats another for me. As a pastors wife, as long as I could invite folks over to eat, I was happy. Being a missionaries wife in Nicaragua is a bit different, I don’t have a kitchen!

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