CCHE project: Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park, California’s official Gold Rush ghost town, sits on a high Mono County plain at the Nevada border. Some 250,000 visitors a year trek to the Bodie site to taste life as it might have been 150 years ago. According to state park officials, people from all over the world become addicted to Bodie’s barren “wild west” mystique and come back to Bodie again and again.
Bodie’s desolate environment has weakened Bodie’s few standing buildings. For over a century they have endured not only the coldest winters in California but also frequent earthquakes from nearby Mammoth Mountain volcano. Though legislation requires Bodie’s buildings remain in “arrested decay” (the condition in which the Department of Parks and Recreation received the site in 1962), the buildings still need to be stabilized - their roofs repaired, their floors and foundations shored.
Thanks in part to a $275,000 grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE), the buildings of this wilderness settlement will survive. The Sierra State Parks Foundation (SSPF), the organization that provides operational funds to maintain Sierra Districts State Parks including Bodie, applied for, and won, the state grant that is still being finalized. Since Bodie is both a California historic landmark, and a National historic site, the SSPF also received $275,000 in matching funds through “Save America’s Treasures,” a federal grant through the National Park Service.
Susan Fitzgerald Reichert, SSPF Executive Director, explains that eight of Bodie’s buildings, a mule barn, the Wheaton and Hollis Hotel, Standard Mine Assay Office, Sam Leon Barber Shop, Bell Assay Office, Tom Miller Stable and Ice House, Boone Store and the Reddy Residence, will receive crucial repairs with the grant funds. Because the Federal Department of Interior requires that preservation teams use traditional materials on historic structures whenever possible, the Bodie group, including an archeologist, will try to use construction materials (such as mortar from Bodie) that 19th century builders used.
Bodie’s history preserved
Author of Bodie’s Gold and SSPF Vice President, Marguerite Sprague says although miners found small amounts of gold on the mesa in 1859, Bodie didn’t boom to life until 1878 when a collapsed 120-foot mine shaft unearthed a dazzling gold vein to miners. Bodie’s population of mostly men (only 10% were women) shot to more than 8,000 including 300 Chinese residents. Soon 450 businesses, from millinery shops to slaughterhouses to saloons, were thriving in the barren landscape. Bodie’s water level – only 250 feet below the earth - ended Bodie’s boom. Miners went broke paying to pump water out of the gold mines and left, quickly.
There is still gold in Bodie, and probably lots of it, but Bodie’s value is even greater than its ore. Thanks to the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (which includes the Bodie Protection Act) no entity can mine this precious land that is home to California history. Now with help from CCHE funding, the buildings standing there will illustrate that history for many years to come.