The mysterious town of Callahan, CA

by Shasta Cascade on August 20, 2009

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote Side view of Callahan Ranch Hotel












The tiny town of Callahan, population 50, is located about 30 miles west of Mt. Shasta, CA.  Normally, such a small town would not gather much interest, but if you ever happen to be passing through on Hwy 3, Callahan is worth checking out.  It’s one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.

Callahan is a ghost town in the making:  in the town center, many of the buildings are boarded up or falling apart.  The gold-rush era brick Wells Fargo bank building sits empty with steel plates covering the window openings.

The town’s main store Farrington’s closed a couple years ago.   But if you peek in the window, the inside looks exactly like the shopkeeper left it on the day they decided not to open.  The inventory is gone, but the cash register and all the other shelving fixtures are still intact.   A notepad with some handwritten notes sits on the counter…one of many signs of a hasty departure.

The stately Callahan Ranch Hotel (picture above), built in 1854, sits vacant as it has for decades.  If you get close enough, you can see box springs in some of the rooms, the mattresses have long rotted away.   All these things remain as silent witnesses to a time long gone.

Callahan MapThings weren’t always this way. Callahan was once a booming town at the southern end of Scott Valley, founded around 1852 by a merchant by the name of Mathias Bernard Callahan.

Legend says that while crossing the river, his pregnant wife fell off her horse and was rescued by an Indian, but went into premature labor and gave birth to a son.  The Callahans stayed in the area, and bought a lodge nearby to provide food and lodging for travelers on the stage line between Oregon and California.

A gold rush in the area followed, leading to many people moving to the area.  The nearby towns of Etna and Fort Jones were founded.  After the gold rush died out, many stayed in the area and a ranching boom took off.  The town remained a vibrant community for many decades until the main north-south routes of travel moved to the east on Highway 99, and later Interstate 5.

Despite the building closures and setbacks, Callahan is not dead yet: the town bar is still open, and an adjacent store called the Emporium is still open.   A small sign across the street advertises a local lawyer.

I stood in the middle of Hwy 3 taking pictures in the bright sunshine.  It’s quite a stretch calling it a highway…it’s only a two lane paved road with a yellow center stripe.  Whether it is a highway or road, I had no worry about being hit by traffic.  During the twenty minutes I was there, only a single car drove by.

Gasping from the heat, I looked around for a convenience store.  I saw that one of the buildings called the Callahan Emporium had signs of life, and went in to buy a cold bottled water.

The place was stuffy and hot from the August heat, and a floor fan buzzed nosily near the door.   Besides the toilet paper and the canned food for sale, a surprising amount of shelf place held miscellaneous old and trinkets for sale…the kind that can be found in your grandparent’s attic.

Muted voices could be heard from the side, and I realized that the bar next door was connected directly to the store by a walkway.  I walked into the bar and saw a couple guys in their 20’s at the counter drinking beers.

Walking back outside, I saw a community message board covered with notes and things for sale.  One note mentioned a half steer for sale, another was selling a bike for $10.

Looking across the street to the Callahan Ranch Hotel, I wondered what kept the last remnants of this town alive.

This is what ghost towns must be like in their final days before they become actual ghost towns.  Who makes the decision to be the last to turn off the lights for good?


Callahan Ranch Hotel, 1937

Interesting Factiod: Callahan has a claim to fame:  the fight scene from the 1978 made-for-TV western “Standing Tall” (starring Chuck Connors and Linda Evans) was shot in the bar here.

By the way; the Callahan Emporium has a number of positive reviews on Yelp.  Evidently their BLT’s are to die for:


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ghost of Callahan May 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm

Callahan isn’t dead yet. Come Back to Callahan July 7th, 2018

Sara Smith McNabb May 23, 2018 at 8:57 pm

This is a very interesting thread with many an interesting perspective – from those that have real connection to Callahan to those that are just passing through. I have real connection, I am a granddaughter of Ernest A. Hayden and his wife Dorothy. I have many relatives who still live in town and the surrounding area. Callahan is one of my favorite places in the world. I spent many a summer playing and swimming the the nearby rivers and lakes and have happy memories of holidays spent with my family at the houses on top of the hill across from the church, both of which are still in the family. The big 2 story one reffered to in an above post is owned by my mother and haveing spent many nights there I agree with Dennis Sidebottom (who posted above that he had lived there for a while, my parents did rent it out for some years to several different people) that is is haunted – but not in a bad way. The spirits that reside there are benevolent. My husband and I were married in the church acrooss the street in 2010 as a tribute to my parents who were married in the very same church over 30 years Earlier. We had our reception in the upstairs of the grange hall which looked beatiful when the stone walls were adorned with thousands of sparking lights. A local band played and a grand time was had by all. Since then we have been back nearly every summer to enjoy the beauty of the area and spend time with family. Callahan is a truly magical place that takes you back to another time if you stop to enjoy it’s splendor. If you blink while on that stretch of the highway you will miss it but for those that keep their eyes open – enjoy!

Lynn Thompson July 28, 2018 at 6:45 pm

A very interesting haunting story. Such a lovely place not to be restored and enjoyed by all,but maybe that’s the haunting part of it. Enjoyed the story very much. Thank you !

Patrick Franco August 6, 2018 at 7:58 pm

Hi i collect old beer cans and old beer signs. I wonder if there are any old cans or old signs in those great old buildings in Callahan? I am sure there has to be something in that old tiwn. I pay good money for this kind of stuff.

Marianne Callahan September 20, 2018 at 4:39 pm

I enjoyed coming upon this story! I am the great-great-granddaughter of Mathias B Callahan. We have family documents written about the ill-fated river crossing and Catherine Callahan giving birth on the side of the river. Although that child was born early, he grew up to be a strong man who traveled the world and made the family fortune. I have never lived in the Callahan area but it is a special place in our family history. I hope to spend some time up there in the future. Thank you for this article.

Wayne Davison November 6, 2018 at 6:42 pm

My name is Pat Davison and I remember Callahan from many years ago! In 1956 my father brought us through there on a vacation to Disneyland. (I remember the old gold dredge that was still there in the river). It seems that dad was in the C.C.C.’s there from 1934 to 1935 at Camp Callahan! After leaving Callahan we drove on a dirt road over to Weaverville and were met on that road by a teamster driving a mule team that was pulling 2 loaded freight wagons! Dad stopped the old ’48 Ford and talked to the teamster while we kids got to pet and feed the mules sugar cubes! I was 9 years old at that time and I just knew that we were out in the real wild west. (We were from up north in Portland. ) Anyhoo, Please feel free to contact me to continue the jawbonin’…………….Respectfully, Pat Davison,…Gig Harbor, Washington

Jim Elgar January 31, 2019 at 1:58 am

Have been to Callehan – Etna – Fort Jones ,-Yreka many times through
the years.Had a Summer place in Trinity Center and also developed
property there.

My memory of the first time I went through Etna will remain with me
the rest of my life.

Just outside of Etna there is a Hiway Junction, at this Junction there is a Hamburger Stand I stopped and had lunch.

I took my lunch and went outside to eat it at one of the Picnic Tables
provided. Sitting there eating I looked across the field behind the
Hamburger Stand, about the distance less then a Football Field
stood a ELEPHANT.
One has to relize that Scott Valley and Etna are out in the MIDDLE of
nowhere Seeing a Elephant didn’t .shock me its where he was at. (ETNA). Cows, Horses, Deer, Coyotes, Bear ,Fox, Skunk, but not

After regaining my COMPOSURE I went inside the building and
asked – WHERE THE HELL the Elephant came from and why in
I was told this==
The Elephant is a PET and the owners have a special trailer to
haul him in and they take him to FAIRS and different shows.
For many years when traveling through SCOT VALLEY I always
made it a point to stop in Etna for a Hamburger.
I always ate outside so I could watch Mr Elephant. He was always
the HIGH LITE of my day.
Eventually Mr Elephant was gone , and when I sometimes travel
through that area I look across that field and still see him.

Dan Passatero July 31, 2019 at 5:04 am

The hotel is completely rebuilt and they kept and used almost all of the existing wood from the building

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