The mysterious town of Callahan, CA

by Paul Reichow on August 20, 2009

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote

Side view of Callahan Ranch Hote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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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:  http://www.yelp.com/biz/callahan-emporium-callahan

 

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Jewett (Ann Arbor) April 30, 2011 at 7:47 am

I have been looking at a DVD ( Mules on Snowshoes ) (2006 narrated by Bill Balfrey of Weed). His road trip passes through Callahan. When I went to the web to look up Callahan, I found your blog. Many thanks for putting the item together. It considerably enriches the experience of the DVD.

Mona Nunley May 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

I used to live in Callahan at Ewell and Virginia’s Baker’s farm house by the river. Thank you for the pictures, and the history. I miss it very much and go back there in memories when life gets hectic. I remember the store the post office and the bar. I will also remember the very nice people that live there and call it home.

Sincerely
Mona Nunley

Paul June 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Mona, Thank you for the kind words! I will be emailing you to learn more about the town. I have some questions I’d like to ask.

BEVERLY HOBSON July 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I found these articles quite by chance and it gave me some insight to our two grandsons heritage they are tyler farrington -hobson and brian farrington hobson. of course the last time i saw the store , it had gas pumps, post office, and store there. Steve and Sharron and daughters lived behind the store. it was a very nice area and people there seemed friendly . especially Polly Farrington i loved her.
thank you again

BEVERLY HOBSON July 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I HAVE A FACE BOOK PAGE UNDER BEVERLY HOBSON I WOULD LOVE TO SEE SOME PICTURES OF TYLER AND RYAN POSTED THERE.

M. Kirchner July 9, 2011 at 9:21 am

I was given a picture of Richard M. Hayden, Callahan’s Ranch, CA, dated August 15, 1903. The picture was taken in Butte City, Montana by Hazeltine’s Studio. The person gave me the picture to do some research as related to Richard Hayden. This is fun, and I am learning more about California history as a native Californian!

Craig Morris August 22, 2011 at 8:11 pm

I would be very interested in the picture of Richard Hayden as I am a direct relative. I have quite an extensive geneology tree of the Hayden line and I myself used to go to Callahan for the old ‘Gold Rush Jubilee’ back in the day, celebrating my Aunts Birthday. Oh such great memories. Anyway if M. Kirchner could contact me regarding this photo I would be grateful

pat davison September 19, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I was in Callahan twice. First, when I was 9 years old and my dad brought us there on a family vacation to Disneyland in 1956. He was stationed there in the mid 30′s as a CCC camp member. It was called Camp Callahan and was torn down in 1937, I believe. There was a mule train on the road from Weaverville to Callahan that day and we stopped to see it and pet the mules! The road was still dirt and dusty.I would like more info for on this mule train for historical research, if possible. I can’t find anything on the internet about it. The second time I was there was 1980 when my wife and I spent our honeymoon night there!.. Thanx………Pat Davison, Bremerton, WA (Please write back!)

laura November 21, 2011 at 12:39 am

i was just curious and happen to find this website from web surfing. i’ve been trying to find out if there was ever a baker hotel in callahan…if anyone knows, id really appreciate it :-)

yolanda November 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Mona, approx. when did you live there?

Bonnie Frisk Dombrowskk December 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Pat Davison,
Are you aware that the 2011 edition of the Siskiyou Historical Society’s yearly publication, is based solely on the history of the mule trains running in the Scott Valley Area?

Helen January 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I remember Callahan fondly. I loved seeing the dredge alongside the road coming in, remembering the stories about the gold nugget that got away. I also remember Charles and Vi Thompson, who owned the Emporium. Such sweet people. I love Scott Valley, from Fort Jones to Callahan. Wish I could move back there.

Pat Sullivan January 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I spent a summer in Callahan, in 1968. My grandfather had a claim there and I helped him work it (actually, my mother sent me there to get me away from what she considered a bad element). At first, I felt like I’d been banished to Siberia, but grew to love the simplicity of the place. My grandfather taught me to drive there. I got to keep 10% of whatever gold I found and spent most of it at the general store, on 501 Levi’s which were going for $8 a pair. The dredge! My grandfather and I would go down there in the early evening (with the property owners permission) and climb around on it looking for dropped nuggets, etc. Fond memories.

Callahan Emporium March 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Laura, I am the present owner of the Callahan Emporium and some of it’s former names were “The Denny-Barr Hotel” and also known as “The Baker Hotel”. After the gold rush days and the stage coaches no longer went thru the town, it became the Emporium. You can ask more questions and you can find more pictures on facebook under “The Callahan Emporium”. Hope this was helpful.

Darlene Doskoch (Johnson) March 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Hi there! I loved reading your blog and the posts of other former residents or their decsendants. My grandparents Erva and Frank Johnson bought the old Berksynder Ranch in 1961. I am not sure how long they lived there, but when Frank died, Erva married Art Hegler and they lived in Klamath River. I have a great picture of my grandmother and her prized flowers at their house at the ranch.

Robin Norberg April 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi.. My Mother’s maiden name is Alger, and as I am working in Ancestory.Com I have come to realize that the Alger family I am part of was part of the mining days of Callahan. I would love to learn more. Since Callahan is not longer a town where would I find the old newspaper and court records??

Any help would be great and the next time I am close by I will certainly drive through it!!

Jeff April 24, 2012 at 8:26 am

When did the dredge go away? And to where? Dismantled and re-built elsewhere?

Cat Slavin May 7, 2012 at 9:23 am

While riding through that beautiful area, a group of us stopped for lunch at the Callahan Emporium yesterday. Fran and the gang knocked out some of the best grub you’ll ever find in any other ghost town! Highly recommend it!

Moses May 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

The dredge was packed up and moved to Australia. To bad, it was a fun place to party.

Little Critters Pack Station May 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I have to clarify that Callahan is alive and well, not a ghost town in the making….population 50 (if you believe it)…..Just a cherished treasure. The Hotel is a private residence in restoration. The Mt. Bolivar Grange is active. Fran at the Emporium keeps us all hydrated and happy! There are live music events and festivals. Callahan is home to educators, contractors, loggers, engineers, lawyers, government employees, ranchers, farmers, you name it…People here work for a living and can’t lounge about town during the day. Yes, a successful lawyer keeps his office in town. He also owns a working ranch. Be sure to stop by on a loop tour of Scott Valley.

Jim W. Tackitt May 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I have a couple of photos taken by my Mother on a Sunday outing to Callahan about 1937/38. I am sitting on a “pack” donkey with an old house in the background. I was only about 3 yrs. old at the time so don’t remember much, but I do have the photo to help with what little memory I have left. We lived in Yreka at the time. Jim W. Tackitt, now of Rio Vista, CA.

richard casey callahan July 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm

just wondering if there are any callahans still in town? my daughter and son-in-law went through the town, and took several pictures of buildings. they put them in a frame that i now have it hanging on my wall. one of my past times includes gold prospecting. i was also wondering if any current prospectors are at work up there? best always, richard

Jacquie Flecklin October 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Is the ranger station still there? My dad was the ranger there and I went to school in the little school house (1 room) took my first pack trip to Billys lookout. ( I think)

Lisa February 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Love the pictures & info. We just moved out this way and are living on what used to be the Denny Ranch. I have started doing some research into the old house here on the ranch and Callahan was brought up. I look forward to exploring in Callahan real soon.

Judy Lyon May 10, 2013 at 8:38 am

My first trip to Callahan was in 1981. I don’t remember passing through Ft. Jones and we did stop for ice cream in Etna. Then we came to Callahan. The only living soul was a black lab laying in the middle of the highway right in the middle of town. The Emporium was still open then and it was amazing all the old clothes for sale upstairs and the other stuff downstairs. We moved to Ft. Jones in Aug. 1981 and the town of Callahan hasn’t changed 1 bit. My daughter worked in the Callahan post office for a short while and the Farrington’s are still a big part of it. There’s actually live music by amazing local talent at the bar and you’d be amazed at how many people actually live in the area. It’s a gorgeous, untouched piece of history.

Thanks so much for your pictures and blog. Very fun!

Judy Lyon May 10, 2013 at 8:39 am

Oh! I believe the dredge was dismantled and sold to South America! I could be wrong but that’s what I remember.

Glenda Czerwinski Kent July 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I saw a photo online in UC Davis Special Collections identified as Etna, CA; however, I think it’s of the old stage stop/hotel in Callahan. If someone could positively ID it, please send an email to me at NativeOfCalif@hotmail.com and I’ll send a copy as an attachment to you.
(They will notate the photo, but I need to be absolutely certain.)
Glenda Czerwinski Kent, Nashville, TN
Etna High Class of ’55
p.s. my classmate and i used to ride our bikes from etna to callahan about once a month, always stopping at the dredger pond by the red bridge to eat our lunch. we used to go to square dances and “the callahan stomp” (with live music, of course) upstairs in the grange hall.

Garrett's Dad July 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

We were just there on Monday this week, on a motorcycle ride from Oregon. We stopped in Etna for ice cream and in Callahan for a beer and some jokes with the bartender lady. The whole area is gorgeous, and everyone we met was really nice. The owners of the drug store in Etna moved the store to Weed this year, but the Ice Cream store is still open along with several other businesses. Etna had hosted a bluegrass music festival there for the past ten years, but this year was the last one. The Brew Pub in Etna is worth a visit. Also the Callahan Emporium. Sad to day, the lovely postmistress in Callahan told me they’re going to close that branch of the Post Office soon.

Great motorcycle roads in the area, w/ very little traffic. Support the local economy!!

George Moore August 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Hi, lived in Callahan back in the fifties. It was a going concern then. We had a lot of fun. I hung out with Ivan Greathouse and Fred Harrison. I remember a young lady name Mona . Could it be the same one? We lived in the dredger camp and ran the ranch. Would be nice to hear from you.

Truman Crawford August 18, 2013 at 12:52 am

Just rode through there on August 15, 2013 with a frind of mine on our Harley’s. Stopped and had a beer and took pictures of the old Wells Fargo Bank. Best bar in California and wonderful people to chat with.
One of the best rode trips I have ever been on. The scenery is great and the curves are many. Would be a great place for all riders to see.

Mark Shekoyan August 19, 2013 at 9:26 pm

My grandparents were Erling & Crynthia Hjertager who ran a nearbye sawmill. I have many great childhood memories of visiting them in Callahan. Thanks for sharing this!

MAX DRAGO August 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm

great place we go ever 2 years love kangaroo lake

Kitty Farrington January 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

I went through Callahan about 20 years ago and the Farrington store was open. I spoke with the Farringtons who owned it and was told that all the Farringtons in the US are related distantly and that my daughter would be eligible to join The Daughters of the Revolution. Because of the participation of the Farrington family in the Revolutionary war. Check it out. My maiden name is Farrington !

patti may March 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Looking for information about the little school that I went to. I am looking for a list of the students that went there. Thank you Patti May

patti may March 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Email me at pattigoddess@yahoo.com please and thanks

Julie O'Neill-Circle March 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm

My grandparents Tim and Esther O’Neill lived in Callahan in the early 1970′s. I remember visiting them a few times when I was 4-5. Used to fight with my big brother over who got to pick veggies from the garden for dinner.remember going to a really shallow part of the river. My dad, grandpa and brother gottogo fishing but i had to stay with mom and grandma. My brother also got to go the jubilee but I was too little.he always brought me something back! First gravel embedded skinned knees in my grandparents long driveway. I remember playing with Wade (wado-potato) and his sister who lived next door. Would love any info, memories or pictures of any of these people. Wade’s parents bought my grandparents house when they had to move due to my grandmothers health. Thanks!

Scott Hyland March 28, 2014 at 5:43 am

I used to travel Hwy 3 through Callahan on the back road through the mountains to Weed. I stopped a few times at the bar at the Emporium. Callahan’s a nice, quaint piece of Americana. I never thought of it as a future ghost town, but rather a tight-knit community comprised of hardy, down-home people. That whole Hwy 3 drive from Yreka, through Fort Jones, Etna and Callahan is refreshing.

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