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

IMPORTANT NOTICE FROM THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE:  

This website is going to be retired (shut down) in 2022.  It costs me about $240 per year to keep this website up. I haven’t been to Shasta in a decade, and I’m no longer a web developer.   

This article is one of the most popular on this website.   I’m looking for volunteers to create a Facebook group so that all the comments below can be transferred.   I don’t use Facebook, so I’m looking for someone else to help me.   

 I’m so happy that people have been interested in this article.   Please leave a comment below if you would be interested in hosting a Facebook group.   I’ll then post a link here to refer people to the new website.  Thank you!  AllthingsShasta, Paul

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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

 

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