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Entire California ghost town goes on sale for $1m

Annabel Fenwick Elliott
Cerro Gordo: an abandoned 19th-century mining complex in California’s Inyo Mountains - Bishops Real Estate

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why ghost towns conjure such enduring appeal, but undoubtedly they do. And for true enthusiasts with enough cash at their disposal, this abandoned 19th-century mining complex in California’s Inyo Mountains ticks all the boxes.

On sale for just under $1million (£747,350), the dusty tumbleweed town of Cerro Gordo boasts 300 acres of land, with 22 structures including an empty hotel, saloon and chapel, and remnants strewn throughout of its past as a once-thriving mining community.

“Held by the same family for decades and only available for purchase now, the site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters and Mother Nature herself,” the listing reads.

“Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”

Cerro Gordo, located in Owens Valley, was one of the first major mining camps south of the Sierra Nevada, and once operated as a “silver thread” to Los Angeles.

The site spans 300 acres Credit: Bishops Real Estate

Long before the area was developed, Mexicans had been crawling the mountain they called Cerro Gordo, meaning “Fat Hill,” looking for silver, the town’s site explains. But it wasn’t until 1868 that businessman Mortimer Belshaw started a proper mining operation and within a year, it was California’s largest producer of lead and silver.

During its heydey in the 1860s and 1870s, the town counted at least one murder per week, according to the Los Angeles Times. Its late owner Michael Patterson told the publication that during this time, the only sound to be heard was “the whistle of the wind blowing through all the bullet holes in every building”.

The town's well-preserved saloon Credit: Bishops Real Estate

The fall in silver value, combined with a major fire, hit the town hard during the 1880s, ending its lucrative run, but operations picked up again in 1905 when Cerro Gordo was purchased by the Great Western Ore Purchasing and Reduction Company.

The plan was largely to process the remaining dumped ore which had previously been discarded for being too low-grade in quality, but with newer technology could be processed profitably.  

Old artifacts have been preserved for visitors to see Credit: Bishops Real Estate

By 1920, only ten men were still employed by the Cerro Gordo mines company and shortly thereafter it - like many of America’s mines - became defunct.

These days, its private owners run tours of the grounds, charging $10 (£8.50) for entrance, with all proceeds funneling back into the town’s preservation and maintenance. These tours will continue to operate until it’s sold.

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The fate of Cerro Gordo depends entirely on who purchases it, since there are no formal conditions to the sale.

“There are currently not restrictions to either the sale or the new owner,” estate agent Jake Rasmuson, of Bishops Real Estate, told Telegraph Travel.

“We would be more than happy to receive offers from any individual or group that will continue to care for this fantastic piece of history. We would really like to find buyers committed to preserving the integrity of Cerro Gordo.”