Aerial view of Calico, with the hillside letters visible.
Calico & Odessa Railroad
Calico in the evening
In 1881 four prospectors were leaving Grapevine Station (present day Barstow, California) for a mountain peak to the northeast. Describing the peak as "calico-colored", the peak, the mountain range to which it belonged, and the town that followed were all called Calico. The four prospectors discovered silver in the mountain, and opened the Silver King Mine, which was California's largest silver producer in the mid-1880s. A post office was established in early 1882, and the Calico Print, a weekly newspaper, started publishing. The town soon supported three hotels, five general stores, a meat market, bars, brothels, and three restaurants and boarding houses. The county established a school district and a voting precinct. The town also had a deputy sheriff and two constables, two lawyers and a justice of the peace, five commissioners, and two doctors. There was also a Wells Fargo office and a telephone and telegraph service. At its height of silver production during 1883 and 1885, Calico had over 500 mines and a population of 1,200 people. Local badmen were buried in the Boot Hill cemetery.
The discovery of the borate mineral colemanite in the Calico mountains a few years after the settlement of the town also helped Calico's fortunes, and in 1890 the estimated population of the town was 3,500, with nationals of China, England, Ireland, Greece, France, and the Netherlands, as well as Americans living there. In the same year, the Silver Purchase Act was enacted, and it drove down the price of silver. By 1896, its value had decreased to $0.57 per troy ounce, and Calico's silver mines were no longer economically viable. The post office was discontinued in 1898, and the school closed not long after. By the turn of the century, Calico was all but a ghost town, and with the end of borax mining in the region in 1907 the town was completely abandoned. Many of the original buildings were moved to Barstow, Daggett and Yermo.
An attempt to revive the town was made in about 1915, when a cyanide plant was built to recover silver from the unprocessed Silver King Mine's deposits. Walter Knott and his wife Cordelia, founders of Knott's Berry Farm, were homesteaded at Newberry Springs around this time, and Knott helped build the redwood cyanide tanks for the plant. In 1951, Knott purchased the town and began restoring it to its original condition referencing old photographs. He installed a longtime employee named "Calico Fred" Noller as resident caretaker and official greeter. In 1966, Knott donated the town to San Bernardino County, and Calico became a County Regional Park.
In 2012 Calico became the first ghost town in America to be re-opened for residential purposes. 100m from the ghost town site, six luxury villas were built with a trading value of $4.5 million.
Calico has been restored to the silver rush era it once flourished, although many original buildings were removed and replaced instead with gingerbread architecture and false facades that tourists would expect to see in a Western-themed town; Most of the restored and newly built buildings are made of wood with a simple, rustic architecture and a severely weathered appearance. Some structures still stand dating back to the town's operational years: Lil's Saloon; the town office; the former home of Lucy Lane, which is now the main museum but was originally the town's post office and courthouse; Smitty's Gallery; the general store; and Joe's Saloon. There is also a replica of the schoolhouse on the site of the original building. The one-time homes of the town's Chinese citizens exist as ruins only; nothing remains of the former "family" residential area on a nearby bluff.
Today, the park operates mine tours, gunfight stunt shows, gold panning, several restaurants, the historic narrow-gauge Calico and Odessa Railroad, and a number of trinket stores. It is open every day except Christmas, and requires an entrance fee. Additional fees are required for some attractions. Overnight camping is also available. Special events are held throughout the year including a Spring Festival in May, Calico Days in early October, and a Ghost Town haunt in late October.
^Durham, David L. (1998). "Part Eleven – Southeast Region (Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties)". California's Geographic Names. Clovis, California: Word Dancer Press. p. 1401. ISBN1-884995-14-4.