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The Benton Twins

Mono County, California

by

Gary B. Speck

 

 

There are two Bentons in California.  AND they are only four miles apart. AND the sites are filled with confusion.  The town currently located at the junction of US 6/SH 120 that goes by the name of BENTON, and carries the Benton Post Office name is the upstart and in reality is not the original Benton. 

 

BENTON HOT SPRINGS

 

The original town of BENTON is variously called OLD BENTON, BENTON HOT SPRINGS or just plain old HOT SPRINGS.  It got its start around 1863 with the discovery of silver in the nearby Blind Springs Hills and along the western base of the White Mountains in the Montgomery Mining District. 

 

By 1865 it was the largest town in the county and in 1867 or so, the post office was established.  In 1873, the price of silver declined and Benton faded.  Just the year before it escaped serious damage in the massive Owens Valley earthquake, the only damage appearing to consist of store shelves being emptied of their products.

           

By the early 1880s it was the designated terminus for the Bodie & Benton Railway, but that line stopped 15 miles west of town and got no closer.  This old silver mining town/supply center was named after Thomas Hart Benton, the Missouri Senator well known for his silver monetary policies and a believer of westward expansion.  He was also the Father-in-Law of the famed explorer John Fremont.  At this time the old town consisted of a couple general stores, a hotel, and other businesses, including several saloons and an express station. It also had a popular brewery and the hot springs, which attracted tourists.  There was also a large “Chinatown”, daily stages to all points and a twice-weekly pony mail service to Aurora.

 

Over 100 years later, in the mid 1990s, only one store remained, and it the store was only open periodically, while an antique shop was in process of restoration.  This past July, the store is definitely closed and the antique shop was restored, but not open.  A bed and breakfast was open and an auto repair shop looked semi-open, while a number of rock and wooden cabins dot the main part of town.  The quiet townsite boasted a population of 13½, according to signs on site.

 

BENTON STATION

 

In the 1880s, the Carson & Colorado Railroad came down through the valley to the east, and just west of the former site of Montgomery City.  In 1883, on the flats about four miles east of Benton, a railroad station was established and named BENTON STATION.  It was located about 32 miles north of Bishop and seven south of the state line. In the 2000 Census, some 190 folks lived here.

 

After its founding, Benton Station quickly developed into a shipping center for the local silver mines, and when the highway was built, a busting road town.  In 1938, the railroad closed this portion of its route, and Benton Station dropped the “Station” portion of its name and served primarily as a road town supplying tourists with food and gas. By now the original town of Benton was going by Benton Hot Springs.

 

In the 1990s, Benton was still hanging in there, some of the businesses including: a church, community hall, fire department, two gas stations, Laundromat, library, post office, three restaurants/cafes (Benton Station Cafe, Soper's Restaurant, and White Mountains Cafe), two stores and a school.  There were mobile homes, older cabins and quite a few post-WWII era homes, lending a non-ghostly air to the community.

 

By July 2008, that’d all changed.  The ghosts are knocking.  Several of the above listed businesses have closed.  The Benton Station (gas station complex) was recently repainted and it and Smalley’s Market & Trading Post appeared to be the only places showing life at the time of my visit on an early Saturday afternoon.  Looking at the Window of the White Mountain Café brought back many memories of roadside café meals.

 

This was our Ghost Town of the Month for August, 2008.

 

BENTON HOT SPRINGS:

·        SW¼  Sec 2, T2S, R31E, Mount Diablo Meridian

·        Latitude: 37.8002103 / 37° 48’ 01” N

·        Longitude: -118.5280107 / 118° 31’ 44” W

 

BENTON STATION:

·        W½ Sec 32, T1S, R32E, MDM

·        Latitude: 37.8190990 / 37° 49’ 09” N

·        Longitude: -118.4765094 / 118° 28’ 35” W

 

 

 

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FIRST POSTED:  September 01, 1998

LAST UPDATED: September 21, 2009

 

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