Sitting smack-dab in the heart of the
Kelso’s story begins in 1905 when the San Pedro,
No matter how the name came about, a depot; single-story, wooden lunchroom; five-stall, concrete roundhouse and repair facilities were built and a small town developed around the facilities. This was a railroad town, plain and simple. In 1916, the railroad dropped the San Pedro portion of its name, becoming known as the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, but that name change did not affect operation of the line or the stations. On April 27, 1921 the LA&SLRR sold the line to the Union Pacific, and the little support town continued to thrive.
In 1920, L.J. Packard opened up a small, concrete, general store, into which the post office moved. He operated the store and post office until 1941, when he died. His wife then leased the store out, and it continued to operate until the late 1940s.
In 1923 the two-story depot building was
built. It replaced the original
lunchroom, which burned in 1922. The
Union Pacific built it in a grand style to provide direct competition to the
Santa Fe Railroad and their famous Harvey House depots. The railroads were in major competition with
each other to woo
riders and loyalty, so the depots were usually the first
thing most potential customers saw.
Good food, good service, and good
facilities kept them. So, this
modern gem was built, the fourth of six Spanish Mission Revival Style depots on
the Union Pacific’s
The beanery was a popular spot for the locals to eat, and functioned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, keeping its 12-14 employees bustling. Two of the trains that stopped here each day stopped to provide meals for the passengers. One stopped in the morning for breakfast and the other disgorged 40-50 passengers in the late afternoon. The beanery only seated a maximum of 33 people along its “U”-shaped counter, so that afternoon stop sounds like it could have been a bit hectic! After the war ended, it was remodeled and made much smaller, seating only 12. Even in its sunset days, the beanery was busy. During the 1959-1964 period it averaged 97 meals a day. Due to declining use, in 1969, the night shift was eliminated, and the café only operated from 0500-2100 (5 am-9 pm). By 1972, it served only employees, and in 1985 it closed along with the depot.
During the World War II years, Kaiser’s Vulcan Iron Mine was active in the hills about nine miles southeast of town. Some sources claim this activity pushed Kelso’s population upwards to the 1500-2000 range. I personally question this number, but it seems to have grown roots. IF any of you readers have concrete proof of that number, please let me know. In 1938, there were 87 registered voters in the Kelso District.
The Vulcan Mine was the Kaiser Corporation’s foray
into iron mining. The Vulcan deposits
were originally discovered in 1908, and purchased by Kaiser between 1940 and
1942 to provide the necessary iron ore to process into plate steel. Kaiser was one of the largest Liberty Ship
builders during the war and as a result needed copious amounts of iron ore to
feed to its brand-new (built in 1942), massive steel mill in
The Vulcan Mine was located on the west side of
When World War II ended, most of the railroads were switching to diesel-powered engines, so the need for water stops, helper engines and repair facilities diminished. As a result, Kelso began to fade. In 1959, the last helper engine left, and Kelso’s heyday was fading. On August 14, 1964, the last Kelso-obtained, ticked passenger climbed on board the train at the depot, and the west half of the depot shut down. On May 1, 1971, AMTRAK took over passenger service on the line, but its trains did not stop at Kelso.
By 1979, the depot was falling into disrepair, so the station master and his family moved out. In 1985, it was finally closed and boarded up and the Union Pacific wanted to demolish the station building. Public support, intervention by local Congressional representatives and a grass-roots organization called the Kelso Depot Fund, all rallied to save the depot, collecting public sympathy to save it as a valued historic relic. It was one of the few remaining historic depots in the country. The Union Pacific agreed, and transferred title to the Kelso Depot Fund.
In 1992, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took control of the site in 1992, and in 1994 the Mojave National Preserve was established. The building sat vacant until around 2002 when restoration of the depot began. It was accurately restored back to what it looked like during its glory years of 1924-1945. Restoration was completed and the building reopened to the public on March 25, 2006. It currently serves as a museum and visitor center, both for Kelso and for the Mojave National Preserve. In April 2009, the beanery reopened, serving light meals to the public during the 0900-1700 (9 am-5 pm) timeframe.
Some of Kelso’s remaining buildings, structures and items of interest include the depot (see details above), the LJ Packard Store (which on many websites is misnamed the Post Office), the jail, water tower, along with numerous other unidentified buildings and small homes. One of my favorites is a round-roofed house that looks different than most houses in ghost towns.
is a two-cell metal cage that was brought to Kelso in 1944, replacing an out-of-service
refrigerator car that originally served as the town’s original lock-up. The cage jail was especially unpopular as it
was not inside a building, and most folks tried to avoid having the town
constable escort them into the facility!
Both being exposed to passing folks and to the unmerciful sun in the summer, or blustery cold in the winter. Most of its occupants were miners or workers
at the Kaiser mine that came into town and had a little too much to drink. The little jail truly enforced sobriety! Sometime after Kelso faded, the jail
structure was taken to
One of Kelso’s claims to fame is the fact it was one of the last towns in the state to finally get television reception – in the late 1970s!
Kelso is a fascinating little ghost town to visit, and well worth the jaunt.
· 1970 – 75, 1980 – 75, 1990 – 30, 2000 - 30
· NE ¼ Sec 25, T11N, R12E, San Bernardino Meridian
· Latitude: 35.0124884 / 35° 00’ 45” N
· Longitude: -115.6536072 / 115° 39’ 13” W
This was our Ghost Town of the Month for Sep 2009.
Visit Ghost Town USA’s CALIFORNIA Ghost Town Pages
Also visit: Ghost Town
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FIRST POSTED: September 03, 2009
LAST UPDATED: October 02, 2009
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