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Kern County, California





Gary B. Speck



RANDSBURG Is NOT GUSSIED UP for tourists, and as you walk the streets you can see both the still living, class D, rough-around-the-edges mining town it was (and hopes to be again) as well as a “living ghost town” with about 69 residents (2010 census).  It sits in the northeastern end of the Rand Mountains, a mile west of US 395.  Hands down, it is the best semi-ghost town in Southern California.  This well-worn desert gold mining town supported the on-again off-again efforts of the Yellow Aster mine, one of Southern California’s richest gold mines.  The remaining residents either try to cater to tourists, or are retired from life.  Randsburg doesn't have the garish tourist traps and artsy-fartsy shops that seem to infest so many of these historic old towns.  This is the real McCoy, a genuine, honest-to-goodness, former desert mining town still clinging to life.  Mining was its life blood, and that blood today runs rather thin, but is still flowing!  


Its story officially began on April 25, 1895 when three prospectors named Frederic Mooers, Charles Burcham and John Singleton staked the Rand Mine, optimistically naming it after the decade-old, famous Witwatersrand gold mining district in South Africa. They had wandered over from Summit Dry Diggin's, a nearly forgotten old placer camp ten miles northeast where Mooers and another man named William Langdon discovered good ore the year before, but didn’t stake a claim.  So a year later the three new partners found even richer gold ore.  Try as they might to keep the discovery secret, word leaked out and soon the entire hillside was covered with mining claims.  At first the ore was shipped to a mill at nearby Cow Wells, soon to be renamed Garlock, where it was processed.  Competition created additional mills, and soon even they couldn’t keep up with the production, so the owners elected to build their own mill on site. 


The mine paid the discoverers well and by adding Dr. Rose Burcham, the level-headed wife of Charles Burcham, they managed to hold on to the mine despite a short period of legal entanglements.  The camp grew, and in 1896 the Yellow Aster Mining Company was incorporated, the mine renamed, the 100 stamp mill ran around the clock, and life was good for the town's citizens.  The four partners also became millionaires.


By the turn of the Century, Randsburg was Southern California’s biggest gold mining town and in 1900 is said to have had over 300 buildings and a population around 3500.  Some of the businesses in town included: attorneys, boarding houses, a brass band, dance halls, dentists, a doctor, hotels, miner’s union hall, post office, restaurants, saloons, stores, a theatre and a volunteer fire department.  There were daily stages and railroad service from Johannesburg, a mile away.  Fire visited the wooden mining town several times, but rebuilding began each time before the ashes had even cooled.  This was one tough little town, yet not lawless like many of its ilk.


Unlike many mining towns, the gold did not run out quickly and Randsburg did not experience a “Big Bust” – at least at first.  After the initial flush of romantic new-love, Randsburgers settled into a long-term comfortable relationship with the golden treasure under their feet.  Little flickers of excitement around the periphery of The Rand kept life exciting, but didn’t interrupt the day to day business of gold mining. A tungsten boom in the 19-teens at Atolia and a silver excitement in Red Mountain from 1919-1929 kept folks employed.  During the 1930s, 750 people still remained in Randsburg, and all seemed rosy until 1942 when the US Government ordered the Yellow Aster to shut down after producing as much as $20-25,000,000.  People finally began to drift away, and by 1945, Randsburg was nearly deserted. 


For the next 35 years, Randsburg clung to life by shreds of hope and maintained a population in the 100-200 range, most of whom doted on Randsburg’s “Living Ghost Town” status.  In 1990 that mining hope reignited when the Yellow Aster Mine reopened.  It remained open until just a few years ago.  Today the open pit mine and neighboring mining properties are fenced off to prevent trespass, and to help people avoid contact with the mine tailings and their elevated arsenic levels.  Again, hope is stubborn, and the residents keep hoping that the mine will again reopen. 


Randsburg still has a few active businesses competing for attention with abandoned buildings. There are a couple bed-and-breakfasts, two saloons, a pair of churches, a gaggle of antique shops, an art gallery, fire station, the post office, a museum and the famous Randsburg General Store, all still open.  Other businesses were closed at the time of my visit on a mid-day Friday, but they may be open on weekends.  The store still serves residents and tourists alike.  Check out their lunch counter for a great, fairly inexpensive lunch, followed by their famous banana splits.  After eating, check out their bookshelf for some great ghost town titles, including my two books, Dust in the Wind - A Guide to American Ghost Towns and GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.


Wandering either along Butte Avenue (the main street) or any of the side streets with a camera in hand attracts very little attention - as long as you stay on the road or the shoulder.  However, look closely as there are a lot of little surprises and details in this town that really show the character of the folks that still remain.  Also please note that many of the buildings are posted, so please abide by the owner’s wishes.  Scattered about the perimeter of town are headframes and other mining buildings, all of which are posted.  This old town has a lot of attitude and remains as it was, a quaint old desert mining town.  History pours from the crumbling adobe, rock and tin-sided, wooden buildings, while quiet reigns supreme.  Many of the old buildings along Butte Avenue stand empty, while others have been restored, renovated and reused.  The only new building in town is the Kern County Fire Department, which sits mid-block to protect the dry bones of this wonderful old town. 


Next to Bodie, Randsburg is at the top of my list of California ghost towns and makes for a great day of exploring. 


This was our Ghost Town of the Month for May 2013



Location (Fire Station):

·        E-Ctr Sec 35, T29S, R40E, Mt. Diablo Baseline & Meridian

·        Latitude: 35.3678963  / 35° 22' 04" N

·        Longitude: -117.6521884 / 117° 39’ 08” W






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FIRST POSTED:  April 28, 2013

LAST UPDATED: October 28, 2013




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