Man spends his life savings on California ghost town

A man who bought a California ghost town with hopes of reviving it is now trapped there amid coronavirus lockdown.

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Arrested decay? Preserved ruin? Resilience

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Brent Underwood, 32, and his friend, Jon Bier, shelled out a whopping $1.4 million in 2018 to buy Cerro Gordo, a former silver mining town with a storied past in the Inyo Mountains, near Death Valley, according to the New York Times. There bid was one of many considered for the historic town.

In April, after agreeing to take over duties of the town’s hired full-time caretaker amid the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, Underwood became stuck when a freak snowstorm buried the town in 5 feet of snow.

His current lodging has no running water and the closest nearby town is 7 miles away.

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A winter (in April) walk-through of Cerro Gordo:⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ 1. The Belshaw House. A home originally built by Mortimer Belshaw in 1868. Belshaw was responsible for developing the eight-mile toll road up the mountainside — the Yellow Grade Road aka Cerro Gordo Road. Belshaw brought the first load of Cerro Gordo silver to Los Angeles. There he pitched Egbert Judson, president of the California Paper Company on the potential of Cerro Gordo. ⁣⁣ ⁣ 2. The Crapo House: William "Billy" Crapo was unhappy with an election and in January 1893 he stepped out his front door and shot and killed Postmaster Harry Boland. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but the posse never caught up with him.⁣⁣ ⁣ 3. The Gordon Mansion. Originally constructed in 1909 by Louis D. Gordon. Gordon brought the “Zinc Era” to Cerro Gordo after he started extracting zinc in the Union Mine in 1911. Cerro Gordo became the principal zinc producer for the US. Gordon was responsible for constructing the two aerial tramways bringing ore down the mountain. The zinc operations lasted until the 1930s.⁣⁣ ⁣ 4. The American Hotel. The American Hotel was originally built in 1871 by an Englishman named John Simpson and his wife. It’s Said to be the oldest hotel in California east of the Sierras. Inside is the saloon and the cardroom with the infamous bullet in the wall and bloodstain on the ground from a card game gone awry.⁣⁣ ⁣ 5. A tree donated to Cerro Gordo by Stanford University.⁣⁣ ⁣ 6. Looking towards Owen’s Lake. The water from Owens Lake was diverted in 1913 as part of the LA Aqueduct Program. By 1926 the lake was dry, devastating the local community and environment. ⁣⁣ ⁣ 7. Entering Cerro Gordo along Cerro Gordo Rd.⁣⁣ ⁣ 8. The American Hotel.

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To make matters worse? Underwood says the town, which allegedly saw at least one murder per week during its heyday, has a reputation for being haunted.

“Things are moving around, I’m seeing curtains move, I’m hearing things in the night,” he told the New York Post. “There’s no draft, but things drop inside of houses.”

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The Belshaw House . . The home was originally built by Mortimer Belshaw in 1868. Belshaw was responsible for developing the eight-mile toll road up the mountainside — the Yellow Grade Road aka Cerro Gordo Road. . . Belshaw arrived in Cerro Gordo in April 1868 and by December 1868 he controlled most of the town along with Victor Beaudry (shown together in the second photo – Beaudry (left) and Belshaw (right)) . . The same year Belshaw brought the first load of Cerro Gordo silver to Los Angeles. There he pitched Egbert Judson, president of the California Paper Company on the potential of Cerro Gordo. Judson was impressed by the pitch and the ore that Belshaw brought to LA and agreed to finance the Cerro Gordo operations. . . They took  ore production from an average of seven tons a day to nine tons per day. Thirty-two teams carted $50,000 worth of silver and lead — only half of the maximum output — down the Yellow Grade Road every day to start a three-week trek to Los Angeles where the silver and lead were separated at a proper refinery. . . By the end of 1869, more than 340 tons of bullion has been pulled from Cerro Gordo and transported to Los Angeles. Cerro Gordo silver became the most common silver in Los Angeles, proudly displayed at the best hotels and banks, as well as many of the businesses along Main and Spring Streets. . . Belshaw eventually moved in 1877 to the Northern California town of Antioch where he mined, among other things, and died in 1898. . . His Cerro Gordo home still stands today.

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Underwood told Business Insider that Cerro Gordo, which was founded in 1865 and has been abandoned for almost 100 years, was largely a lawless town forsaken by police since it is located 200 miles outside of Los Angeles.

Although he was hoping to reopen the town in May to tourists, Underwood has since delayed his plans. In the meantime, he’s working on renovating what he can, despite the snow and pandemic.

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Inside the saloon

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