Travel To "Normal" Places

California Ghost Towns: Howland Flat

First settled in 1853 when mines known as the Union Company and California Company were discovered, Howland Flat was once second in size and importance only to La Porte. Located twelve miles north of Downieville on the East Branch of Slate Creek and at the base of the dramatic 7,000′ elevation Table Rock Mountain, Howland Flat is still well worth a visit.

The population during its year of greatest activity, 1863, was approximately 1,500. In the same year, there were about 100 inhabitants at Potosi, and several hundred more were living and mining within a mile radius of Howland Flat. Thus, the town and vicinity comprised approximately 2,000 people.

In its prime, Howland Flat played host to several hotels, saloons, general stores, dentists and barbers. However, the town also was home to a surgeon, a bath house, a post office, a jewelry and watch repair shop, a theater, a notary public and at least one attorney.

Some pictures of Howland Flat during its heyday… This main street pictured here is Down East Street and the road through the remains of Howland Flat follows the same path today. So, the street serves as a good reference point and I will use it as such below:

howland flat

You can just make out Table Rock Mountain in the top part of this picture:

howland flat

Howland Flat with its houses barely visible in the winter… In 1890, the snow in January was sixteen feet deep:

howland flat

Today, the first indication that one is entering Howland Flat (when traveling from the direction of La Porte) comes just after the Lady Be Lucky mine when one will encounter this crumbling foundation off to the right. This used to be a Wells Fargo and a post office (named the Table Rock Post Office):

Howland Flat Wells Fargo

To help you orient yourself… If you refer back to the very first picture of Howland Flat, the Wells Fargo building is directly to the right, just out of view:

The vault was behind those boards in the background:

Howland Flat Wells Fargo

Howland Flat Wells Fargo

Located around this site was a clearing that used to house several stores serving the Chinese community in the area. One store sold firecrackers and rice. Another sold liquor and groceries. In back of the stores were opium dens, gambling houses and a Joss House.

The Joss House at Howland Flat was the only one in the Northern Mines. This place of worship for the Chinese was a one-room wooden building with an altar and many chairs.

Although Howland Flat had a large Chinese community, the largest number of immigrants were actually Irish.

Across the street from the Wells Fargo building is this meadow… The McDonnell home used to be here as well as the John Wolff & Son Brewery:

howland flat california

This is a picture of the brewery that used to be here:

brewery-howland-flat

This structure, which is in close proximity, hung on for a while… This was the home of Ah Guey – one of the more colorful Chinese residents of Howland Flat. Ah Guey (real name Guey Long) arrived in Howland Flat in the 1870s and mined in the area for an estimated fifty-four years before finally passing away in 1932.

Howland Flat

Unfortunately, his home is now quickly being consumed by the elements:

Howland Flat

The remains of Ah Guey’s home are to the right in this picture below… At one time, the homes of Jim Hayes and George Hayes could also be found in this meadow:

howland flat

Farther back in the trees, one will discover this mini house… This picture was taken in 2005:

Howland Flat

Unfortunately, the front section of the mini house has now collapsed:

Howland Flat

This is my friend Ian, who is of average height, standing inside the mini house to demonstrate its scale:

Howland Flat

A stone just outside the mini house is carved with the following:

Howland Flat

Continuing on the remains of Down East Street, one will next come to this white house, named “Miner’s Home”:

Howland Flat

Most summers when I have visited Howland Flat, there have been people staying here on a seasonal basis.

An outbuilding near the Miner’s Home, which I have been advised was a stable:

Howland Flat

There are a number of foundations near the Miner’s Home and so obviously this area housed a number of other structures in the past.

Nearby the Miner’s Home one used to find the sign and structure pictured below… This picture was taken in 1986:

Howland Flat

Now, there is nothing left of the above.

Across the street from the Miner’s Home are the remains of this structure… I have been told this may have been the Cosker family home. Judging by the maps, it appears it could also have been the Carmichael Barn, but that is speculation on my part:

howland flat

Just a short distance farther on Down East Street will bring one to this stand of trees (on the right) where the “new” schoolhouse in Howland Flat used to be found:

howland flat ghost town

Pressing on, one will very shortly come to this meadow on the left:

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

There are a number of ruins to be found across the meadow:

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

And you can’t tell because of the trees, but the land behind the trees at the bottom of the meadow drops down into an area that experienced intensive hydraulic mining. Gold mines such as the Midas Mine and the Last Chance Hydraulic Mine operated here:

Howland Flat

Also toward the bottom part of the main meadow, several smaller open areas branch off…These have their own sets of ruins:

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

The girls examining some of the historical curiosities left on the ground… The first time I came here with my father, someone had just come through (I assume with a metal detector) and uncovered all sorts of interesting items such as a boar’s tusk, unused ammunition and Chinese dishes:

Howland Flat

However, in the center of the meadow, an intact structure still stands:

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

When I first visited Howland Flat as a child with my father (mid-1980s), this home in the meadow was still occupied. This is what the interior looks like today:

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Howland Flat

Very shortly beyond the new schoolhouse mentioned above (again on the right), one will arrive at this leveled area that was the site of the Becker Hotel:

becker hotel howland flat

This is directly to the left of the above picture:

howland flat

A picture of the hotel in its heyday:

hotel-howland-flat

To give you some perspective on where exactly this is, in this picture below I am standing at the site of Becker’s Hotel and facing the cabin in the meadow. In the foreground are Jann Garvis and Don Goard who were kindly showing me around:

don goard jann garvis howland flat

Here’s a better view of the ruins directly behind Jann and Don… This may have been a stable for those staying at the Becker Hotel:

howland flat

Farther up the road (on the left side) and at the top of the meadow, one can find this structure:

Howland Flat

howland flat

I have been informed that Tim Hayes (who had ten children) lived here and he was followed by Ruby Hayes (You’ll recall the name Hayes from the mini house).

The interior:

Howland Flat

This is how the home pictured above looked in 1986… Even back in 1986, this structure was supposedly well over one hundred years old and had been lived in until just a few years before. So, a lot of history is being lost here:

Howland Flat California

Mines located around Howland Flat were/are:

Alturas, Black Hawk, California Consolidated (Table Rock Mining Company), Cox, Knowles & Company, Cox & Downer, Doherty Flume, Down East Company, Eight-nine Quartz Claim, Empire (White & Company), Fair Play, Gardner & Company, Golden Age, Golden Hive, Golden Scepter Placer Group (Golden Anchor, True Friendship and Golden Shaft), Hayes Placer Claim, Hibernia, Ina Drift Claim, IXL & South IXL Group, Knowles, Fant & Hewitt, Last Chance (Ah Quock, Young America, Busy Bee), Loftus Blue Lead, Mammoth Drift Claim, Midas Mine (Wehrle), Miner’s Home Mine (Kewana, Table Rock Mine), Minnesota, Morgan, Donahue & Cox, Mountaineer, Nip & Gouge Company, Noyes & Company, Pennsylvania Tailing Claim (Molter Mine), Pennsylvania Placer (Doherty, Hong Fat), Shirley Mining Company, South Fork Mining Company (Chittenden, Stout & Company), Southern Cross, St. Julian, Susquehanna Quartz Ledge, Union Company (Bright Star), Wabash, Wagner & Company and the Wah Kee Tailing Claim.

*******

This next section is a bit of a gray area. According to the old maps that exist of this region, the area below may actually be in Potosi. However, everyone seems to refer to this area as the “Howland Flat graves” or the “Howland Flat cemetery”. So, I include the following in both the Howland Flat article as well as the Potosi one. Potosi and Howland Flat were right next to each other and so some overlap is understandable.

If one continues past Howland Flat, one will come to a fork in the road (this fork is where the town of Potosi was located). The road to the right leads to Poker Flat and the road to the left winds a little way up the hill overlooking the town. Soon, one will come across a small cemetery next to the road.

There is/was both a Catholic and a Protestant cemetery covering this area. The cemetery next to the road is the Catholic cemetery:

potosi

potosi

potosi

howland flat cemetery

Below, is a picture that shows the Catholic Church that used to stand next to the graves pictured above. In the background, Table Rock can be seen much more clearly than at present day:

catholic church howland flat

I must mention that the historical pictures in this article come from the outstanding and exhaustively researched Roar of the Monitors by Jann E. Garvis. If you’re interested in this area’s history, you’ll find a staggering amount of information in this book and I highly recommend it.

If one crosses the road onto the land marked as being a claim controlled by Winkeye Mining, one will see a number of other graves in two areas. I believe this is what is left of the Protestant cemetery. The tailing ponds of the Winkeye Mine operation bisect the graves, with one section being below the ponds on the flat area overlooking Howland Flat and the other being in the brush next to the other side of the pond. If one wanders through the brush in this area, one should come across a number of graves.

The below are pictures of the graves from both sides of the tailing ponds:

potosi

This is the Frank Becker associated with the Becker Hotel mentioned above:

potosi

potosi

potosi

potosi

potosi

There is also a Chinese cemetery in the Howland Flat/Potosi area, but I have never been able to find it. Apparently, the cemetery (empty of bodies) was hidden in dense manzanita, with the dead finding their final resting places in their homeland.

A listing of the graves that have been found in the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries can be found here.

As with the others in this series, this remains a long-term project. I shall update these articles anytime new information comes into my possession.

As rapidly as these remaining towns are disappearing, my goal is to get something up to try and collect some of the memories of those that still remember this area as it was and to document what little is left of these towns before they are gone completely. The impetus for this comes from seeing how much has disappeared just in the brief decade or two that I have been visiting.

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25 thoughts on “California Ghost Towns: Howland Flat

  1. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: Scales | The Velvet Rocket

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  3. excellent article – great photos – its a shame these towns and the cemeteries are being lost but still, what a lovely setting and peaceful place to be buried
    found the contrast between the vegetation on the hills in the 19th century and today pretty interesting

  4. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: Potosi And The Winkeye Mine | The Velvet Rocket

  5. I have spoken to a man who was born at Howland Flat in that cabin out in the meadow. He was working in Auburn at an equipment rental yard on hi49. His brother is a pro photographer who has taken many pics of Howland Flat. He offered me the “Howland Flat Discount” on any heavy equipment I rented there. I hope to reconnect with him and meet his brother and see/maybe buy some of his pics. When I first saw the Flat in ’91 with buildings still standing on Down East Street (Main St.) it reminded me of a Clint Eastwood movie set. Down East Street was named for the Down East Drift Mine which adjoins my mine on the east side. I have seen unfriendly types at the Miner’s Home house, all dressed in black, in black SUVs and carrying black webbing and pistols. They gave me dirty looks and frowns so I waved to them and smiled back and slid the .44 mag out of its holster on the seat next to me and carried on down the road.

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  7. Thank you for the great article and photos of Howland Flat. My Grandfather was born there, and his Brother is buried there. I had the pleasure of camping there during the summer of 2001. During the 3 days I spent there, I never saw anyone else around. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

    • Thank you for your comment, Alan. Sounds like your family has quite a connection to Howland Flat…

      It is indeed a special place to visit and I enjoy myself every time I return.

  8. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: St. Louis « The Velvet Rocket

  9. A few comments:
    The “mini-house” belonged to Clarence Hayes. He and his wife spent summers there until at least the 1970s. The first time we met him, he ran us off with a shotgun.
    The “intact structure” belonged to Ed Hayes (my uncle). It would probably still be livable today if the vandals hadn’t exposed the interior to the weather.
    The “white house” is on the Miner’s Home claim (mentioned later in the article).
    I can remember my family members arguing over whether my dad was born in Howland Flat or Potosi. There were also several other small towns close to Poker Flat Road near where Howland Flat Road crosses Potosi Creek.
    Funny that you didn’t name the Wink-Eye in your list of mines. It was my grandfather’s (and partners) and one of the richest in the area.
    There has also been talk of a “military” cemetery in Howland Flat. Judging from the markers, the one “across the road” might have been Protestant/military. The second part of that cemetery is almost impossible to get to anymore. It’s very thick in brush. If you go through that part and continue down the ridge (downstream with Potosi Creek), that’s where the Chinese cemetery was. There are no markers, probably for two reasons. The grave markers were probably made of wood, and many of the Chinese sent the remains of relatives back to China.
    We’ve been researching Howland Flat for more than 40 years. The old folks used to call it “up home.” That’s what it is to us now.
    And, yes, Jann’s book is a treasure. For years, she talked about “the book.” We started to think that it was just a pipe dream. What a beautiful piece of work. We had about 75 people at a book signing at Slate Creek in September 2004. They came from many parts of the country for the event. The Union Hotel was full and had to feed in shifts.
    Thanks for this site. We’re always interested in hearing from, and sharing with, people that are interested in Howland Flat.

    • Don –

      Thank you so much for all of the fantastic Howland Flat details that you shared. I really, really appreciate it as information on this area is difficult to find and is getting more difficult each year.

      I had trouble with the Winkeye Mine because I did not know whether to place it in a Howland Flat post or a Potosi/Winkeye post. I eventually went with the Potosi/Winkeye option. So, I definitely did not neglect it – just gave it its own space… Here is the link:

      http://thevelvetrocket.com/2012/01/03/california-ghost-towns-potosi-and-the-winkeye-mine/

    • Don, Clarence Hayes was my uncle and my dad Elmer Hayes had a cabin near his. My Grandfather was James Hayes (Had a brother named Ed with a cabin nearby). My dad died in the 70s fishing in slate creek. As a kid I made countless trips to Howland Flat with my parents. So it sounds as if we may be related. We have relatives at one of the grave yards. So , it sounds as if we are related. Thanks Jim Hayes jhayes1154@aol.com

    • I have stories about Gary Miller. As far as I know, he’s still alive. There are better sources of historical information. I’m here and love to talk about Howland Flat.

  10. My name is James Hayes and my Grandfather was a gold miner in Howland Flat. We had a cabin there that has since come down. If you know any Hayes from the bay area that had relatives there please let me know. Nice job on the website. The rock with the initials on it belonged to my aunt and uncle who had one of the cabins in your photos. Thank you! Jim Hayes 916 988 6894

    • Thank you for your comment, James. It is great to encounter individuals such as yourself that have some connection to Howland Flat or the surrounding area and can tell us all a little more about it…

  11. My Grandfather, Lester McKenzie was born in Howland Flat, also known as Table Rock. His Father, Roderick, was a gold miner; his Mother was Suzie (McGrath) McKenzie. Rodericks Father was from New Brunswick, and sailed around Cape Horn to get to California during the gold rush. The McKenzies had a large house at Howland Flat, and a big family. I think there were 8 children. Suzie died in 1905 and is buried in the St. Louis Cemetery. The house deteriorated and collapsed by the 1950’s. I have pictures dating back to about 1918, of my Grandfather, (we called him Papa Mac), skiing at Howland Flat with his Brothers. Not long after that, the rest of the family left the area to find jobs elsewhere. The McKenzies were in-laws with the Sinnotts and Schwerings.

    • We met “McKenzie” in Howland Flat, probably in the early ’80s. His house was between Howland Flat and St. Louis. The government razed his house shortly after he died (sometime in the ’80s?). There is still a garage/outbuilding standing there. Do you know which McKenzie that was? Did you ever meet James Sinnott?

      • Don, I’ve heard of James Sinnott, but never met him. My family connection to his family was during the late 1800’s, so I don’t know any of the Sinnotts. All I know is that they are part of the history of the area, and one of them married into my distant family. Regarding the “McKenzie” you met in the early ’80’s; he was more than likely not related to me. The name is a coincidence. All the aunts and uncles moved out of the area, and died long before the ’80’s, and none of the descendants stayed in the area. They are pretty much far flung across the country. My McKenzie family house was right in the town of Howland Flat. One of my Great-Uncles, Roy McKenzie is buried at Howland Flat near the large pond. He died in 1917 at age 21, and according to my Grandfather, his death was caused by an automobile accident.

  12. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: Poker Flat | The Velvet Rocket

  13. I’m really glad I found this. Brings back a lot of memories. The cabin all boarded up “Miners Home” actually belongs to my uncle and his family. :) we used to come up here every summer and sometimes in the winter and stay in this cabin. You wouldn’t believe how perfect everything is in the inside of this place. This place is my heaven. :)

    • Thank you for your comment, Cecily Lee… I’ve always been curious about the inside of the “Miner’s Home” and would love to see it someday. Those people I’ve spoken to that have been inside say that it is fascinating inside and, like you said, that everything is perfect. Unfortunately, it is the last really intact building at Howland Flat.

      • Sadly this cabin will not be standing for too much longer. My uncles cousins did some pretty stupid things and made forestry very angry and will be torn down soon: As my dad said “it’s more great memories for the memory box.” But I do have pictures of the inside if you would like to see them.

  14. I’m really sorry to hear that the Miner’s Home will be lost as it was really the last intact structure in Howland Flat… I know the Forest Service has destroyed a great many of the historical structures in the area, but I was under the impression that they had adopted a more enlightened policy. I guess not.

    Yes, I would love to see your pictures. Thank you for sharing them.

  15. Hi I recently took my family to Howland flat,such a beautiful, and interesting place. it angers me that the miners cabin might be torn down. very last standing structure in the town. please post pics of the inside, would enjoy seeing them.

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