"Normal" Places We Go

California Ghost Towns: Port Wine

Located in Sierra County near the town of La Porte (which is not a ghost town), Port Wine had its beginnings in early 1850. Stories about the naming of the town include miners finding a barrel of Port hidden in the bushes and another story tells of finding a keg of cognac. No one knows now.

By 1851 surface mining had declined, but hydraulic mining instilled new life into the area. An 1863 newspaper article described Port Wine as a religious and sober town with a strong Welsh presence. However, there were still a number of saloons in town, so they couldn’t have been that uptight. That wasn’t all though – there were also boarding houses, barbers, hotels, livery stables, merchants, blacksmiths, a Wells Fargo Express office and even a post office. Port Wine even had an active ski racing club and competed against other mining towns in the area. It was a proper town in other words…

The images immediately below and another farther below are from an outstanding and exhaustively researched book on the ghost towns and mines of this area entitled Roar of the Monitors by Jann E. Garvis. I’ll discuss this book more in a future post, but know that I heartily endorse it. And if you’re interested in this area’s history, you’ll find a gold mine of information in here.

This was Port Wine in its prime:

port wine california

Port Wine Ghost Town

And this is Port Wine today after the legacy of hydraulic mining:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Port Wine California Ghost Town

In the hills in the background of this picture, you can see additional evidence of hydraulic mining activity:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Mines that operated in the area were American Hydraulic Mine, Bevan & Kingdon Placer (later Karch Claim, Old Prince and then Castilli), Big Gulch Placer, Canada Drift (later French Company), Evans, Lewis & Company, Flying Turtle (later Davis Motor Mine and then Motor Gravel Company), Hop Sing Placer Mining Claims (later Ah Tye & Company), Hustler Claim, Last Chance, Libertie & Company (later Port Wine Hydraulic & Water Company), Menifee Placer, Monumental, Mountain Boy (later Bunker Hill), Mountain View Consolidated, Pat’s Gulch Trailings, Penang Placer, Port Wine Consolidated, Quartz Point (later Quartz Hill), Slate Creek Debris Dam Company, St. Lawrence Company, Tregaskis Water Claim, Union Group and Vaughn & Company (later Never Sweat and then Jack Coyote).

Hydraulic mining eventually consumed (literally) the town of Port Wine. This site used to be a hill on which a portion of the town rested:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

This is a view from above down onto the same site:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Not much exists up here now aside from some foundations:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Or the remains of hydraulic mining gear:

Port Wine California Ghost Town

However, there is one structure that has held up better than the others (relatively speaking). At first we assumed this was the Wells Fargo building, but some later research on my part revealed this to be a former store owned by the Kleckner Brothers (Abraham and Amandes).

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Port Wine California Ghost Town

Here’s how the structure looked in better days:

port wine store

And, courtesy of RH, a picture from 1972:

Port wine stone building

Port Wine Cemetery

To the right of the hydraulic mining area pictured above, one can find the Port Wine Cemetery. A forest fire seems to have come through the area last year which has done no favors in preserving the cemetery:

Port Wine Cemetery California Ghost Town

Port Wine Cemetery California Ghost Town

Port Wine Cemetery California Ghost Town

Port Wine Cemetery California Ghost Town

Port Wine Cemetery California Ghost Town

Below are pictures of the Port Wine Cemetery that my father took as a journalist while visiting the area in the 1980s with Dick O’Rourke. Even though the grave markers are made of stone, you can see how much they’ve degraded just in twenty years or so by comparing these pictures with my 2010 pictures above:

Port Wine Cemetery

Port Wine Cemetery

Port Wine Cemetery

For a detailed listing of the names in the cemetery and/or for directions on how to get to Port Wine Cemetery, click here.

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27 thoughts on “California Ghost Towns: Port Wine

  1. Dearest Justin & Eleonora –

    Just this last week end went on a tour of the old mining sites and cemetaries out of La Porte. Googled the author, Jann E. Garvis, and your photos of Port Wine came up. WOW – we were just there on Saturday, 8/21 – and while scolling down, I spy a profile of a very tall young man, and said to myself, HMMM he looks like Brandon. Kept scrolling, and low and behold IT WAS BRANDON!

    Nice to recognize a few faces. Take care – both of you.

    Lorraine

  2. Hi, I would just like to thank you folks for doing your research. I was at the old store today and it appears as it did when the above photos were taken. It looks as if there is a portion on the east side that has a smaller foundation. Perhaps a storage area or a living quarters. It is approx. 15′ x 15′. Any ideas on what the smaller foundation represents?

    • Hi Richard –

      Thanks for your comment. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, but I was deep in the jungle without internet access.

      I’m afraid I don’t know what that smaller area is either. Your guess of a storage area or living quarters is what we came up with as well.

  3. Thank you for this site and for posting these pictures. Many of my ancestors are buried in the cemetery, and there are a lot of familiar names on the headstones in your pictures. I am grateful to all who have taken care of the cemetery and who keep the memory of Port Wine alive.

    My grandmother always referred to the stone building as the Wells Fargo building, so I’m wondering if maybe the caption on the photo above got mixed up. I think she would have told my Dad if any of her family (which included Farren and Liberte) had lived there.

    The story of the naming of the town that came down to us was that a cask of port fell off of a wagon at that location and burst open. We have some old picture of the town, but it’s hard to make sense our of them since the ridge was washed away.

    Thanks again for posting this.

    • Hi Terry –

      I really appreciate your comment and the information you left. It’s great to hear from people such as yourself.

      My initial assumption was that the stone building in Port Wine was an old Wells Fargo building as well (such as the one in Howland Flat). However, when I was looking through the Jann Garvis book, Roar of the Monitors, she clearly identifies it as I outlined in my post. Perhaps it was both at different times in its existence? Or Jann could be wrong, but in my experience her information has been rock solid. Haha, so, in short, I don’t know… It is good to have your comment on record though since there is obviously some question about the building. Hopefully, someone else will be able to help clear things up for us.

  4. My uncle, Bob Cross (father of Tery Cross, whose comment is above) informed me of this site. Though my crummy old computer can’t access most of the photos, I’ve seen some of them already in a book which my mother (Bob’s sister, Aleta Miller) compiled for the family: GOLD IN THE SNOW. Her mother, Rilla Cross (nee Farren, with links to the Caya family) was born in Port Wine and grew up there. In addition to what you have, we have many family photos from the place, and other pictures of people from both Port Wine and surrounding towns. Mom’s book deals with family history, as well as that of the general area, from the 1860s to the early 1890s.

    At present we do not have it in a downloadable format, and some portions draw from printed sources without express permission, but I thought you and the people who read this post might be interested to know that this historic record exits. I think Bob Cross has a copy, and Terry may as well.

    • Thank you for your comment, Faren. I am very glad to know that the book you described exists. I sometimes find it depressing to visit the remains of these old towns such as Port Wine that are disappearing so quickly and think about how much history is being lost. So, it is nice to know that records and information such as you described are out there.

    • I would love to see a copy of the Gold in the Snow book. If it is not too extensive I would be glad to scan it and make it available in digital format. Please email me at dennistowstrailer@gmail.com.
      My 2nd great grandfather William Stillwell Chittenden, a teamster, married Amelia Brown there in 1869. This spring (2016) I obtained a copy of their marriage certificate directly from the Sierra County offices in Downeyville.

  5. Port Wine-I have a picture taken of a group in front of the Union Hotel (by Caya). It must be in the 1880’s. My grandfather is about 12 yrs old in it.
    Jim Downey

  6. I am really excited to see this site! I have been trying to track down my grandfather’s roots. His name was Frank Lyon Iseman and he was born in Port Wine sometime around 1877. His father (my great-grandfather- name unknown) had a successful claim but was shot to death by his partner (name unknown) so he could have all the gold to himself. My great-grandmother, whose name I do not know either, strapped what she had of his gold to her legs, hidden under her long skirt, and crossed the country with her four boys, back to Pennsylvania. I have my grandmothers wedding ring and locket which were part of my grandfather’s share of the remaining gold. I do not know if she brought his body home by train or where he is buried.
    Thank you to everyone who posted photos and gave me some of the history of this place.
    Mary Rodgers

  7. we visited Port Wine for the 1st time on Labor Day, September 5, 2011. It was a beautiful pristine day, nice breeze, no people, fresh bear tracks. Amazing!
    here’s a link to may pics:

    16  port wine cemetery

    Sharon F.

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  9. hi, i am interested in this area as one of my ancestors is recorded here in a 1865 tax assessment. he was in a place called Sloperville CA in an 1864 tax asessment, but i cannot find any info on this place. i am interested in any information regarding both of these areas. my ancestor was a coal miner from Wales, and would have seen Hydraulic mining on a small scale in his home area, we called it scouring over here.

    • Hello Mike –

      I am afraid that I have not heard of Sloperville either. There were many, many towns that sprang up during this era and lasted just a few years before fading away completely. Unfortunately, it can be almost impossible to find any information on them.

      Your ancestor’s mining experience would have been much in demand and the old cemeteries around the remnants of these towns are filled with many Welsh and Cornish miners.

      Good luck with your search. Sorry I can’t give you more…

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  12. Do you mind if I use your photo of William Bevan’s gravestone in a family tree. He is my husband’s great great grandfather.

  13. i was there today have been there a few times over the last thirty years. the cemetary with the burned trees now has those trees cut down and piled in a corner not looking to good but its there. i found an interesting grave marker it had the name William bevan he was 51 died at slate creek bridge nov 20 1867. then a Ann Bevan Turner aged 79 died at slate creek bridge May 3 1900. Thought this kind of odd guessing they must have been brothers and sisters wander if anybody knows the story?

  14. Thank you for posting this. I just noticed it today. It’s delightful to have someone keep thoughts of this town alive. My great grandfather and his brothers played a role in the history of that area. The Slate Creek toll bridge was built and operated by George Lawrence. He and his wife buried their infant (Charles W.E. Lawrence) in the Port Wine Cemetery. David and Edward Lawrence operated a mine and lived in Queen City. Later, George Lawrence ran a motel in Howland Flat. David’s wife Agnes gave birth to six children in Port Wine and throughout the remainder of his life until his death in San Jose, he always said he was from Port Wine. Jann E. Garvis, author of “The Roar of the Monitors” has become a dear friend and in the summer of 2011 she drove my brothers and I from La Porte where she maintains a summer home down through all of that country in her jeep. Her knowledge of the past and present mining operations in that area is unsurpassed. Thank you again.

    • Dennis Lawrence – it is interesting to read that your ancestors owned and operated the Slate Creek Toll Bridge. My husband’s Great Great Grandfather/mother also owned and operated this bridge for a time (William and Anne Bevan). Their son James Henry Cook Bevan was born at the Toll House and is buried in La Porte Cemetery.

      • Fiona Day – what a pleasant surprise to have you respond to my post. Yes, William and Anne Bevan purchased the bridge and toll house from George Lawrence for $1,500. In the October 19, 1889 issue of the Mountain Messenger Anne disclosed the original purchase price and their subsequent improvements when the two counties offered to purchase it for only $500 and threatened to build an alternate bridge if she did not sell.

  15. my great grandfather, ? Roseberry, lived in Port Wine from about 1850 and must have been an early resident. He worked a claim and his wife was the local midwife. I would love to know of any references to them. They moved later to San Francisco where my grandmother was born and subsequently returned to England.

    • Clive…my great grandfather was in Port Wine in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Did your ancestor who was a “midwife” ever keep any records or diaries of her deliveries?

      • Dennis – thanks for your note, but with regret I have very few hard facts to pass on to you.

        One reason is that I have only had access to oral family history with reference to Port Wine. My great grandmother’s married name was Elizabeth Roseberry. It seemed to be the custom then to give the mother’s name to the eldest daughter coupled with the obligation to maintain and disseminate family history mostly by word of mouth to the next generation.
        There have been four such Elizabeths since Port Wine days and the last, my cousin, died about ten years ago. My cousin’s recall of memory was good although older stories tended to be squeezed by more recent ones. But she had no children and when she died this source of bygone personal family history just disappeared. The stories she told from that period which I heard were mainly anecdotal relating to the long hard trek by wagon train across to California and aspects of life in Port Wine and later in San Francisco. As many houses were rather isolated near Port Wine actual births were seen as emergencies and my ggm often had to saddle up and gallop up to 20 miles to get there in time. I don’t remember any mention of the names of clients or friends.

        A further reason resulting in a lack of historical detail relates to the German blockade of Britain during the first half of WW2. The shortage of raw material meant that there was a countrywide demand for things, mainly metal and paper, which could be recycled. A remark many people made such as “we have all those letters and papers in the attic which nobody looks at any more so they can all go” was common and any misgivings came later.

        I’ll keep looking – yrs Clive Hall.

      • Clive…thank you for your comments. My ggfather was always proud of Port Wine. After living in many western mining towns he always said he came from Port Wine even though he was born in Dublin, Ireland. His first wife died in Port Wine or nearby Queen City, but we have not been able to locate a grave. His brother George Lawrence built and operated the nearby Slate Creek bridge for a time and his youngest son’s tombstone is in Port Wine, Charles Warren Lawrence.

  16. This spring I drove up to Downeyville the county seat of Sierra County. I researching genealogy I found a record on-line of my 2nd great grandfather’s marriage in Sierra County in 1869.
    Not only did the county have a record of his marriage but I was surprised to learn he was married to Amelia Brown in Port Wine.
    I hope to visit there soon. Would love to see more old photos of the area.

  17. One note of correction. Port Wine apparently very close to the county line between Plumas County and Sierra County. Consequently, in the past, sometimes it was in Plumas and other times in Sierra County.
    Spring of 2016 county officials in Downeyville informed me it was currently in Sierra County. To my knowledge, nearby La Porte has always been in Plumas County.

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