"Normal" Places We Go

California Ghost Towns: St. Louis

It took me a while to find St. Louis as there is, unfortunately, little left of this once-thriving town to lead one to it.

To get here (on the road leading to Howland Flat which one picks up a little outside of La Porte) travel for about a mile past the St. Louis Bridge up to the top of the ridge. Along the way, you will see the road to Port Wine, Scales, etc. leading off to the right. Keep to the left.

When you have gotten to the top of the ridge (where the road levels out), keep an eye out for evidence of mining activity on the right:

st louis california

Park here, as far off of the road as possible, and then head into the woods on the left for perhaps one or two hundred meters…

The town of St. Louis is believed to be the earliest mining town in northern Sierra County. St. Louis was founded by a party of Missourians who were working the rich placer claims on a tributary of Slate Creek nearby. At its peak in the 1850s, the town contained over a hundred miner’s cabins and other dwellings, several fine hotels, three saloons, several stores (including a jewelry store), a barber shop, a Wells Fargo branch, a sawmill, a boarding house, a schoolhouse and even a farm.

At that time the town had a population of approximately 900 residents.

The photograph below is not of a high quality, but it is the only one I could find of the town of St. Louis and at least provides some sense of what was there:

town-of-st-louis-california

The mining operations at St. Louis were:

Brundage & Conlan
Brundage & Weimer
Cleveland Company
Clifford & Company (Wallace & Company and Conlan & Jacobson)
Conlan & Fraler
Elephant Flume
Fraler & Rowe
Hawkins & Company
Hendel & Berg Flume and Mine
Independent Flume and St. Louis Water Company
Kavanaugh Flume
Little Table Rock
Loftus (William) Blue Lead
Morgan & Donahue (Sierra Union Water and Mining Company)
Morgan & Tullock
North Ravine Flume Company
Pittsburg Flume
Purrington & Company
Quartz Company
Sierra Nevada
Smith & Brundage (Conlan)
Sutton & Company

However, by 1915 St. Louis was mostly deserted. And a year later, hydraulic mining washed most of the town away.

Nevertheless, St. Louis was still occupied until the 1950s by Claire Baker who lived in the old schoolhouse (She was not the first as at least one old miner had lived in the schoolhouse over the preceding years). Despite being constructed in 1855, the chalkboards, maps, desks and even part of the school’s library were said to still be in fairly good condition until the town was abandoned for good.

When the population of St. Louis went to zero in the 1950s, there were also apparently several houses still standing along with the schoolhouse.

Now, nothing remains of these structures.

The only evidence one will find of the town when wandering through the woods are some odd depressions in the ground:

st louis california

Or some bits and pieces of the structures that used to be here poking out of the ground:

st louis california

Or some piles of rocks that are not natural:

st louis california

If you start seeing signs like those pictured below, you are on the right track to find the cemetery at St. Louis of which there is still something to see:

st louis california

The cemetery:

st louis california

It has certainly seen better days, but there are still some standing headstones in the cemetery:

st louis california

st louis california

Unfortunately, I don’t know how long this will remain the case as the cemetery at St. Louis is rapidly succumbing to the elements:

st louis california

A marker being slowly covered by pine needles, leaves and brush:

st louis california

My cousin uncovering another marker:

st louis california

Something or someone had recently knocked this headstone over:

st louis california

And some of the markers have been lost completely and just a circle of stones remain to indicate that someone is buried there:

st louis california

The picture below was taken in the 1980s and if you compare it to the pictures above, it provides a sense of the amount of deterioration the cemetery has undergone in the subsequent two decades.

St. Louis Cemetery - California

The town is long gone, but I’m not sure there will even be much of the cemetery at St. Louis left after another two decades.

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16 thoughts on “California Ghost Towns: St. Louis

  1. Hi Justin,
    This is amazing — I am in awe of your ability to uncover so many hidden facts, places, events that are also fragile! If we blinked, these once important places that were so meaningful in thier day, might disappear as is the case with the St. Louis Cemetery. What county is this in?
    Best wishes to you and Eleonora.
    Alice

    • Thank you very much, Alice. I’ve been amazed at how much of these old ghost towns has disappeared just in my lifetime… Part of my intention in writing about these places is to at least have some record of what was there and where they are/were located.

      St. Louis is in Sierra County which is pretty far up in the sticks…

  2. When ever I see or hear about a grave yard being vandalized, it reminds me about the lack of respect that the children have for each other in the public schools and the invasion of peoples space, from unthinking others.
    For some reason a four wheel drive, a gun and a six pack drives some to kill animals and destroy property.
    More Communities need to form groups to help maintain historic sites.
    the Donkeyman from Eugene, Oregon
    2/18/12 8:30 pm

  3. Hey Mr. Donkeyman….. your liberalness is showing. I have a 4×4, more guns than I know what to do with, and quite commonly I enjoy a six pack. Yes I kill animals (responsibly and legally, its called “hunting”), but no, I don’t destroy property. I’m that lowlife drunken gun-toting redneck you’re referring to, and I have the utmost respect for the beauty of our wilderness and our historic places. Don’t be such an arrogant nimrod.

  4. I used to own most of St. Louis, 120 acres worth, though not the cemetery. There is a large amount of low grade gravel on site. There’s a shaft, too, now protected from people getting too close. It used to be open. Stumbled on it one day and nearly fell into it. Nice spot to camp and target shoot.

    • I love these tidbits of knowledge from you about the gold country… Thank you for sharing another one.

      I didn’t know there was a shaft around St. Louis. Always more to learn, no? I’ve found some by having an idea of where to look based on old maps or photographs, but at least an equal number have been discovered on my part by simply stumbling across them (fortunately not into them – at least so far).

  5. Great article and website Justin. My Great Grandmother’s brother, Leander Griswold is buried there. According to a cousin who ventured up there, he was the town butcher. I wonder if the mine shaft has been plugged, or maybe the State doesn’t do that any more. I’m going to have to go to the state library one of these days and look up St. Louis for my family history project. I need to go there anyway to get information on my Great Grandmother’s trip out west in a wagon train in ’62.

  6. My great great grandparents’, James and Grace Jenkins, emigrated from the Scilly Isles , off the coast of Cornwall, in to St. Louis in 1862. They brought along two young sons, Tom and Will Jenkins. In addition, Grace’s brother Henry and wife Abigail also emigrated. Abigail’s tombstone is on pictured on this site. James died in St. Lewis, and Grace remarried a Bavarian named Karl Fraler. Karl broke his neck falling backwards from a buckboard in 1871. They had one son, Charles Jenkins Fraler. There is a mining operation listed at the beginning of the page: Conlan & Fraler.

  7. Cool stuff. Did you know that the St. Louis Masonic lodge meged with the forbestown Masonic lodge and its charter emblem is embedded in the front wall? Also is the road to St. Louis suitable for a 2 wheel sedan?

    • No, I was not aware of that history of the Masonic lodge. Thank you for sharing that.

      Yes, I’ve taken a car to St. Louis and beyond many times. Rising up out of the canyon to get to the cemetery at St. Louis will be the worst part because it is fairly rocky, but it is still fine if you go slowly. I would just caution you that the road can be fairly rough in the early spring after a wet year and so you might want to wait a little while for the road to be smoothed out.

      Also, I need to update my post as the post just focuses on the cemetery at St. Louis. However, the town extended for quite a ways along the right side of the road. After the cemetery, the road will take a turn to the right and then climb a hill of white quartz dust. At the top of the hill will be a parking area on the right that overlooks a large hydraulic area. The remains of an old road will lead away from the parking area to the west and this was the former main street of St. Louis. Most of the town was washed away by hydraulic mining beyond where the parking area is.

  8. Thank you for the great web site Justin. My mother’s side of the family lived at Howland Flat. But my Great-Grandmother, for some reason was buried in St. Louis Cemetery. She died in 1905 from complications of child birth. Her name was Susie McKenzie. I have a picture of my Grandfather (her son) standing by her gravestone. The stone is shaped like a valentine. The picture was taken in the 1940’s. I wonder if her gravestone might still be there and intact? Maybe you’ve seen it, or have a photo of it? I have other relatives buried at Howland Flat; Great Uncle Roy McKenzie, the Schwerings, the Sinnotts. The McKenzies were a large family and lived in several mining towns in and around Sierra County.

    • Hi Alan,
      A brother of my great grandmother is buried in St. Louis. His name is Amos Griswold. I need to get up there one of these days and photograph some gravestones. That would be an interesting project for gravers, mining camps of the Sierras.

    • Hi Alan. My grandmother was born in either St Louis or La Porte. Her name was Sarah Florence Mc Kenzie. Her father was Dan Mc Kenzie and her mother was Mary Ann Jones who I think is buried in St Louis. Many are buried in Petaluma where I now live. Thanks for sharing your info.

  9. My great grandfather was Timothy Donohue ( family spelling ) of Sierra Union Water and Mining. My grandmother, Mary was born there in 1877. Great grandmother Catherine g and children moved to S.F. in 1880 while Timothy traveled back and forth with he seasons. He and Morgan had numerous mining operations and a large network of flumes and ditches . He came from County Cork in 1850’s . Met Catherine in S.F. in late 1860’s. Cork born also. They had five children, one passed away in St. Louis, prompting move.. But was buried in family plot in Colma. We still have property in area . I have spent many days of my youth there . Soul restoring. We did spend the whole summer there camping when I was eleven 1953 . Rode our horses to St. Louis several times. That was the greatest summer ever.

  10. Hi Justin, I believe that my great grandmother is buried in the St. Louis Cemetery.My grandmother was born in La Porte.I drove through there for the first time today.I wish that I had seen your article before I drove to that area.I sent a text to my 70 year old sister (I am 60) and she mentioned St. Louis. My great great grandfather was a Welsh miner named Evan Jones.I noticed the Jones headstone in your pictures and I fill do further research.Thank you so much for your work in researching these old mining towns. Cheers….

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