Thursday, November 10, 2016

Preston Castle

I had a couple errands to run in Sacramento this morning. Once completed I decided, since I had my fishing gear with me, to stop at Rancho Seco Lake and soak some Power Bait. The DFW website said they were stocking the lake this week. 

Image result for rancho seco
This is the view as you drive in. 
Rancho Seco Lake, in case you’ve forgotten, was established to act as a backup water supply in case of a fire emergency at the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. Although the power plant was closed by public vote in 1989, the lake and surrounding park have flourished. The lake has a natural population of Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, and Catfish (no, they are not radioactive nor do they glow in the dark). During the winter months, the DFW stocks Rainbow Trout which brings me to why I was at the check-in gate only to find out that the DFW lied. There wasn’t any stocking to be done; in fact there won’t be any until, maybe, mid-December when the water gets cold enough to support trout.   

Knowing what I know about trout fishing I thought something was fishy about stocking this early, but you just never know.

On the way though the little town of Ione, California I thought I’d stop and take a shot of a place called Preston Castle. Preston Castle was formerly one of the oldest and best-known reform schools in the United States. It’s just off the road and has an interesting history you might like.

Make it large to read.

If you’re ever in the area, pay the $10 for the tour of the place dubbed “Preston School of Industry”. You’ll see the harsh life behind the castle walls and how, for some, it changed their lives for the better. 

You’ll see the floor – yes, the hygienically dubious floor – where doctors performed operations before 1913, the year someone finally had the notion that a gurney might be a better surface on which to cut someone open. You’ll ogle the dunking baths, where a rich chemical stew once was used to purge each newly shaved-headed boy of lice and dignity. You’ll stroll through the stark institutional green dormitory where Company B, the real incorrigible hard cases, slept in row upon row of flimsy mattresses and shared just one lidless toilet. 

You’ll see the basement kitchen area where, in 1950 cook and housekeeper Anna Corbin was bludgeoned to death. 

Life here wasn’t all unrelenting grimness. After all, these young wards of the state got three meals a day and a roof over their heads, which is more than many could say for their life on the outside, especially during the Depression years when desperate parents were known to dump their charges at the castle as if it were some day care/boarding school. They had a tennis court, rose garden, a 7000 book library, and a veranda overlooking the town of Ione.

Anybody famous been here? Oh yeah, how about Merle Haggard. He tried to escape twice during the 1950”s. First time he got out, he hotwired a car in less than a minute and was gone only to find the owner had chained the car to a tree. Second time he stole the police chief’s car and got all the way to Fresno before getting caught.

Image result for merle haggard
Merle Haggard Country Western Superstar

Then you have Lee J. Cobb. You know, movie actor. 

Image result for lee j cobb
Lee J. Cobb

You also have Eddie Anderson. OK, so you have to be a Geezer to remember Rochester on the “Jack Benny Show”. I remember him and have watched the show.

Image result for eddie anderson and jack benny
Eddie Anderson and Jack Benny

Last on the list is Pancho Gonzales. Once again it helps to be a Geezer to know about one of the tennis greats. He was the number 1 tennis player from 1952 to 1960. Here is where the Geezer part comes in. In 1960 I was in 8th grade. 

Image result for pancho gonzales
In his younger years

Now that I’ve gotten the Celebs out of the way, here’s a little about the castle itself. It’s a 46,000-square-foot, 77-room mansion with no fewer than 43 fireplaces, 257 windows overlooking the Amador County foothills, a tower festooned on each side by intimidating gargoyles, hallways with ornate wainscoting. The outside is sandstone in the Romanesque Revival architectural style.

Image result for preston castle pictures
Looks pretty much like this today

Unfortunately the place is pretty much trashed. Apparently when it closed in 1960, the State of California told the workers that they and their friends could take what they wanted because the place was going to be demolished anyway. The Preston Castle Foundation is trying to raise enough money to restore the castle, but the 15 to 30 million dollars will take a while. Some of this money is coming from the weekend tours. 

There is a lot more about the castle, but it would take many posts to tell it all. If you find this interesting, just go out to the net and Google Preston Castle and read away or if you’re in the area on a weekend, stop by I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

As a side note, if you play golf, Castle Oaks golf course is just across the street (It’s open to the public).   

Image result for castle oaks golf course
Castle Oaks Golf Course
If you happen to know anyone at Mule Creek State Prison its right next door (I know two people there, but they work there, not incarcerated). 

Image result for mule creek prison
Mule Creek State Prison

Did I mention that the castle is haunted? Of course it is, almost every place around here is haunted. Comes with the territory.  



  1. Really interesting post Mark. California has a lot of interesting prisons with grim histories. By the way, did you ever get to fish?

  2. Really appreciate you sharing this post, Mark. What a great read! I am a big fan of the "Hag" (R.I.P) and will add this to my other volumes of knowledge on his experiences. By the way, my Grandfather worked in a similar set up in Northern California. Grass Valley or Wiemar, I don't remember cause I am a "Geezer"!

  3. I hope they succeed in raising the funds needed to save and restore the "Castle"

    I remember "Rochester"

  4. Mark, See you next Tuesday at the AFF member meeting? Think about attending the annual dinner at Mel and Faye's, check out www.meetup/amadorflyfishers.
    Charlie Moore

  5. Nice post, we have an old prison here in Nashville that looks similar. The Green Mile was filmed there. Hopefully it will also be preserved.