Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Ghost Town Of Leadfield, California, Or, The Perils Of Unrestrained Greed

Leadfield, CA, is inside Death Valley National Park and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle to visit. The turn-off for the road to the site is located on Highway 374, about three miles west of the turn-off for the ghost town of Rhyolite, NV. The Leadfield turn-off will be identified as "Titus Canyon Drive," and will be a dirt road on the right as you drive west. Titus Canyon Drive is one-way; it is 16 miles to the site of Leadfield and another 12 miles beyond that until Titus Canyon Drive intersects with California state highway 190 on the floor of Death Valley.

Leadfield was a fraud. In the early twentieth century, mining stocks were like internet stocks today----they held the promise of instant riches if a mine brought in lots of high-grade ore. A man name Charles Julian determined an easier way to riches was to sell stock instead of mining. He formed a company called Western Lead to supposedly mine rich deposits of lead in the hills around Leadfield; Leadfield was to be the center of a booming mining district. Julian even went so far as to "seed" the hills around Leadfield with high-grade lead ore to fool the gullible (or greedy); he even organized a visit to the Leadfield site in May, 1926 that attracted over 1000 people. Julian managed to attracted 340 investors in his company along with purchasers of real estate in Leadfield; he supposedly pocketed over $900,000 and then vanished. The hapless investors/residents of Leadfield soon realized they had been bilked, and by late 1927 the town site had been completely abandoned.

The National Park Service has erected a sign at the entrance to the Leadfield site:

The main buildings left standing in Leadfield are corrugated steel; the dry climate in Death Valley has prevented rust and they are still in good shape:

Here's a look inside one of the buildings. Be careful if you visit Leadfield; as I discovered, the remaining buildings are favorite places for rattlesnakes to hide from the Death Valley sun!

There are also a couple of rock structures remaining in Leadfield:

Charles Julian pulled off similar scams in Arizona and Oklahoma before fleeing to China in 1933 to avoid prosecution. But he was the target of a robbery soon after his arrival, losing the steamer trunk filled with American currency he hoped would sustain him in exile. Destitute and living on the streets, he committed suicide in Shanghai in 1934. Leadfield remains a perverse memorial to that con man.