In this episode, we visit Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site, a California Historical Landmark. The museum is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
We first tried to visit Laws Railroad Museum on a day the wind was blowing so hard it picked up dust and dirt and flung it all around. The day after the windstorm, all the bad air had disappeared, leaving only blue skies behind and clear views of the mountains.
The C & C Railroad rolled into the town of Laws for the first time in April 1883. Three years earlier William Sharon, Henry Yerington, and Darius Mills formed the Carson and Colorado Railroad Company and began construction.
While crews laid the narrow-gauge tracks between Mound House, Nevada, and Laws, California, people arrived in town, drawn by the opportunities a new railroad would bring to the region.
They built a depot, an agent’s house, and various amenities to support the railroad and the trains. Homes, barns, corrals, general stores, boarding houses, hotels, and warehouses sprang up around the depot.
By July 1883, the railroad completed its last 60 miles of the 300-miles, and in August trains rumbled down the tracks to the last stop in Hawley (known as Keeler today).
For nearly 50 years, the railroad provided passenger service and hauled freight. It supported the mining industry and local ranchers and farmers. The conversion from narrow gauge to standard gauge railroads was but one contributing factor in the demise of the C & C. Improved roadways, trucks, and automobiles allowed passengers and freight to travel farther, faster, and sometimes cheaper than the train so there was a steady decline in their use.
In March 1900, Southern Pacific (S.P.) purchased and operated the railroad. S.P. discontinued passenger service in 1932, and the freight trains made their last run in 1943. The tracks north of Laws were removed, leaving only the 60-mile run to Keeler.
On April 30, 1960, Locomotive No. 9 pulled a string of cars into Laws Station for the last time. The City of Bishop and the County of Inyo became the owners of the property under a gift deed by S.P. and on July 6, 1964, they also transferred the land.
On April 1, 1966, eighty-three years from the day the train arrived, Laws Railroad Museum opened the doors to the public. It amazed us how much the museum had grown since our first visit in the early 1980s.
The engine and train cars are original, as are the depot, agent’s house, oil and water tanks, and a turntable. The rest of the town was torn down for salvage by 1959. The other buildings occupying the museum’s eleven acres were local structures saved from destruction and moved to the site.
One of the prized possessions of the museum is a restored circa 1900 local ranch house with period furnishings. The Shipley and Conway family tree hangs inside the home and shows the three generations that lived in it before it was moved to its new location at the museum.
Besides the ranch house, visitors will find the Library and Arts Building housed in Bishop’s first Catholic church, a gazebo, a 20 Mule Team Borax Wagon exhibit, gas station, farm and mining equipment, and train restoration shop. The following pictures are just a sample of some of these exhibits.
This isn’t the first actual, or replicated, western town we have visited, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We find it fascinating to walk the streets, peek inside buildings, and imagine what life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I can almost hear the clomp of horses’ feet, the jingle of their bridles, and a whistle in the distance announcing the train’s arrival.
Next up, we finish up our time in Bishop, California.