Preston Castle's 125th Celebration

California Historical Landmark #867 PRESTON CASTLE has been on our 'to do' list for years. Our friend, Keri, was the catalyst for getting us here.  Today marks the Quasquicentennial of The 'Castle,' built in 1894. This landmark is the most significant example of Romanesque Revival architecture in the Mother Lode. It was built to house the Preston School of Industry, established by the State Legislature as a progressive action toward rehabilitating, rather than simply imprisoning, juvenile offenders.

The School gave minor boys a stepping stone in life that they would have not acquired had they stayed at San Quentin (imprisoned with men). It was to be a place where wayward boys would have the ability to earn a decent education, self discipline and a trade in order to make a living and flourish when they were released out into the world.

Construction for this 46,000 square-foot, 120-room Romanesque “castle” was started in 1890. The building’s bricks were made by nearby Folsom and San Quentin inmates and shipped via rail to Ione (in California’s Sierra Foothills).









One of these youths is my friend, Bill's father-in-law. He wrote, "We have been visiting the Preston Castle since the late 70s when it was still boarded up and in dire need of saving.  Amador County is small and fund strapped so it took a lot of private money to save it.  Our family has a history there as Judi's Dad spent three years (1938-1941) there as an incorrigible runaway." (1939 Photo above). 
There were some famous residents here over the years, too. Future beat-hero Neal Cassidy supposedly “discovered literature” while as a ward at the school. Other famous wards include country musician Merle Haggard (who has a “PSoI” tattoo), actor Lee J. Cobb, actor Rory Calhoun, author Eddie Bunker and comedian Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (of Jack Benny fame).
Caryl Whittier Chessman (May 27, 1921 – May 2, 1960) was one of the creepier residents.  I guess his time at Preston did not rehabilitate him. He was a convicted robber, kidnapper and rapist who was sentenced to death for a series of crimes committed in January 1948 in the Los Angeles area. He was the "first modern American executed for a non-lethal kidnapping". He was controversially convicted under a loosely interpreted "Little Lindbergh law" – later repealed, but not retroactively – that defined kidnapping as a capital offense under certain circumstances. His case attracted worldwide attention, and helped propel the movement to end the use of capital punishment in the state of California. Country music star, Merle Haggard, stated in an interview in 1995 that many years earlier, when he was a prison inmate, observing Chessman's preparations for his execution helped to set him on the straight and narrow. Weirdness within the brick walls!

We were allowed to wander the halls, exploring as we went. Learning what life might have been like... at times getting ooked out.
According to the Biennial Report dated August 1, 1896, Preston School of Industry’s Physician A.L. Adams report states that given the conditions the boys were in when committed to the school, they were not surprised by the high rate of “hospital inmates” as he put it. In fact, he speaks of the entire facility have been exposed to some of the worst illnesses including, incipient phthisis, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, epidemic influenza, tonsillitis, malarial fever and pneumonia as well is chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, chorea and the regular fractures, bruises, abscesses and contusions. YIKES.






We had to remind ourselves that families lived here and that this wasn't built as a prison but as a reform school.

It was hard to grasp its magnitude. A mezzanine level was to provide two bathrooms with three bathtubs. The third and fourth floors would remain unfinished. The third floor would contain twelve rooms and the fourth floor was designed to have six rooms. The basement would include a play room, water closet (long urinal and nine toilets), laundry, lavatory with foot bath, shower room and plunge bath, hall, kitchen, pantry, furnace room, fuel storage room, and a water closet with two toilets. The basement annex would hold a bakery, fuel storage room, kitchen, pantry, storeroom, and the employee's laundry and lavatory. At its peak the Preston School of Industry encompassed 1,000 acres, 750 of which were farmland. It housed 800 wards, employed a staff of 200, and utilized approximately 50 buildings.

The Plunge wasn't as fun as its name alludes to. Steve called it a sheep dip, a chemical bath to rid the boys of 'cooties'.


The Preston School of Industry remained open until 1960 when new facilities for the school were completed. This is one of the rooms that looks as it did when it opened 125 years ago. When it closed 59 years ago, the community was given permission to strip it bare. The building remained vacant and fading into disrepair until 2001 when The Preston Castle Foundation received a fifty-year lease for the property. The Preston Castle is not only a California State Historical Landmark, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well.


Lunch was on the 106 year old porch of The Colonial, built and lived in by the boys of Preston. Wild thought.
Republic of Preston, we sing to you with joy.
May today be filled with love. The heart of every boy.
May our government's success be know both far and wide.
My the hand of Him about this Republic guide.
Awake and sing this song in strains unending,
loyalty and love for our Republic ever blending.
Republic of Preston, both wonderful and great.
What opportunities thou has within thy bounds and gate.
May they fame and history standout beyond all others
and all who enter here be friends or even brothers.
-Preston Anthem

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Miscellaneous Scenes of Tahoe...

Erin and Tommy's visit was way too brief, but I did my best to introduce them to Lake Tahoe in the time we had.





Nowhere else can one get quite the same view and the recently reopened Stream Profile Chamber. This unique underground viewing chamber, located along the Rainbow Trail, "provides a view of the stream environment allowing visitors to study a diverted section of Taylor Creek through a panel of aquarium-like windows, offering a fish-eye view of Taylor Creek's underwater wildlife. One may spot brightly colored fish, diving ducks, crayfish or other hidden surprises in the chamber's mural that follows Taylor Creek through the four seasons. This upfront wildlife experience is appropriate for all ages."



Steve and I are going to miss this little love bug of all boy and his mommy. Fun visit!

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Malcolm Tibbitts: Wood Turner

When we learned that this talented artist would be meeting fans at a local art gallery, we knew we had to go and learn more about his craft.

Margaret and Lee were up for a stroll, so we all went together to marvel at this man's work.
About Malcolm from his website, "I assembled my first two pieces of wood together at age five in my granddad’s workshop. He certainly passed on his love for woodworking; I’ve been a lifelong worker of wood ever since. In the mid 90’s, after building many furniture pieces, literally filling a house with handmade furniture, and after acquiring a shop full of tools, my woodworking journey took me to the wonderful world of segmented woodturning – a truly unique art form."
He spent a great deal of time explaining the science behind his masterpieces. What a very interesting art moment.

Malcolm is a rock star in the wood turning world and as it turns out, a really nice guy, too.

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