Monday, August 12, 2013

Essex California - Route 66 Ghost Town

Legend says the little town of Essex was created because of a flat tire. Supposedly, a man had a flat while crossing the Mojave Desert. He was many miles from any type of service and wasn't at all happy about it. On that day he decided to open a gas station, towing service and cafe on the exact spot where his flat occurred. Even though this story is fairly popular, Essex (like many other Mojave desert towns) was created as a watering stop for the steam locomotives of the day. Just like most businesses along Rt. 66 in the Mojave, it changed hands and names a few times. Essex grew to the point where it had an elementary school, towing service, cabins, cafe and post office. 

During WW II, a large military base was built in this area (more on that in a future post), but after the war was over, it was demolished. Due to the closing of the base and later construction of the new interstate highway (I-40), Essex and many other little communities along Route 66 were doomed. Other than a railroad yard and a little post office, there are no "active" structures left around Essex. 

The original name was Bell's Cafe (or so I've read). This photo was taken at a later date. Judging by the cars, I'd say it was about 1940.

With only one vehicle, it's hard to judge when this one was taken. While I'm on the subject, I wish I knew who took this photo. I'd like to give them credit.

If I had cropped the (NDCBU) out of the photo, I could have said it was 50 years old. That's right people NDCBU! (Neighborhood Delivery Collection Box Unit). Only a true renaissance man would know obscure facts like that...

This might be the most rustic post office that I've ever seen.

Judging by the brand new looking fasteners on this, somebody is trying to keep this place alive.

This little building was the restroom. 

Good food?

Fill 'er up please!

One of the few structures left in town.

The most unique thing about Essex was free water. While it's true that most of the old places I've shown you were in fact an oasis to thirsty desert travelers, the water was not usually free. They usually charged about 10 cents for a glass of cold water and about the same for a gallon of radiator water.  The free water at Essex wasn't really a generous gesture by anyone there, the Automobile Club of Southern California installed a drinking fountain! They built if about 50 yards from the cafe.

This gas station and garage were clearly built much later, but they suffered the same fate.

The little red flag is Essex (on route 66). You can see here how the new interstate (I-40) bypassed it. Notice that there isn't ANYTHING else in the area.

In a couple of days we'll be headed back to the Wilderness side of San Diego County. Same place as a few weeks ago. We'll be checking out the Chariot Fire area a month after it happened (and my post on it). It should be interesting. Sad and interesting...



  1. Wonderful photos of such a forgotten city! My favorite is the water well! It looks so cool.

    Fantastic post as always!

  2. Wonderful photos of such a forgotten city! My favorite is the water well! It looks so cool.

    Fantastic post as always!

  3. The old well is cool. The place sure gave you some awesome photo opportunities.

  4. It's amazing how such a short distance could make a break a town, whether it be with a highway or a railroad. I would probably get into trouble for trespassing exploring some of these places because I wouldn't want to leave. Great pics, as always!

  5. Imagine you noticing the new fasteners there, I would not have picked that :) the last shot here is incredible Pat, it shows so succinctly the isolation the new bypass caused in such a desolate landscape, future planning wasn't given much thought here right!

  6. awww. sad to think of the folks who were forced to give up their homes and businesses and move away. i love the stone post office and water well! so cute!

  7. I do so enjoy your posts and photos of these old desert towns and the history is fascinating, Pat! Thanks for sharing! Hope you have a great week!

  8. I love the rock on the walls and water well.

  9. Those were such cool photos Pat, those were some days!

  10. You find the most interesting spots along the road...

  11. Amazing how many little towns died once that interstate was built....

    I liked hearing how Essex was started (or possibly started)... Interesting!!!!!

    That was a rustic post office for sure...

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Even somebody who has never been to the Mohave will understand what it's like there after reading your great posts.

    If not for the cars and that collection box (?) it would be hard to tell which were old and which were your new photos.

    Enjoyed this tour stop very much. Thanks.

  13. Wow!! Such a tiny post office. And bathroom. Such cool photos!!

  14. I love how you explore the back roads, the places that the modern highways forgot. I always try to imagine places like this with people laughing and talking in the ghostly cafes.

  15. What a sad little town. Cool pics.

  16. You find the coolest stuff...I'll say it again. That old ghost town is amazing. It reminds me of the show "Life After People" that was on the History channel (I think). Just melting into the landscape at its own pace...except for the tires of course!

  17. Icy BC - Thanks! I liked the well also. Hope you are doing better now...

    Alex - It sure does! It really helps when there are some clouds in the sky also. Sometimes, it's just too bright. The well/water fountain was a nice gesture by the Auto Club!

    Shelly - You are right, it doesn't take much to change everything. It's nice when the remains aren't fenced in. I'd like to take more time, but there is so much to see in that part of the country. I've just scratched the surface so far. I have no idea when I'm ever going to be able to get some written stuff posted.

    PerthDailyPhoto - Oh they planned it out alright, unfortunately all they cared about was their so called version of "progress." When I saw those shiny new fasteners I thought they should have found some old ones instead.

    TexWisGirl - Yep! It is kind of sad and I'd like to know more about what happened to the people.

    Sylvia Kirkwood - Thanks so much Sylvia! You have yourself a nice week also.

    Ms. A - Yep! I guess they save a lot of money by using rocks that were undoubtedly right there in the area.

    Brian - Thanks Brian! Yes, those were the days. It took a very hearty kind of person to live there.

  18. TheChieftess - Thanks! There just sitting there waiting for me. You have a lot of interesting places up your way also.

    Betsy Adams - It is amazing! I still have much more to post also! It is an interesting story, but I don't think it's true. All the towns on this stretch of Route 66 were created to be water stops for the Santa Fe RR and they all were named in alphabetical order. Amboy, Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Essex, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Ibis and Java. There are many more also.

    Sallie FTL - Thanks for saying that Sallie! To be honest, I try to keep the info short and sweet, so people don't get tired of these posts (because I have a lot more to do).

    Baby Sister - It is a little tiny post office! Thanks Amanda!

    Robin - I LOVE those old roads. We even take the back roads, off the back roads. Sometimes, we end up in places were people don't want company. I think a conversation with some of those ghosts would be very interesting.

    mshatch - Sad and HOT! Thanks!

    Chuck - Thanks Chuck, it's some kind of a quest for me. Maybe an obsession. I LOVE that show! Nature, will always take back what is hers.

    Al - Thanks so much Al! I appreciate it.

  19. Excellent photos and report. I love the old cafe sign and the reflection. :-)

  20. I'd love to go here!

    That stone building is soooo neat!

    And I love the old graphic elements still in place!

  21. Whenever I look at these photos, I immediately think about the people who might have lived there, and their stories. Thanks for taking us there, Pat!! :-)

  22. Hey Pat! Keep your radiator filled up, your battery charged and the gas tank full. You are out there in no mans land!

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Mamma Zen - Thanks so much!

    James - Thanks James! I like that also. I'll use it on Friday...

    Jenny - It's always nice when there is still some kind of signage or window graphics left (or even just windows!) This place probably isn't all that far from where you live...

    Talei - You are welcome Talei! I think the EXACT same thing as you!

    Rosemary - Believe me we do! We also keep our powder dry and stay off the ridge lines. It is no mans land, especially now.

  25. Makes me wish I was around before the 40 decimated the 66. We missed out on the quirky, interesting personalities that settled these outposts; places to slow down, reflect, and share stories along the way from here to there... You sure had good weather for the photo shoot, great moody skies always makes me pensive... Happy Trails!

  26. There's a charm to these decrepit, useless sites, Pat. I especially like the post office. Your pictures have so much personality.


  27. Hard to imagine a place getting so run down when they served "good food". I'm quite a fan of good food myself.

    Great pictures and a wonderfully narrated tour. I really do love these posts.

  28. Definitely a place that's seen better days, but it made for some great photos.

  29. Stickup Artist - I was lucky enough to be around Route 66 prior to the I-40. My grandparents were desert rats and knew people at many of these places. I was young, but remember a lot of it. My grandma used to take photos, but they all disappeared years ago. I'd LOVE to see photos of me, in some of these same places I'm posting about today. Oh well! As to the sky... You are so right! The sky can be so harsh in the desert and having some cooperative clouds around really helps. I'm going to your blog in about two minutes. I hope you've posted.

    Robyn - I agree Robyn. There is nothing there but memories of the past. Thanks Robyn!

    TS Hendrik - I guess "good food' doesn't matter if there aren't any customers around. Thanks Tim! I really do appreciate your nice words and support through the years.

    Al - Thanks Al! Unfortunately, those better days are probably gone forever.

  30. Stunning photos. So much history in these little places and it has me wondering just what sort of distance people are travelling to collect their mail.

    Cute little post office too

  31. Yes, I love this interesting report on the remains of what was once an oasis of Route! Wonderful photos!

  32. Yeah i like the walls use in cafe and the wall use in well and of course the well is looking cool thanks for remembering the forgotten city.

    ISO 2338| ISO 2341 | DIN 1444

  33. when you visit those ghost towns, Pat, do you ever feel the presence of real ghosts? :) I mean of the old inhabitants and such things....

  34. There is a history book in this blog Pat- the map is incredible and tells a tale of its own.

  35. Maybe that is where the movie "Cars" got its inspiration.

  36. It makes me sad that little places like that were passed over by I-40. I'm sure there are a little places like it.

  37. Mynx - Thanks! I'm pretty sure than some of them travel quite a ways.

    Leovi - Once an oasis and now abandoned.

    Steve - It is my pleasure! Thanks for the comment!

    DEZMOND - I do! I don't know if it's ghosts, or just the essence of those who lived, died, or worked there. It's not a scary thing. Not usually... I guess I'm going to have to do a post about a place we went to called, "Slaughter House Canyon."

  38. Pam - Thanks Pam! I'm trying to find some high altitude photos of the Mojave Desert that really gives a good indication on just how isolated and dangerous this place is.

    Laura - Not so much this exact spot, but yes, you are right!

    msmariah - It makes me sad also. My grandparents explored and camped all over the Mojave desert. I was so lucky to be with them, much of the time. It amazes me that people used to cross (or try to cross) this desert via Route 66. I think they were made of stronger stuff than we are today.

  39. Wonderful shots! There's beauty and sadness in them too.

  40. What a great post - these old buildings make for such good photo-essays.

    No more big black boot on my ankle - two weeks of strapping and I should be free!

    Stewart M - Melbourne

  41. What a neat find.. I would have had fun exploring that old, time-forgotten town. It's a bit sad how so many downs died when modern man started running their big, mighty interstates through..
    great photos Pat!

  42. wow, such cool photos! it's so sad though thinking of those people who were forced to give up their homes and move away.
    i love the water well. you find the most interesting spots on the road, pat!

    have a great sunday!:)))

  43. Thanks for taking us along, Patrick! I am crazy about that black and white shot. Keep taking the back roads, man. You are doing them proud!

  44. ladyfi - Thanks! I totally agree with you. It's a real mixed bag...

    Stewart - Thanks Stewart! Soon, you will be good as ever.

    sixdegreesphotography - Thanks so much Lynne! Time (and traveler) forgotten, for sure. Yep, progress isn't always a good thing.

    Betty M - Thanks Betty! If I don't find them, they somehow find me. That well was nice gesture by the Auto Club.

    Bossy Betty - It was my pleasure! No danger of us quitting on back roads. It's too much fun (usually)!

  45. Gorgeous photos- renaissance man.
    Even deserted areas have beauty.
    BTW- I accidentally unfollowed your blog tonight (technically challenged) but now I've refollowed... thus putting my profile icon on the top row.
    Don't know if you even notice such things... but if you do, that's the reason. Whew!

  46. PAMO - HA! Thanks so much! I agree with about the beauty of these places. I didn't notice that you had "unfollowed" me, but welcome back!

  47. Love that post office!!! I could live there I think! :P

  48. Kato - I agree with you, it was pretty cute.

  49. We were just there in mid-March, wandering around taking photos. After a half hour or so we were chased off by an older man who shouted at us from the garage. We didn't know there was anyone there. I would have loved to have talked with him but he was not friendly. Do you know his story?

  50. Cindy Molander - I've never run into anybody up front. I do know that there are some folks still in the area though. I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience there. thanks for the comment!

  51. I lived in Essex in 1990, water well is in front of State Highway Yard was very clean and clear at one time. I was the Caltrans Supervisor until 1993. Lived in housing at yard. My wife work at the old post office with Jack Howard and gave guided tours at Mitchell Caverns twice a week. His wife Mary was from family that settled in the area. Down the road at Danby her dad was a justice of the peace 30/40s, Jack's cousin as I was told was a postmistress at Fenner,her son worked for me Jim Howard. Your photos are of what we called East Essex. You had to go halfway to Goffs to be at Fenner.Jack wife Mary taught school in Essex grades K thru 8 one room ,metal building as you leave town going east.Jack and Mary retired post office closed don't know about school.You want history off area go to Goff and see Dennis Castbier at his compound/museum.

  52. Anonymous - Thanks so much for your great comment. I appreciate the information. Have you read the book "The Silence and The Sun" by Joe De Kehoe? It was published in 2012 and is the most informative book on Route 66 in the Eastern Mojave Desert that I've ever seen, or read. Jack and Mary Howard were mentioned in the book several times. Did the author of the book interview you?

    I've been to Goff's school house and talked to both Dennis Casbier and his wife. She also knows a lot about the area. Thanks again!

  53. Dee Omalley - Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Do you have any tidbits of info about the area that you'd be willing to share?

  54. Hi there!

    I stopped at Essex for gas one evening in January 1972. I am almost certain that it was a Mobil station at the time. Also a small market as I recall. As you know, this was still the main highway at the time, US Highway 66, as the Interstate was still under construction to the north of here. Anyway we left Essex and headed north to Mitchell Caverns State Park (then) and camped there for the night. We passed through the construction site of the Interstate along the way there. I'd like to know if it was a Mobil Station if possible. I should have taken a picture as I had done earlier that afternoon at Amboy.

    Thanks for you site!

    Rick Donaldson

  55. Rick Donaldson - Hello! Thanks so much for stopping by, and leaving a comment. I know there were a few different gas stations in Essex (during different time period)s, but I have no information relating to what was there at any given time. I also have no photos from the early '70s. If my memory serves me correctly (and it often doesn't), I'm thinking the last active stations there were Mobil and Shell. My granny would know, but unfortunately she is no longer with us. I'll keep digging and see if I can find something. Thanks again Rick!


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