Darwin, CA

Darwin, CA - The original Darwin Schoolhouse
Darwin, CA - The old Darwin Post Office, and service station.

Darwin, CA – The old Darwin Post Office, and service station.

 

Darwin sprang to life in the early 1870s as a trading center for the mines in the Argus and Coso mountain ranges. Named after Dr. Darwin French, a rancher from Fort Tejon, who had explored the region in the 1860s. By 1874 the town was officially a boom-town, with a reputation for being one of the most violent towns in the west. The town cemetery had 124 graves, 122 of them from a gun or knife. By 1875 the town population had reached 700 (some sources put that at almost double that number).

1877 was Darwin’s peak year, the population had grown to 3,500 residents. The violence continued to get worst, and a smallpox epidemic broke out throughout Darwin. In 1878 economic hardships hit the nation hard, and in turn local mine owners cut the miners pay. In September the newspaper packed up, and went to Bodie. Many of the miners followed.

Over the next forty years multiple fires burned large portions of the town, however the town never would completely die.

 

Darwin, CA - The original Darwin Schoolhouse

Darwin, CA – The original Darwin Schoolhouse

 

The nearby mines continued operation under different owners until 1942 when the US Government closed all mines as part of the “War Effort”.  After World War II the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. purchased and reopened the mine. Within a couple of years Anaconda’s, Darwin Mine was California’s number one lead mine. The mines remained open until the 1970s.

What remains in Darwin today? Turning down Darwin Rd., the first thing that you will encounter are the remains of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. This entire area is closed to visitors. From the road you can see that their operation was extensive, with dozens of structures still standing.

A little further down the road you enter the town of Darwin.  Few original structures remain, and the town appears rather junky. Residents come off as unfriendly, but spend some time here, and that first impression will quickly fade. While the town comes across as junky, it is really much more of an artist statement. Darwin is filled with imagination and creativity; making it a haven for free-thinking individuals.

The 2010 census lists Darwin’s population as 42, with a total of 28 households. There is nobody living in the town that is under the age of 25.

Some fun modern-day Darwin facts (borrowed from darwincalif.com)

NO 56k internet connection; ONLY 28.8k
NO broadcast TV; NO AM/FM radio
NO cell signal; NO stores, restaurants
40 miles to groceries and gas
ALL phone calls are long distance
MULTIPLE T1 lines but NO broadband

 

Darwin, CA - False front building

Darwin, CA – False front building

 

Darwin, CA

Darwin, CA

 

Darwin, CA - Housing for the Anaconda Mine.

Darwin, CA – Housing for the Anaconda Mine.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • Sandyscafedi

    I found this town to be pretty creepy myself. Did not care for it at all! Don’t care to go back.
    I would say, don’t go out of your way to visit Darwin. Just my opinion.

    • Bradbees123

      Darwin is awesome!!!

      • Sandyscafedi

        Have you been there, or do you live there?

        • Jan Tilley Evans

          I lived in Darwin from 1947 until 1959. I still have my school annuals and some pictures. My Dad was in the mines there and my Uncle was the Superintendant of the mines. I have never seen any pictures posted of the school. It had three class rooms and a cafeteria.

          • Bradbees123

            yes i stay in Darwin

  • thedejuretour

    The town is definitely a somewhat creepy place. My girlfriend and I visited in April of 2011, and in January of 2012.

    During the April visit, I pulled the car over just off the side of the main street to take a few pictures. Next thing I know, I see an a large unfriendly-looking man standing about 200 yards off silently glaring at me. He had come out of some building that had appeared, from a casual glance, to be unoccupied .

    During the January visit, I again pulled over on the side of the road to take a few pictures of the old miners quarters, and a man suddenly came out of one of the buildings near the very top section, and glared at me.

    Then, about 5 mins later we were in another part of the town taking pictures from while inside the car, and a man with a large beard wearing dark blue overalls came out of a shack and stared at us. It was obvious what we were doing, but he walked all the way out into the middle of the street behind us as we left, and I watched him get slowly smaller in the rearview mirror as he continued to stare at us.

    You had better get used to it, becuase if you visit Darwin – you will be watched!

    That being said, I actually like Darwin and the surrounding area quite a lot. I would like to make friends with some of the old timers there. Those would be some interesting conversations.
    I think that it is special that after all these years the townsfolk haven’t caved in and turned their town into a Randsburg or Calico. It’s just a matter of time though. There is more than enough vacationer traffic on the 190 over the seasons to justify it.

    I can just see it now:

    “Jeep tours!”
    “Mule rides!”
    “Bottle shop!”
    “Astronomy lodging!”

    Jim –

    There is one small error on this article that I must point out. Above you state that: “When you really get the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere look for Darwin Rd., follow Darwin Rd. for approximately 1 mile.”

    It is actually 5.7 miles to the town from off of the 190. (a few tenths of a mile less for the old miners quarters.) If someone is low on gas, the extra 9.4 miles could hurt them!

    P.S. type “Darwin Trailer” into YouTube for a special treat.

    • Thank you for visiting my website! Your story is great, I’m really glad that I didn’t have this same experience during my visit. I was with my wife and mother, and they both would have been creeped out. The few people we encountered while there where both friendly and polite.

      Thanks for the mileage correction, I double checked it and you are 100% correct! I’m not sure why I had 1 mile written before. I usually always check the mileage before posting it. I must have been having a blonde day when I put this together.

      As for the Darwin Trailer, I’m familiar with documentary. I’ve been looking forward to a DVD release for some time now.

      Thanks!

  • matt

    hi,

    i tried to go to darwin today and this woman in a white truck stopped me in the middle of the road to darwin saying there were no services there! i said i wanted to go to the ghost town. she said there was no such thing and everything was private. i said i’ll see about that i’m nearly there. then sure enough there was this massive old mining town on the left side i really wanted to photograph. only there were gates with no trespassing signs and some saying active mines which i knew had to be bullshit. one gate was open but after the frosty reception and not knowing if this was all true or if the locals had put up pretend signs to keep out tourists i left. didn’t want to get caught by a local cop if this was true or any mad guard dogs or weird locals with guns!

    disappointing as there would have been so much to photograph.

    • deathvalleyjim

      Hi Matt,

      The mine that you speak of is actually before you reach the current day location of Darwin. The mine is private property, and is still owned by Anaconda Copper Mining Company. If you would have continued up the road just a short piece you would have came upon the town of Darwin.

      People who live in these small towns are always a bit weary of visitors. Most of the time the people that live in places like Darwin are there for a reason, they don’t want much contact with the outside world. Sadly a lot of visitors don’t respect this and end up trespassing on their property. The town site of Darwin is not off limits to visitors however, just stick to the roads and keep out of people’s yards and you should be fine.

  • Ivia Douglas Phillips

    My first memories were of living in Darwin.My father had the reputation of being a hard working miner.
    Yes,it was hot,but sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard for a sled in the winter,was a lot of fun!
    I went back to Darwin in 1993,was sad to see that the school eas gone except for the kindergarten,1st,2nd grade building was now the Post office.
    Janet Tilley Evans,was so surprised to see your name on this site.I remember going to your house and it smelling like cinnamon,loved the smell!
    Ivia Douglas Phillips

  • Jan Tilley Evans

    Ivie Douglas Phillips, I was thrilled to see your reply and I looked us up in the annuals and there we were in the eighth grade. It was a great place to grow up and the memories are vast.

  • Jeff Tong

    Janet Tilley Evans and other Darwinites. Interesting to see some familiar names here.
    I’ve just moved back to the Owens Valley and visited Darwin for the first time in 15 years. Sorry to see it fall down, but the mine appears active, sort of.