In 1988 the J. Paul Corlew family purchased the first half of historic Silver City Ghost Town in Bodfish from Dave and Arvilla Mills. In 1990 they purchased the second half. The Mills family purchased the property from “Wormie” Annie Sullivan and moved in most of the historic buildings in the late 1960’s. Mills trucked in some 20 buildings to the site from throughout the Kern River Valley’s mining camps and early settlements. Many of the buildings were saved just days before being scheduled to be torn down.
The Mills operated Silver City as an attraction for just a few years enjoying great traffic as the Old Kern Canyon road (which was the main entrance to the valley at that time) took visitors right by the entrance to the Ghost Town. When Highway 178 improvements were completed in 1972, the new four lane section of the highway bypassed the Ghost Town and traffic declined rapidly.
The Ghost Town was closed to the public for 18 years. The Mills erected a high fence across the property and converted the historic structures to storage units…the site was hidden from view and almost forgotten. The tall fence was removed and the forgotten town was once again revealed. “No one else is going to save these historic structures and they are too important to be hidden away”, Corlew told his late wife Cindy in 1990.
During the two years to follow there were several “Sneak Previews” held to give residents and visitors a look at the progress of the extensive restoration under way at that time on site. After an estimated 27,000 man hours of restoration work on the Ghost Town and the collection of thousands of area artifacts for the displays the site was re-opened to the public Memorial Weekend 1992. The Corlew’s focus was not so much to make the property an attraction as the Mills family had done. Instead their vision was to create a unique museum dedicated to the amazing history, legends and characters of the Kern River Valley.
The grand re-opening included a ribbon cutting ceremony along with a variety of fun filled events, Wild West shows and celebrities. The Groat Brothers Wild West Show (who appeared at events for Disney and 20th Century Fox) performed. Also that weekend marked an early appearance of local re-enactors The Ghost Town Gunfighters and Western Melodrama Troupe.
Celebrities that appeared and performed that weekend included Paul “Kelo” Henderson, star of the hit 1950’s TV series “26 Men, the Story of the Arizona Rangers” who demonstrated his remarkable gun slinging abilities. Randy Boone also appeared in person and he starred in “The Virginian” as Randy Benton the singing and strumming young cowboy on the popular western series.
Today as you enter Silver City you’ll find over 20 of the valley’s most historic structures. Many feature museum displays in a site that has captured the essence & serenity of the best of them in a non-commercial
museum like setting. Thousands of area artifacts are on display through the property. Buildings have been lovingly preserved in a state of “arrested decay”. “It’s like stepping back in time”, say many visitors.
A historic monument honoring Silver City, the Corlew family, the Mills and others, was dedicated May 3rd. 2009 in front of Silver City. The monument was made possible by the fraternal organization E. Clampus Vitus, Peter LeBeck Chapter #1866 of Kern County, The Kern River Valley Historical Society, the Kernville Chamber of Commerce and The Southfork Women’s Club.
Out front of the site several shops offer antiques, collectibles, gifts & curios.