Temple of Folly, Clocks Cleaned and Repaired

The hype of working the “largest bonanza outside of Virginia City” sparked a two-year long gold rush stampede of roughly 2500 miners to Mammoth.


There’s an enduring quality and allure to the Eastern Sierra mountain range, Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Lakes area that attracted people throughout the ages.


An excerpt from Book Five in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Sierra Mountain resorts.

Part One:  Mammoth

Part Two: What Was Mammoth Like Before the Great Recession?

Part Three: Chains that Bind – Bankruptcy, Foreclosures and No Snow

Part Four: Stuck in the Middle with You

Part Five: Breathtaking Mountain Panoramas and Bullet Holes

Photo by Stephen G. Howard

Newer decorations in Aspen Creek condo tweaked my interest, and with very little snow again covering the grounds around our condo and the roads in Mammoth Lakes, I felt a burning desire to find Lake Mary.

Old-time black and white photos triggered my curiosity.

One titled, “Stamp Mill, Mammoth Lakes” in hand printed white letters at the bottom edge.

In it two buildings occupy the lower third, a tall building resembling a two-story barn only partially in the photo, and the second a single story log cabin with shingles.

Behind both you can make out a much taller hill rising out of the frame to the right with loose rocks sliding down its slope.

With two trees in the foreground and a dilapidated building almost sliding down a hill from right to left  you view the “Mammoth Mining Company.”

Decaying wood rubbish piles nearer to the viewer and a wooden wagon wheel lean against a tall pine tree.

Almost all of the wood siding has been salvaged or fell off over time to expose the structural bones.

Maybe the most arresting photo shows four wooden store front buildings with a long wooden walkway or porch connecting all of them.

Similar to the one at Tom’s Place with the less than true sign proclaiming, “Tom’s Place Since 1917.”

In these photos, you can only take an educated guess — at the end of the 1880s – possibly 1888?

Posed in front standing on the dirt street you can count ten males and two dogs – one spotted and the other with dark fur.

Zooming in on the right side of the panoramic shot you capture six males and dog one.

One guy sports a white hat and dark pants, vest and over coat.

A gold watch chain dangles just below his left hand that grasps the lapel of his coat.

Like several others he has grown a long mustache.

He’s the only one standing on an irregular white stone step in front of the porch.

Next to him on our left and standing in the street you see another citizen sporting a long beard in a rumpled lighter-shade three-piece suit

He poses with both hands clasped behind his back.

The next citizen on display poses in a black western hat, dark coat and white working pants with dirty knees.

He’s wearing dark black gloves, the color of his hat.

Look, the photo’s in black and white, so go with me on this detail, okay?

A trio stand in the opposite corner to the right of the gold chained dandy.

Just above them hangs a sign, “Clocks Cleaned. Repaired”

All three lean against a posts or each other with legs crossed.

They’ve pulled their hats back on their heads to better reveal their faces.

They’re younger with dark mustaches.

They’re not in their “Sunday Best.”

They’ve made no attempt at matching their clothes.

The one in the middle wears his jeans tucked into his boots.

The spotted dog one sits at the feet of the third man in dark hat and dark coat with his hand resting on the shoulder of one in the middle.

Dog one stares alertly down the street to the remaining two males and a dark fur dog laying in the street looking back.

The largest sign in the picture says, “Temple of Folly.”

  • A saloon?
  • A community gathering hole?
  • A general store extending credit to miners down on their luck?
  • Or, on close inspection a barber shop with two striped poles near the door with six glass panes?

Directly in front of possibly a second establishment set back a few feet stands a smallish, younger man dressed in a vest, tie and more stylish hat.

  • Was he the barber?
  • Or the bartender?
  • Or, the shop keeper prospering while the older, punchy, white-bearded customer near by stood loosely  at parade rest?

In contrast, with his top button fastened (maybe the only one left) on his dark coat revealed  paunchy’s pot belly hanging over rumpled jeans.

Where can I find remains of the ghost town?

With a good wireless connection and a coffee table piled high with Mammoth magazines, brochures, fliers, local directories and books bits and pieces of the story about the photos emerged.

There’s an enduring quality and allure to the Eastern Sierra mountain range, Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Lakes area that attracted people throughout the ages.

Who were they and when did they populate Mammoth Lakes?

Courtesy Mammoth Lakes Foundation

In fact the history of Mammoth Lakes didn’t start with Dave McCoy in 1941.

According to our condo’s coffee table and wireless connection, if you consider the Native American heritage it starts hundreds of years before European’s arrived in 1877.

Four prospectors wanting to strike it rich ignited a frenzy.

They staked a claim south of the current town of Mammoth Lakes on Mineral Hill by Old Mammoth Road.

The gold rush was on.

Near Lake Mary those early miners organized the “Lakes Mining District.”

Rumors about a strike – the largest outside of Virginia City, known for the Comstock Lode and made famous years later by Mark Twain in “Roughing It” – drew a stampede of miners in 1877.

Photo – Geni

In 1878 the famous Union Pacific Railroad tycoon and Civil War General George Dodge bought the group of claims.

He organized the Mammoth Mining Company to, well, mine Mineral Hill.

Roughly 1500 wannabe miners flooded the Mammoth Area by the end of 1878 alone.

Aurora Ghost Town

According to “Mammoth Properties Guest Services Directory” for two decades gold and silver fever fueled get rich dreams.

As silver discoveries at Aurora and Bodie led to ever more prospecting.

The hype of working the “largest bonanza outside of Virginia City” sparked a two-year long gold rush stampede of roughly 2500 miners to Mammoth.

Photo – cityconcierge.com

The burgeoning mining camp changed its name to Mammoth City and was poised to produce wealth all around.

But, the dream died in 1880, just three years later when reality failed to live up to the propaganda.

The company ceased operations.

Eight years later the population severely declined from a peak of around 2500 to less than 10.

So, was that photo documenting the only remaining survivors?

According to Wikipedia:

“By the early 1900s, the town of Mammoth was informally established near Mammoth Creek.”

And, the Mammoth Properties Directory tells the official story — two decades later Old Mammoth Village formed to accommodate the pioneers drawn to the area to enjoy fishing, hunting, photography, camping, hiking, and horseback riding.

That’s the story that repeated itself across the West.

Most miners remained flat broke while the real money flowed to the merchants, tools and transportation providers.

Even Twain gave up to write and soak up the scenic wonders on vacations in his spare time.

Times had  been tough at Mammoth more recently, as we already knew.

Part Seven:


25) Compare what “life” was like in those communities before the Great Recession, how resilient each was during the economic downturn, and to what degree did each bounce back after with any “economic hangover.” 

28) Which lifestyles profiled in the western resort towns during 2008 – 2009 remained five years later in 2013-2014?  Which disappeared entirely? Why? Which new lifestyles emerged, grew or moved in to shift the neighborhood mix? Have longtime locals been forced out by escalating property 

30) Review headlines and relevant news as far back as you can find online to surface each community’s unique pulse and identify information necessary to make your decision. Is there a “ticking time bomb” issue you may uncover that eliminates the resort from your bucket list? Search on topix.com.