From school for troubled youth to popular ghost haunt
By MELISSA HUTSELL
Since its inception as a state funded facility in June 1894, the Preston Castle has inspired countless historical preservation efforts, TV shows and even ghost stories.
Located in Amador County, Ione’s Preston Castle sits atop a mountain where its history continues to unfold. The castle first opened as the Preston School of Industry where it housed, educated and trained California’s troubled youth. Prior to 1894, minors convicted of even the pettiest of crimes were sent to prisons such as San Quentin. It was not until 1889 that Edward Preston introduced a bill to Senate that reformed the juvenile prison system to rehabilitate, instead of imprison, young offenders. Construction began in 1890, and the Preston School of Industry opened five years later as one of the first of many.
During their stay, boys would spend half of their day in school and the other half learning trades. The students were trained in fields such as shoe making, baking, becoming a blacksmith, or an electrician, said Karl Knobelauch, president of the Preston Castle Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to preserve and restore the castle.
“They would leave with the equivalent to a high school diploma, two trades in case one failed, and an apprenticeship,” said Knobelauch.
Part of the building’s historical significance is that it marks the beginning of youth rehabilitation projects. When newer facilities were built, the castle officially closed in 1960 (though the correctional facility still existed until 2011).
The castle’s darkest moments, as Knobelauch describes, came between 1960-1968. “The state intended to tear down the castle, and sold everything,” he said.
The next 40 years the building remained vacant, vandalized and neglected until 2001 when the Preston Castle Foundation embarked on a mission to restore it. After 13 years, the foundation purchased the castle from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations in November 2014.
Today the impressive castle stands as a California State Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to volunteers, donations, and the foundation’s efforts. Slowly but surely the restoration process has stabilized and repaired parts of the building, but “there is still a great deal of work to be done,” said Knobelauch. The foundation continues to preserve the monument through fundraising efforts, the castle’s museum and documenting moments from the castle’s past, present and future.
The Romanesque structure is one of the last remaining buildings of its type in California.
“You won’t find anything like this in the Mother Lode,” said Knobelauch.
The first three floors of the castle have been restored, including artifacts such as the castle’s original hospital beds, safe and staff dining room table. Restoration efforts such as these have added to the intriguing history of the property, which include stories that follow previous students, and of course, hauntings. The castle continues to attract international attention and appears on several documentaries, movies and ghost hunting shows. However, it’s most important role remains as 209 icon that has stood the test of time.
IF YOU’RE GOING
The Castle is open for tours every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Private and overnight paranormal tours are available. Preston Castle has appeared on “Ghost Hunters,” “The Great Escape,” “My Ghost Story,” the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” and many more.
Photographers Day – June 28, Sept. 6
Murder Mystery Dinner – Aug. 14-15
Amador Arts Concert – Aug. 21
Wine Tasting and Tour – Sept. 12
Halloween Haunt – Oct. 16, 17,23, 24, 30
Halloween Ball – Oct. 31
Older Thyme Christmas — Dec. 12-13
For more information, visit PrestonCastle.com
Notable students who attended Preston Castle:
Rory Calhoun, actor
Merle Haggard, country music legend
Caryl Chessman, criminal