In Merced County Courthouse Museum’s latest offering, visitors will get a look at ghost towns and how the region has changed since its earliest maps.
“Let’s Google That Old Road” combines hand-drawn maps dating to 1868 as well as Google Maps. The opening event is 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the museum at 21st and N streets. The Hopeton and West Portal Road ran through Hopeton and toward Turlock, which served an important purpose for the first Europeans in the region. “Hopeton was not only a rural farming community but an important transportation hub,” said Sarah Lim, the museum’s executive director.
Hopeton was not only a rural farming community but an important transportation hub.
Sarah Lim, the museum’s executive director
The definition of a “ghost town” can be a tricky one, said Herb Wood, who authored “Ghost Towns of Merced County.” He said any community with a post office and at least one business in the late 1800s could be a considered a town. And, in turn, it became a ghost town if the post office and business went away, even if some homes remained.
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Hopeton had a barbershop, saloon, hotel and several other businesses that no longer exist.
Toward the southern part of Merced County was Athlone, which is about halfway between Merced and Chowchilla. The town of about 50 had a library, post office, gas station, general store and house all in one building.
“It had the first college in the county of Merced,” Wood said. “It was a normal school, which was the term for a teachers school back then.”
The death knell marking the end of many of those towns, he said, was being left off the list for a railroad stop. Towns made more sense farther apart as people began traveling more often by train and less often by horse, Wood said.
It had the first college in the county of Merced. It was a normal school, which was the term for a teachers school back then.
Herb Wood, author and museum docent, on Athlone, a ghost town
On the Westside, maps of Pacheco Pass and the San Luis Gonzaga Ranch go back to 1873. The map shows a path that slogged through wetlands before reaching the San Joaquin River, where westward travelers crossed before the Dickenson’s Ferry existed.
Cattle drivers would camp at the San Luis Camp Adobe, which still stands at the San Luis Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos. “This is supposedly the oldest building in the county,” Wood said.
The museum display also includes a photo of the San Luis Ranch in 1910 at the base of what is now the San Luis Reservoir outside Los Banos.
The exhibit will be on display will be through Oct. 2.