Recently, I visited the Preston Castle in Ione, California in Amador County for a historical tour. During the month of October, the Preston Castle also offers a thrilling haunted house and overnight ghost tours. This is not surprising considering it is believed to be truly haunted. Not only is there an unsolved murder in its past, but at least 26 suspicious deaths that occurred on the premises.
I found its history fascinating. The Preston Castle, formerly the Preston School of Industry, opened its doors as a reform school for boys in 1864. It is one of the oldest and best-known reform schools in the United States.
Juveniles were sent to Preston instead of the nearby prisons of San Quentin or Folsom with the goal of rehabilitation, and thus, this amazing construction of the Romanesque Revival style architecture was envisioned and realized. Boys, aged from 12-24, were not named as prisoners or inmates, but were referred to as wards of the state or simply “wards.” Their crimes ranged from burglary to murder; orphaned boys also ended up here.
In 1890, the state of California purchased 230 acres (at only $30 per acre) for the Preston School. The plan included 77 rooms in all. The school was divided into three areas: academic, military, and industry trade. Everything they used at the school was produced onsite, including the butchering of animals for meals and the sewing their own clothes. Wards picked a trade to master such as agriculture, farming, printing, brick laying, plumbing, carpentry, or baking. The goal was for the wards to be productive members of society once released.
Did you think you saw a man hanging from the top of the building? You did.
Since the tours began, many visitors have cited strange sights, disembodied voices, slamming doors, and fallen objects. Paranormal events have also been documented on the Ghost Adventures TV show. I’m glad I decided to watch the creepy episode after my tour.
Take a look inside.
Because next year the deed for a 55-year lease will be in the hands of private citizens, this may the last year they open their doors for tours and their haunted house. Today much of the Castle is in complete disrepair.
Preston Castle closed its doors in 1960, and in the years that followed the slate roof, considered to be of value, was torn off for monetary gain; the castle was vandalized and exposed to the elements. All except this room…what was once the hospital.
When our guide took us to down to the basement to the kitchen, she paused, then announced, “If there’s any reason why this place is haunted, it’s probably because of what happened here in this kitchen.”
She then told the story of Anna Corbin, the Head Housekeeper on staff, who was believed to be murdered by nineteen-year-old ward, Eugene Monroe. She was found with a burlap sack over her head, tied with a cord around neck, and blugeoned to death. Eugene was tried three times and finally acquitted, and so Anna Corbin’s murder was never solved. Eugene Monroe was later incarerated in Oklahoma for the murder of another woman.
It must have been a rough place with all the documented attempts of escape. While the goal of rehabilitation did not take hold in infamous serial killers, Gerald Gallego and Caryl Chessman, many more went on to live productive and successful lives.
Only eight acres now remain of the school campus, including the Castle and the Fire House, which are listed as California State Historical Landmarks and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The rest of the surrounding area is home to the San Quentin Prison and the California Youth Authority Detention Center (now closed). Most of the acreage has been sold for homes and an accompanying sprawling golf course.
My tour guide remarked, “It’s a state town.” She questioned whether the restoration effort is worth it, but added, “People have a vision about this place.” The hope is to restore the Castle to its former glory and possibly convert it for extension programs for nearby college campuses.
No matter how it is restored, I have a feeling it will still be haunted.