Haunted Places: A Tour of Preston Castle

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.

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The very first class at Preston. They look a bit grim.

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.

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Sitting on the steps with my son. It’s hard to capture the entire Castle in a photo.

Did you think you saw a man hanging from the top of the building? You did.

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Don’t worry. It’s just a prop for their Halloween Haunt.

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.

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Does it not look a bit spooky?
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I’m not going up there…

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.

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In many spots, whole floors are missing. Believe me, this tour requires a guide for safety alone.
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Once a staff apartment. It’s seen better days.

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.

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Infirmary Room I. According to Ghost Adventures, this is a hot bed of paranormal activity.
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The ceiling, not exposed to the elements, is in good shape.

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.”

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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.

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A memorial now stands in the pantry.

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.

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Others left their mark by etching their names into this wall.

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.

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76 thoughts on “Haunted Places: A Tour of Preston Castle

  1. A fascinating history. It looks stunning from the outside. I don’t know why but I have always found old schools to be creepy. I guess the thought of so many different people having passed through it down through the years leaves a mark on the place.

    When I was a kid, we used to have to walk through an deserted school to get to the library at the back of the building. The school would have been in use in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The creepy thing was everything was exactly as they had left it when they closed down, all the desks, the ink wells, just sitting there in the gloom as you walked through the empty classrooms.

    Plus the library only ever opened at night and there was no electricity in that part of the building. Stephen King would have been at home at there.

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    1. J.D., the place does look pretty stunning from the outside and especially from a distance. It sits on top of a hill and has very commanding presence. Up close, it’s pretty beaten up with lots of cracked windows. It think it has a darker past than the tour guides let on. Everything is kind on the lowdown. They don’t talk about all the suspicious deaths, for example.

      That school sounds really creepy. It reminds me of Chernobyl with everything just abandoned. I wonder if the classroom comes alive at night.

      They just put electricity back in the Preston Castle not too long ago. That was a big accomplishment. Yes, that definitely sounds like Stephen King’s kind of place! Scary. I guess you have to bring a flashlight, huh?

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      1. Yeah, usually a flashlight during the winter when it got dark early, although most of the time we just relied on the light from the street lights outside coming through the windows.

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  2. Very interesting, Amy. Thanks for the tour. Did you get a sense of the energy of the place? I think sometimes, that “haunted” feeling is palpable even if one doesn’t actually see ghosts or poltergeists. The mansion is beautiful from the outside.

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    1. Thanks, Cathy. It’s hard to say because I already knew it was a creepy place with a dark history. It was even creepier than I thought. For some reason, I thought they had gotten a lot farther along on restoring it. So, I had no idea that it would be in such bad shape, which of course, adds to the mystique of it, the haunted feeling. If you watch that Ghost Adventures, you’ll really get a sense of the place and how it is haunted. I don’t know how much of the show is real. That’s hard to say. I definitely felt a little something there. The outside is pretty, but also beaten up some. It’s really pretty as you drive up! It will take a lot to restore it, but when they do I bet it will be pretty in a haunted kind of way!

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  3. Oh this looks creepy and those stories. I think places have the essence of things past, so I don’t know if I could go in there, but thanks for sharing. Did you ever feel that little hair standing up on the back of your neck thing? Scary.

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    1. Hi, Brigitte! So good to see you. I don’t think I would do the overnight ghost tour. Nope. Don’t need to do it. I definitely think there’s some unsettled kind of energy in the place, especially in the basement. Scary!!

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  4. That is fascinating. I would love to visit that place, though I doubt I could make it there before they close the door to the public (if they do). Of course, given my cynicism, a ghost could leap out and bite me in the face, and I still wouldn’t see it. Just find some rational way to explain it.

    How sad to think of a 12-year-old orphaned boy tossed into the pens with teenage murderers. As a mother of a 13-year-old boy, that makes me sad. 😦

    Wonderful post and great pics!

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    1. Thanks, Carrie. They may or may not close it. I think they actually really don’t know. They don’t even know what they will do with the space. They will need to raise a lot of money to begin repairs. I guess they will try to get grants, and I’m betting the tours will continue until it becomes a hazard with renovations.

      I know…isn’t that terrible about the orphaned boys? Even for the kid who just stole a car. He’s in there with murderers and eventual serial killers. Horrible! The tour guide tried to make it sound like a pleasant place, but I think definitely not.

      Thank you!

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  5. Great post Amy.
    I’d like to visit that place, I have a soft spot for haunted houses. I visited Amityville house a few years ago when they opened, I’d would pass by it regularly and always wanted to visit.
    I wanna visit Alcatraz too. I gotta read more about this Preston Castle and watch the show you mentioned.

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    1. Thanks, Leo. I didn’t know you could visit Amityville. What was that like? You would like this place, too. I’ve been to Alcatraz once but back then we couldn’t go on the island. I think you can now or they have tours that let you go on. That would be pretty fascinating. I have a link on my post for the show. Apparently, they made several trips to the Preston Castle. This one is their first trip. It’s pretty creepy and you learn more about the history, too. Check it out!

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      1. You can’t visit Amytiville, but a few years back the owner opened it for some reason and I was lucky enough to have a friend whose uncle lives there, and he’s crazy for these kind of things. You have no idea the amount of people that was there. It was really nice of the owner to open the house, but you couldn’t see the rooms or the basement, where the horror happened.

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    1. What?! The George Lutz from the story?! Really???? Wow, miss. You do have your connections. So, let me get this straight. You knew George Lutz before he moved into the Amityville house? And, he ate dinner at your house? And he surveyed your property? Did you suspect paranormal activity? I am fascinated with you, Denise!!!

      It was a great tour. I’m glad I finally made it there.

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      1. Yes on counts – I think we lived in Smithtown at the time and I was 2 yrs old. BUT my father made us go see the movie when it came out – which was when I was NINE – and my brother & I slept in their room for weeks afterwards.

        Nothing to be impressed about – just one of those weird coinkidinks!

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    1. Thanks, Dawn! The tour guide didn’t really expand on anything. I didn’t learn of the suspicious deaths from her, for example. They didn’t really form any opinions about anything I guess and they didn’t need to. The place kind of speaks for itself. It does seem like the perfect backdrop for a creepy story. But it is sad to think that some pretty dark things truly happened here. I bet there’s lots of info out there. I hope I did it justice! Let me know if you find anything interesting!

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  6. Very interesting. Thanks for taking us along! The scary part is how beautifully kept the infirmary is considering the rest of the building. Hmmmmm…….

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    1. Thanks, Jim. I agree. I feel really bad for those kids whose crimes were minimal or for the orphans. What bad luck! I had a sense that it was extremely strict. Right?! Possible beatings by guards and who knows what else with so many suspicious deaths. I guess there were stabbings, too. It could have been a very dreadful place. Our tour guide seemed rather hush hush about it all.

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      1. I agree. It’s all about the history, too. There’s no need to distort that. It is what it is. I’m really curious what will become of the place. We shall see. It will probably be a while before it’s restored. They have a lot of work ahead of them.

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    1. I think I would be really afraid at night. I thought I would want to do that, now I’m not so sure. You should watch the Ghost Adventures. Maybe your wife would enjoy that too. I think you’re right. California does have many haunted places. I wonder if they have more than other places. Of course, it is a big state!

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    1. Why thank you, Frank! I took a gazillion pictures. I even considered doing a slideshow of them all. It was hard to pick the pictures for this post. A difficult decision. I really didn’t have an idea of this place until I stumbled upon it.

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      1. That’s funny you should say that. My wife said the same thing last night. I am thinking of going on the Jack The Ripper tour for my 40th birthday. The problem is, I know so much about it I can scare myself in the dark! Come on Stephen, pull yourself together… he’d be at least 145 years old by now.

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      2. Oh wow! That would be fascinating. You can’t pass that up! Pull yourself together…ha ha. You can do it, Stephen! Of course, there is his ghost…no, no, just kidding. I want a full report.

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  7. Ooh, really interesting, and definitely spooky – I felt a slight anxiety just looking at the pictures. But one question, weren’t you at all worried about even visiting a place that has had 26 unexplained deaths on the premises?!

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    1. Vanessa, I didn’t know about that until AFTER my tour. I actually found out from that TV show. The tour guide tried to present everything in the best possible light, probably because it will possibly be a public space again. Let’s just forget about all those troubles…

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  8. Very spooky! It definitely looks haunted. I don’t think I would have wanted to stay in or near that pantry for very long. It’s funny that some went on to be country singers or tennis stars. Even that photo of the boys looks scary.

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    1. Sheila, there’s even spots of what very well could be blood in the pantry. I couldn’t even ask! I took a photo, but it didn’t make the cut for this post. It did have a creepy feel and this was before I knew of its dark history. Many went on to be actors, too. I can understand the boxer….I’m not sure about the tennis. It seems out of place, doesn’t it? The photo, yes…their eyes look kind of empty.

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      1. Not so spooky but it was a cold one nonetheless, it rained a bit too, and the wind was howling, and… 🙂 lol Wow can I moan… Booooooooooooooo 🙂

        Have a lovely start to your Friday Amy 😉

        Andro xxxx

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    1. Janet, I agree. The place is creepy even in broad daylight. I don’t think I’d go in there at night! I’m now posting another photo for the Photo Challenge, thanks to you. I saw yours and thought I have an eerie photo. It’s from none other than the Preston Castle!

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  9. This is a remarkable place. I had never heard of it before. It is easy to imagine it in its glory days but just as easy to imagine it as being haunted by its past. Thanks for showing me through as I doubt I will get to ever see it myself before it begins its incarnation.

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. Funny, I didn’t really do my research before this tour. I thought I was going to see a beautiful castle. Imagine my dismay! I knew it was so called haunted, but I had no idea what I was in for. It was quite the experience, very spooky and creepy. I’m actually really glad I got to go before it is restored, although I have feeling it will be some time before it is. They have their work cut out for them!

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  10. Anna was not killed in the kitchen, the docent who told you that doesn’t even know the facts. Furthermore, your stats are off and your dates as well. I strongly suggest you read “Behind The Walls: A Historical Expose’ of the Preston School of Industry” by Author, J’aime Rubio and the Preston Centennial History book by John Lafferty to get the best and most accurate information in regards to Preston’s history.—

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  11. Please who ever wrote this article and took the pictures contact me. Take a good look at the infirmary room picture zoom in towards the glass windows by an entry way, To me it seems like you caught a spirit manifesting itself on the glass. A woman looking from the 1920s era. Half her face is clearly visible one eye mouth nose neck and one shoulder with hair or hat ontop of the head. If this is visible to anyone else let me know,

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    1. I wrote the article and took the pictures, Adam. Oh, wow. I had never seen this before, not until now. I see her. You mean the window with the brick behind it, correct? This is some kind of light in the window right by the entrance to the room, as well, but I think you mean the window across. I was pretty spooked when I saw the figure in the picture to know I had been there. Well, they say the place is haunted and now we see it. I have a feeling she’s not the only one there, either. You have a great eye. Thanks for telling me about it. – Amy

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  12. Just for the record, I have yet to find any proof that there has been 26 suspicious deaths at the school. I have uncovered several deaths, some questionable, some very explainable. But nowhere near 26 “suspicious”. As far as the death of Anna Corbin is concerned, although technically the case was never “solved” it is obvious that Eugene Monroe killed her, based on the fact he was the main suspect in Vesta Sapenter’s murder in 1947, and eventually was convicted for the murder of Dorothy Waldrop in Oklahoma after his acquittal in Anna’s case. All three murders were used with the same M.O.- I believe he was Anna’s killer, no doubt. If you would like to know more about the darker history of the school please read “Behind The Walls”, by me, J’aime Rubio or even John Lafferty’s book on the history of the school. Thanks.-

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    1. Hi Jaime. Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my experience at Preston Castle. In my account here, I am only reporting what I learned on my day of the tour from the docent. Perhaps, she is in the habit of exaggerating. In any case, I would love to read your book! I think it’s such a fascinating subject. Thanks for letting me know about it.

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