For Sale: Ghost Town With Liquor License, $225,000

For the price of a miniature condo in New York or DC, you could have Seneca, CA, featuring "Uncle Tim's Gin Mill bar, three small rundown cabins, a river, an island and 12 acres of land."

Out here in California, we had a Gold Rush. People swept in from across the world, anchoring in San Francisco Bay, and running for the hills. 

As the men climbed into the Sierra Nevadas, they built towns here and there. These outposts were an arm of the mineral extraction industry. Part of the ecosystem, we might say now. And so, when the gold went, the people did, too. Many of the towns were abandoned, like the rest of the sacrificial landscape.

Ghost towns. 

All of which helps explain the attention lavished on a new Craigslist ad for the bar and three cabins that pass for the town of Seneca, California: "$225000 Seneca -- ghost town with liquor license." 

The owners say there's not much out there, hours from Sacramento and Reno down a dirt road that no one plows during the winter. The cabins are in bad shape and the bar doesn't generate any money. They need to move away because it is not a good place "for anyone in shaky health."

I'm sure it's beautiful up there. But there area  lot of beautiful places. What you'd be buying here is the story of the site more than the gin mill or a spidery wooden structure.

The plaque placed by the drinking/history club E Clampus Vitus hints at the complex racial and economic tensions in these old weird towns. The sentences mash together hardship, luck, sadness, wealth, fun into a rough mythology.

Gold was found in 1851 and a wild mining town was born with a dance hall, feed store, livery, blacksmith, post office, grocery, rooming houses, and a hotel with solar heated showers. The canyon's mines included the Sunnyside, Lucky Chance, White Lily, and Last Chance. A 10 stamp mill pounded out the ore. One mine had 500 Chinese miners. Each earned 10 cents a day in rice. And they had an opium den. The largest nugget found here was 42 ounces: worth $28,000 in 1942. The most famous spot was the gin mill run by Marie Sabin who moved here in 1934 with her husband Don. Marie was known as the guardian angel of Seneca. 

But Marie is gone. And now her town is for sale on Craigslist for the price of a 600-square-foot condo in an OK part of DC. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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