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Monday, August 19, 2013

Preston Castle in Ione, check it out

While traveling over some lonely roads south of Sacramento we saw the spire of this building sitting on a small hill near Ione, Amador County. 
We decided to check it out and found the signs and the roads to get there.  It is now called the Preston Castle and I must say it is an impressive structure. HERE is a more detailed set of info.

We arrived just as the last tour was taking place and along with six or seven others we were shown the 47,000 square foot building.  It was originally built in 1894 and called the "Preston School of Industry".  Our guide said they did not call it a prison or some other accurate name because it kept the postmaster tongues from wagging all over the land.  The facility was closed in 1960 and went into disrepair.  Reminds me a bit of the Northstar House in Nevada County.  The state then built another more updated facility right next door.  The high sandstone guard tower on the Preston Castle was replaced by numerous "erector set" towers around the property.

The roof was the first thing repaired years ago as people in the area decided to save the place.  The roof stopped the deterioration but there is very extensive damage to the structure.  Our guide took us to the fourth floor and we got to see the different rooms and she explained their purpose.  From the basement pool where all newcomers were dipped into a water formula to kill the "cooties", to the dispensary and dining room on higher floors I was amazed at how things have changed in our culture.

The guide told us that the place was used to actually teach the young scofflaws a trade or a sport.  They were taught those things now considered demeaning by the liberal systems in place.  Responsibility, honor, being on time, respect for authority and many other traits now considered passe'.  In the older days they actually turned out young men who had a recidivism rate of 10 percent or less.  Now all those PC programs and compassionate Judges (and legislatures) see a 80% rate.  My how things have changed.

The guide said there was only one "unsolved" murder in all the years of the facility.  A woman cook was found murdered and stuffed into a cubby in the kitchen area.  A young black man from LA was accused and in three trials was acquitted.  Years later after his release he was arrested for murdering two people in Oklahoma in the same fashion as the cook at Preston was murdered.  The authorities then were informed the man confessed to three more murders in LA.  Needless to say, the man never admitted to killing the cook but all evidence pointed to him after the fact.  All that was in 1950!  The year I was born

I was fascinated at the red sandstone which was in the front and one side of the main structure.  There were even gargoyles on the guard turret.  Only one remains though.  The building was mostly brick exterior on the rest of the structure and the interiors were lath and plaster.  I haven't found out what the original cost to build the place was but guessing I would say $400,000 or so.  Today the repairs to the plumbing alone e would be twice that. 

It was a hot day as we toured and one thing I noticed was the use of windows and the rising of cool air to the higher floors as the hot air escaped the high windows.  There was a water activated elevator, a dumbwaiter to the dining room from the kitchen,  the use of turnbuckles in almost all the rooms of size and span.  Unfortunately this building that was built 120 years ago cannot be occupied because it is not "earthquake" retro fitted.  I did not see any earthquake damage but my guess is the state and its engineers would cause a few million bucks to be spent to bring it up to current standards.  I don't see how that will ever happen without the state spending the money.  Another treasure overlooked.

All in all, the message we got was the prison system in those days was working.  The guide said "shame" was a major motivator then and there was much less patience for those that were thumbing their nose at the system.  There are 19 graves in their boot hill and maybe some f those were unable to fix themselves. The guide said her husband is a retired officer from the adjacent boys prison and those young men there could care less about "shame".  In fact, those young men now regard incarceration as a leg up, a diploma so to speak, in their quest for "respect".

I would recommend a tour for all those who want to see how a building was constructed 120 years ago and then listen to the changes we now see in how we deal with criminals and "bad boys".  The youngest ever sent to the Preston was a seven year old boy.  I wonder whatever happened to him?


  1. ok, ive been doing a lot of research on this, and I think you should do a little more. there were 66 deaths, numerous murders, extreme abuse, I could go on.... I agree that our current system doesn't work, but abusing children isn't the answer

    1. What are your sources? This was posted from a tour.


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