Preston School of Industry

I was heading up Highway 99 on my way up to Coos Bay , Oregon , to see my sister and my brother-in-law . Coos Bay is  about a third the way up the Oregon coast , I guess . And  I planned to then  drive on up to Portland  see my friends Joe and Susan  . A long drive ; short visits . Joe’s the guy who got me started on this blog .

I was taking 99 in order to go a little east , easter , or eastlier , more easterly, at least , than I would ordinarily go . I wanted to take the Preston School of Industry tour . It only comes around one day a month . Saturday was the day and I was ready .  Ione , California .    It’s in Ione , California .  Ione is in the California gold country , on the western border , you might say , of the Mother Lode .Preston Castle in Ione 016 Preston Castle in Ione 156

I spent the night in Galt , California . Galt is on the 99 ,  just south of the 104 east that leads over to Ione .  Galt was a good launching spot , about 26 miles from Ione .

When I got to Ione I asked a couple of joggers for directions . They were jogging along a white-shining sidewalk in a housing complex called , if I’m not mistaken , the Preston Castle Grounds . It’s one of those planned communities , all newly -built housing ,  a clubhouse with a pool and tennis courts , probably squash courts too , and manicured parkways , and non-native plants like  mad .   It’s all spotless . No gate , though , so  I got in .

Can you tell me where the Preston Castle is  ?  I asked the joggers . It’s got to be around here somewhere .

The Preston School of Industry is the name that the State of California gave to this reform school built out in the middle of nowhere in the late 1800s . The young men inmates there were called wards .

It’s ………. , the man said , and he turned his head ……… It’s there .  He pointed to a tall old stone tower a bit further along the main road .

I was there early . I always get there early ; doesn’t matter what for . That’s a good habit and a bad habit , I suppose .  The Preston School of Industry , known colloquially as The Castle , would open , on it’s once a month schedule , at 10:00 a.m.   When I drove up to the gate , which was open , there was a sign on a stand that said   KEEP OUT .  I’m not about to drive on up to the entrance when a sign says KEEP OUT .

But the gate was open , after all , and I could see  someone up there ;  so ,  I started to walk up the slope .  They could kick me out if they chose to ; I wasn’t  up to no good . I figured that I’d ask the man up there when the place opens . He shouted at me , though , You can drive on up ! ,  and I shouted back that I would ; and I did .

There was another  man on the porch . Long white hair . String of beads around his neck . Pale grey Stetson hat .  So , how’d you hear about this place , Dude ?   he asked . He looked like an Indian , feather , not spot . He sounded like an Indian , too , his soft but resonant voice coming from deep within his throat , as if his words were not just cast-off utterances  but were an essential part of his being .

He called me Dude . I don’t mind being called Dude . My neighbor Don , though , hates to be called Dude . Another  neighbor called Don Dude ten years ago or more and Don hasn’t talked to the guy since .  He might as well have called me shit , hey shit ,  Don said .  I tried explaining to Don that to be called Dude just isn’t so bad ; but Don is 92 years old and I don’t think he’s going to soften on the Dude front .

So I told the long -haired man how I heard about the place .Preston Castle in Ione 130

I live in Arcadia  a couple of blocks , as it turns out , from the spot where the only Arcadia cop killed in the line of duty was shot . In 1927  Officer Albert Mathies ,   one midnight ,   walked over  to question three young men  who were sitting in a suspiciously -parked car . The guy in the back seat pulled a pistol and shot Mathies  a few times  , one fatal shot entered his  neck   The three boys lived in L.A. , but they had met and become friends at The Preston School of Industry in Ione , California .

So I had to check the place  out ,  I told the Indian .

Are you here alone ?  he asked , and when I answered in the affirmative he graciously and kindly adopted me for a few minutes .

He had been  an inmate at the place , as it turned out . He was sent up there to Ione  because he had escaped from the Whittier facility .  Whittier is down near Los Angeles  . Merle Haggard was a ward at the Castle  at the same time , he said . They didn’t teach anyone any industry , he said . I had asked .  We all  just kind of horsed around , he said . But the staff were cool . They’d yell a lot to try to show authority , but they never hit you . At Whittier they’d  hit you , push you ,  he remembered .   I got hit over there at Whittier .

He is a volunteer at the Castle nowadays . I asked him more questions . I forgot to ask him , however ,  how it felt to be back there , his former detention site  .   He found a list of former wards and brought it out for me to look for the names of the 1927 cop killer and his two buddies , but the list was incomplete and I didn’t find their  names . I found Lee J. Cobb’s name .  The guy who played Rochester on the Jack Benny show had been a ward there , too .  Rory Calhoun had been there , also , for stealing a car .  He had escaped at least once , as had Merle Haggard .Preston Castle in Ione 089

I didn’t get a good sense of how the reform school experience was in the old days . The interior of the building is in extreme  disrepair. The place had been decorated for Halloween , too , and many of the decorations were still up , making for an unreal atmosphere .   Also , there seems to be a strong fascination among the volunteer group  with the haunted aspects of the Castle . On the tour the guide was continually pointing out known ” hot spots ” where spirits had been  detected .

When I finished my guided tour the former ward in the Stetson hat and beads had vanished . Too bad .  I had some more questions for him . It might have been unfair to ask them , though , and to expect him to shed light on the mysteries of the place and of lives  , his or anyone else’s , or to solve the endless enigmas that seem to be ceaselessly  twisted and whittled and amended with the passage of  time .Preston Castle in Ione 171


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5 responses to “Preston School of Industry

  1. Sallyanne

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you…

  2. Anonymous

    It sounds like you enjoyed your tour of The Preston Castle. I hope more folks read your post and find time to tour the Castle for them selfs. The volunteers working there are really doing a fine job of sharing this part of California’s history. your tour guide the “Dude” with the long grey hair is a very colorful and interesting Dude that has lived to help keep the story of The Preston School of Industry alive for future generations to enjoy.

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