News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.

‘Time Jockey ’: ” PRESTON CASTLE “

by Joe Castillo

Reform School  …. How times have changed. In today’s state budget crisis, the California Prison System is being overhauled even though there are more inmates than ever before. But the prison system had its own unique set of problems going back to the 1880s’. Back in those days if a boy was convicted of a crime, even petty, he was sentenced to a high-security facility such as San Quentin and Folsom State Prisons. Even though he was a minor, he was placed into the same facility as adults who had committed much more violent crimes. In 1889, State Legislator Edward Preston introduced a bill to establish an institution which would reform young criminals rather than just imprison them. This represented a new progressive movement in the rehabilitation of prisoners, and seeing the benefits, the State Legislature passed the bill. After the bill passed, local politicians convinced State Legislators to locate the facility in a rural area such as Amador County so that it would not be considered a prison and could offer educational and vocational skills training. The acquisition of 230 acres of land from the Ione Coal and Iron Company for $30 an acre along with another 100 acre donation provided the land to construct a rehabilitation facility. On December 23, 1890, ground was broken to start construction of the building and on June 13, 1894, the Preston School of Industry accepted its first seven wards from San Quentin State Prison. The beautiful Romanesque Revival building was made from sandstone from Ione, granite from Folsom, and bricks made at San Quentin and Folsom Prisons. The school stayed open until 1960 when a new facility was built at another location. For over 60 years the building has remained vacant and continues to deteriorate from age, neglect, weather and vandalism. The Preston Castle Foundation was established to renovate and preserve the building which is both a California State Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The castle has been the subject of ghost sightings, hunts and documentaries of the strange and eerie variety. As a matter of fact, just standing outside the 120-year old building you would bet your last dollar that a pair of young, chilling and frightening eyes was watching you from one of the many shadowy and open windows. Today you can visit the facility and leave when your tour is over but for the inmates who were housed there, only their spirit remains as a permanent resident of Preston Castle….

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