An Education on Ione’s Preston Castle
Jul 30, 2019 10:58AM
Preston Castle looms over the gold rush town of Ione like something out of a 1950s horror film. This Romanesque Revival structure was built in the 1890s to house the Preston School of Industry, established by the California State Legislature to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. Rehabilitation was a progressive idea in the late nineteenth- century that was unfortunately not completely grasped by all of the succeeding superintendents. Stories of brutality to the inmates were not uncommon.
The initial compound sat on 230 acres of land purchased from the Ione Coal & Iron Company. Bricks for the castle were manufactured at San Quentin and Folsom prisons from sandstone quarried near Ione and delivered to the site by rail. On December 23, 1890, the cornerstone was laid before a crowd of 2,500 people. The school eventually covered 1,000 acres, including 750 acres of farmland, which provided work for the boys and food for the institution.
The first wards of the Preston School of Industry arrived in June of 1894, and the school officially opened on July 1, 1894. Electric lighting, powered by a Pelton wheel, was added a year later. At its peak, the school employed 200 staff and housed 800 troubled boys and young men from all over the state.
Preston Castle was the administrative building for the institution. It encompasses 46,000 square feet over five floors and includes 77 rooms, 43 fireplaces and 257 windows. The building housed administrative offices, reception and sitting rooms; a dining room, physician’s office and pharmacy; a reading room, library and schoolroom; a dormitory, locker room and numerous bathrooms and lavatories. The basement housed a kitchen and bakery as well as the laundry, furnace and storage facilities.
Boys were trained in various occupations while at the school in the hope that upon their release they would become productive citizens. By 1922, the school offered training in 28 industries. A program was also offered through Stanford University, whereby boys who exhibited good behavior were sent to live and work at Vina Ranch owned by the university. They lived at the Stanford University Honor Cottage and were employed at general ranch work for wages of between $2.50 and $4.00 per day. Once paroled from Preston School of Industry, these young men had the opportunity to lease 10-20 acres from the farm to work for themselves.
While the intent of the institution was good, the means to the end were not always so rosy. Stories of beatings, whippings and other brutality to inmates routinely showed up in newspapers.
The school was intended as a facility to rehabilitate wayward young men, but at times it became a place for desperate parents to offload their recalcitrant sons, especially during the depression. The facility offered these boys a roof over their heads and three meals a day in addition to vocational training. Notable “graduates” of the school include Merle Haggard, actors Rory Calhoun, Lee J. Cobb and Eddie Anderson, and tennis star Poncho Gonzales.
Preston Castle remained the center of the correctional facility until 1960 when new facilities were completed. At that time, the castle was allowed to fall into disrepair and employees were told to take what they wanted since the castle was scheduled for demolition. The looting took place, but the building was never demolished. Today the interior is stripped of its former grandeur—marble flooring has been removed, and the hand-carved rosewood mantles over the fireplaces are gone, but the castle still stands thanks to the efforts of the Preston Castle Foundation. The castle has been named a California State Historical Landmark (#867) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NPS-75000422).
The Preston Castle and surrounding property is owned by the Preston Castle Foundation (PCF). The Preston Castle site was deeded over to the PCF by the State of California on November 7, 2014.
In 1999, the Preston School of Industry was renamed the Preston Youth Correctional Facility. It finally closed for good in June 2011.
Today, visitors can explore Preston Castle on weekends and during special tours offered throughout the year. The Preston Castle Foundation also hosts several events and concerts throughout the year. Visit prestoncastle.com for information.
by Jerrie Beard
Sacramento Union, Volume 182, Number 58, June 27, 1915
Sacramento Union, Volume 112, Number 106, December 8, 1906
San Francisco Call, Volume 82, Number 181, November 28, 1897
Chico Record, Number 90, April 18, 1918
Make the castle the destination for your next group activity. Large families, Red Hatters, car clubs, etc. have enjoyed great days at the castle. Typical private tours take 1.5 to 2 hours. but can be adjusted to fit your schedule.
Nighttime Paranormal Investigation Tours
Through a partnership with an experienced Paranormal Research Group the Castle now offers opportunities for visitors to perform nighttime paranormal investigations.
Take an interesting and informative historical tour of Preston Castle. You will be guided by a trained docent, or take a self-guided tour on your own. Gain access to the first floor, second floor and basement and learn about the history of the Preston School of Industry. These tours involve stairs. Cameras are allowed but please, NO tripods.
No reservations are necessary for the self-guided tours, which start at 10 am and run until 1 pm. Tickets are sold from 10 am to 12 noon, and guests should exit the Castle by 1 pm.
Guided tours are led by a trained docent, who will guide you through the Castle. They are scheduled for 1:00 pm, 1:30 pm, and 2:00 pm., limited to 3 groups of 16 guests each. They will last about 60-70 minutes and tickets may be purchased in advance online (see booking calendar below).
Also available is a 35 minute closed-captioned Virtual Tour for our mobility restricted guests which will take place on the accessible ground floor (basement) of the Castle. No reservations required.
Public tours are available most Saturdays, April 6 to August 31. Remaining tour dates for 2019
- August 3
- August 10
- August 17
- August 24
- August 31 (last tour day)
December 14 (Christmas at the Castle - self guided tours only)