BACKSTORY: Walter Knott and his family sold berries and pies from a roadside stand beside State Route 39 in the 1920’s. A decade later, Knott was introduced to a new berry cultivated by Rudolph Boysen. The plant was a cross of the red raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry. Walter started to sell them at his roadside stand and dubbed them “boysenberries. In 1934, Knott’s wife Cordelia began selling fried chicken dinners served to guests on their wedding china.
For dessert, Knott’s boysenberry pie became a staple, served in the small tea room. Within a few years, lines outside the restaurant were often several hours long. To entertain the waiting crowds, Walter built a ghost town in 1940, using buildings relocated from real old west towns such as Calico, California and Prescott, Arizona. A narrow-gauge train ride, pan-for-gold area, and the Calico Mine Ride were attractions that were added later on. When Disneyland was built nearby, the two parks were not seen as direct competitors, due to their differences. Walt Disney visited Knott's Berry Farm on a number of occasions, and hosted the Knotts at his own park. They had a cordial relationship and worked together on many community causes.
The Knott family fenced the farm in 1968, charged admission for the first time, and Knott’s Berry Farm officially became an amusement park. Because of its long history, Knott's Berry Farm claims to be "America's First Theme Park.” In the 1970’s, the park had three theme areas: Old West Ghost Town, Fiesta Village, and the Roaring Twenties, a nostalgic traditional amusement area. In 1995, the Knott family sold the food specialty business to ConAgra and two years later, they sold the amusement park operations to Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.
BACKSTORY: In 1940, Walter Knott’s construction crew began to build a “ghost town” out of buildings and materials salvaged from all over the western part of the country.
“We are continually seeking materials with which to reconstruct the ghost town here at Knott’s Berry Place. By securing a building here, part of another there, an old bar in one place or something else somewhere else we add to the picture we are attempting to portray—a composite picture of the ghost towns of the west as they appeared in ’49 and early ’50s. We are not collecting museum pieces nor is it the intention to build a museum. Our thought is to collect a town but as that is impossible we try to do the next best thing—build or reconstruct a ghost town that will be authentic and show life as it was lived in the early days.” —Walter Knott, 1942
A Covered Wagon Show opene in February 1942 on Washington’s Birthday. It was a curved painting (known as a cyclorama) with set pieces in front of it that used sound and lighting effects to tell the story of the pioneers crossing the desert by covered wagon, just as his family had back in 1868.
BACKSTORY: One of several local buildings moved to the Farm. It came from a ranch "not more than a mile from here" in 1940 or '41. Besides demonstrating the many jobs of a blacksmith for generations of school children, the shop also made the shoes for the stage coach horses in the 1950s.
BACKSTORY: Boot Hill, with its hills and stream (for Grist Mill), was built in 1953, along with the Lucky Cuss Mine, the Box House (now gone), and the Barrel House - an example of the recycled construction materials found in many early Western mining camps. The Grist Mill is another example of the lengths Walter Knott went to create a "real" ghost town. Built in 1953, it was an actual grist mill for decades, using an old stone mill from Yuba City, California.
BACKSTORY: The first room was built around 1946, and appropriately enough was the original home of the Glass Blowers Shop. 1940’s Park publicity said it was built from 3,082 bottles (mostly champagne) brought from the old Death Valley area ghost town of Rhyolite, where an original 1905 bottle house still stands. A second bottle house room was added, then the adobe Music Hall on the north, built around 1948. Besides it collection of antique music boxes, the Music Hall also boasted a painting by famed 19th century California artist Charles Nahl, “The Night Watch.” Attached to the Music Hall is the adobe Butterfield Stage Station, designed by Otheto Weston and built in 1953. Weston took over as art director of Ghost Town after Paul von Klieben retired. It served for many years as the ticket office for “Bushy” Bill Higdon’s stagecoach ride, which began operation in 1949.
BACKSTORY: Attached to the Music Hall is the adobe Butterfield Stage Station, designed by Otheto Weston, who took over as art director of Ghost Town after Paul von Klieben's retirement, and built in 1953. It served for many years as the ticket office for "Bushy" Bill Higdon's stagecoach ride, which began running in 1949.
BACKSTORY: Planning for the Saloon had already started by 1950, even before Walter Knott decided to take on reconstruction of the actual ghost town of Calico located on California’s Mojave Desert. It was just by chance that Knott’s had decided to name their new drinking hall the Calico Saloon—not for famed silver town, but for the Calico printed wallpapter that covered the walls. The mahogany bar was built at the Farm, duplicating a 14' bar brought down from the town of Vallecito in California’s Mother Lode country in 1950. Behind the bar, Paul von Klieben painted his vision of “Saturday Night in Old Calico.” The can-can girls originally performed on the second-floor balcony. The stage beind the bar was added later, and Von Klieben’s painting was moved to the second floor of the Pitchur Gallery, where it can still be seen if you ask politely!
BACKSTORY: The Drug Store was originally built in 1940-41. It is also a "peek-in," displaying the sort of antique products also collected in the early days of Ghost Town.
BACKSTORY: The front of the building was built in 1940-41, but the restaurant didn’t open until September 11, 1946. It originally sat 50 people, but has been enlarged many times over the years.
BACKSTORY: The Gold Mine area opened in August 1948, just in time for the centennial of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill. It was the original home of the gold panning attraction. About half of the mountain was torn down during the construction of Ghost Rider in 1998. Part of the old mine survives in the entrance to Ghost Rider. From the Knott's Berry Farm website:
Looming 118 feet over historic Ghost Town, GhostRider is the largest attraction in park history and one of the longest and tallest wooden roller coasters in the world. Brave riders enter a mysterious mine, only to be strapped into gold, silver and copper mining cars and sent along 4,533 feet of twisting, unforgiving timber.
BACKSTORY: Originally came from a real ghost town near Prescott, Arizona, and was rebuilt to house the Covered Wagon Show. The hotel was remodeled several times over the years, and was rebuilt entirely in 1997, along with most of the north side of Main Street.
BACKSTORY: Goldie’s is Ghost Town’s cat house, much to the disgust of Cordelia Knott. It was built of old lumber in 1940-41, and was a replica of an actual building the famous ghost town of Bodie, California, which burned in the big fire of 1932.
BACKSTORY: The Hop Wing Chinese Laundry and its interior diorama were completed in 1941. Like most of the wooden figures along Ghost Town's Main Street, Wing Lee was carved by folk artist H. S. "Andy" Anderson. The Assay Office, Chinese Laundry, and Barber Shop "peek-ins" were rebuilt in 2009, and the original carved wooden figures by Andy Anderson were restored.
BACKSTORY: Judge Roy Bean's Jersey Lilly saloon was built in 1947 from an old home moved here from a nearby ranch. It originally stood west of the bottle house. Located across from the train tracks in Ghost Town, it is an exact replica of the original 1898 saloon in Texas where the self proclaimed Judge Roy Bean handed down justice in the old west!
BACKSTORY: The Halloween Haunt Museum was once Mrs. Murphy's Boarding House - and before that, it was the post office in Downey, California. It was moved here in 1952 and remodeled. For many years, Mrs. Murphy's featured an animated family dinner scene. In 1967 it became the Calico Spice Shop. Later still, it was Grandma Botts' Bonnets.
BACKSTORY: The Old School House, aka the Iowa School, was actually built near Beloit, Kansas in 1879 by a group of Iowa farmers who had moved west. It was moved to Knott's Berry Farm in 1952, complete with its original furnishings. Knott's added a bell tower and bell.
BACKSTORY: Sad-Eye Joe has been locked up in the Ghost Town Jail at Knott's Berry Farm since 1941, making him Orange County's longest jailed inmate. The carved figure visits with park guests with the help of a hidden voice. He is one of the many "peek-ins" located in Ghost Town. The Sheriff's Office is one of the few original buildings from 1940-41 still intact. The poker game scene inside is another example of woodcarver Andy Anderson's work. The jail out back was recently rebuilt.