Ballarat’s story began in 1896, the town was founded as a supply point for the booming mines in the canyons of the Panamint Mountains. It’s name was given by George Riggins, a young miner from Australia, who proposed the town be named after the Australian gold mining town.
From 1897 to 1905, Ballarat was the place to be in the Panamints. The population is estimated to have been between 400-500 people; and boasting 7 saloons, 3 hotels, a Wells Fargo Station, a school, a jail, a post office, and a morgue. The only thing lacking was a church, and I don’t think that anyone minded.
By 1917, many of the mines in the Panamints played out, causing the once bustling towns population to dwindle, and lose its post office.
Some of the towns most well-known residents include legendary Death Valley miner, Shorty Harris, who lived here off and on until his death in 1934. Seldom Seen Slim, “the last of the old-timers”, came to Ballarat in 1917 and stayed until his death in 1968.
In the 1960′s, the infamous Charles Manson, and family spent some time roaming around Ballarat. Their Barker Ranch hideout was tucked away in a canyon just a few miles from the townsite. A truck that is parked across from the General Store in town is believed to have been owned by a member of “the family.”
Today Ballarat still refuses to die. It’s sole full-time resident is Rocky Novak. Rocky lives on site in his generator powered home and runs the general store (IE: Beer and Soda). He grew up in nearby Surprise Canyon at the Chris Wicht Camp, which has since been burned to the ground.
During the cooler months, Ballarat is the gateway to the Panamints for many off-road enthusiasts. A large camping area is provided and most of the main trails leading into the canyons are easily accessible from the town.
Less than a handful of original structures remain, they include the jail that also doubled as a morgue, and the skeleton of some miners cabins -including that of Shorty Harris. Be sure to keep an eye out when visiting for the “Free nude dancing burros!”
If you own or manage Ballarat Ghost Town, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.