BISHOP — The eastern Sierra — home to Bodie that stands as the West’s largest remaining ghost town in a state of arrested decay — also boosts a museum that isn’t the typical cookie cutter affair.
The Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Site outside of Bishop on Highway 6 near the Owens River offers a unique glimpse not just into the history of a narrow gauge railroad that was typical of those that helped develop the Old West but also of life in Inyo County.
It features 43 major exhibits — mostly preserved older buildings with seemingly endless displays inside ranging from handmade revolvers from the late 1880s to antiquated linotypes — on 11 acres. It includes actual tracks of the Carson & Colorado Railroad Co. plus a Southern Pacific train engine, numerous box cars, a caboose, and interurban passenger cars. In 1912 Southern Pacific bought the railroad founded in 1880 and operated it until 1960.
The Bishop Museum & Historical Society obtained the old Laws town site, railroad apparatus and some buildings in 1965. Originally the railroad was supposed to go from Mound House just south of Virginia City to the Colorado River but it never go farther south than Keeler by Owens Lake. It has often been referred to as “the railroad that was built 300 miles too long or 300 years too soon.”
It primarily served various mines in the region as well as moved freight, farm goods and passengers.
Over the years the historical society obtained other buildings and moved them onto the site to join the original 1883 depot and loading dock that was gifted to them along with the original 1883 turntable, water tank and several railroad structures including the agent’s house.
The agent’s house by itself is worth the $5 suggested admission. It has much of its original accommodations including a copper lined tube to keep water warm. It has original furnishings as well as portraits of various families that resided there. The fully furnished home is made all the more interesting by a docent that greets those who enter and gives them a brief history of the house and is available to answer any questions.
Acquired buildings include original 1909 North Inyo School House, a building that was created for the “Nevada Smith” movie, the first Catholic Church built in Bishop and even the original Bishop ice house used to store ice cut from area lakes.
Each of the building houses collections based on a theme. One, as an example, offers western displays such as saddles, brands and an antique horse drawn hearse. Another features printing presses and equipment dating back to 1880. One has an extensive bottle collection while another has Indian artifacts and essay equipment. There are almost three dozen different themed collections inside of the buildings.
There is also a “trading post” with thrift items for sale in addition to the reception center that offers gifts and books for sale in addition to an old historical photo display.
The museum is open year round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
More information is available by going to www.lawsmuseum.org or calling 760.873.5950.
The museum and town site are a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the national Registry of Historic Places.