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The town of Seneca, located only 5 miles from Lake Almanor, is for sale for $225,000. Photos by Samantha P. Hawthorne
Surrounded by fire-worn trees and beautiful mountains lies the deserted town of Seneca — a historic miner’s retreat that has recently gone up for sale.
The town, which was surrounded by flames from the Chips Fire a little over a year ago, is an unincorporated community in Plumas County that was founded in 1851 after gold was discovered in the area. With dreams of riches, people flocked to the area and the town quickly grew to more than 1,000 residents. According to an engraved bronze plaque located inside the town, 500 of the residents were Chinese miners who earned 10 cents a day in rice to work in one of the mines.
For over a century, miners filled the nearby mines in search of gold nuggets, the largest of which, found in 1934, weighed 42 ounces and was worth $28,000.
The town holds such a significant value to the local community that firefighters risked their lives in 2012 to protect the historic buildings. Each building was covered with fireproof tarp in order to protect it from the Chips Fire flames. Because of those efforts, the ghost town remains a viable business location and tourist attraction. Located on the North Fork Feather River, the narrow, windy roads and steep cliffs are hardly a deterrent for eager visitors.
A plaque dedicated to historic Seneca by E. Clampus Vitus Vigilantes Chapter 1911 describes how the town was born. Click to see larger image.
“It’s a very wild and remote place yet it’s still somewhat accessible to paved roads,” said Jeff Potter, the owner’s nephew. “I’d say it’s located on one of the scariest, highest, narrowest roads in the country. The southern access is only a few miles from pavement, a highway which is pretty directly connected to civilization like Sacramento.
“The northern access is more like 8 miles of very sketchy narrow dirt road — that’s the scary part. Still, it’s fun and I’d recommend it.”
In its golden years, a dance hall, feed store, livery, blacksmith, post office, grocery store, rooming houses and a hotel complete with solar heated showers comprised the town of Seneca. According to the Plumas County Museum Association, the Gin Mill bar was built sometime between the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was originally built as a cabin but instead turned into the “center of attention.”
In 1934, Marie Sabin and her husband moved to Seneca, where she began her career as a barmaid. The petite Canadian woman charmed the visitors of the bar so much so that she became known as the “guardian angel of Seneca.”
Today, all that remains of the 10-acre town is a few dilapidated buildings and the closed-down Seneca Resort and Gin Mill.
Over the years, the town has attracted visitors from all over the country, many of whom left their mark on the Gin Mill in the form of business cards and other mementoes posted on interior and exterior walls. Photo albums, dusty beer bottles, empty bar stools and a sink filled with dishes complement the deserted bar’s historic ambiance.
A sign that reads, “There’s nothing wrong with having nothing to say unless you insist on saying it,” remains unscathed over the bathroom entrance.
A dusty, but working piano sits untouched in the corner of the room, alluding to the cheerful times when miners came to relax after a long day’s work.
All of the memories stored in this little ghost town are now up for sale for the low price of $225,000. The sale includes the land, a bar and its liquor license, and three rustic old cabins in need of serious repair.
Although four mines surround the town — “Sunnyside,” “Lucky Chance,” “White Lily” and “Last Chance” — none of them are included in the sale.
Although the Plumas County assessor valued Seneca at only $72,000, Potter said he believes the opportunity in itself is unique enough to warrant the price increase.
Ever since the town was listed on Craigslist for sale, it has attracted global inquiries and visitors from as far away as London, England. On Nov. 11, the infamous Pee-Wee Herman even tweeted about the ghost town being up for sale, reaching an audience of more than 1.5 million people.
“Even though it is a ghost town, when the bar is open it still seems like the social center for miles around,” said Potter.
Over the time of his ownership, Tim TenBrink, 67, said the bar would regularly cater to more than a dozen miners at any given time during the day. TenBrink and his buddy Jerry Manpearl purchased the bar in 1975 after being served about 20 drinks from beloved barmaid Marie Sabin. TenBrink said within a couple years the $50,000 price tag was nearly covered due to the fact the miners “would drink like fish.”
While miners were toasting to their good fortune, TenBrink was making his own fortune — he built a concert stage and hosted musical festivals that were considered the “Woodstock of the West.” Within three years of hosting the festival, more than 3,000 people piled into the small town to listen to the mountain music. Acoustic music would fill the town, and thousands of guests lined the hills with tents and sleeping bags.
Up until four years ago, TenBrink traveled from his Susanville home to open the bar on weekends. His health has since declined, however, and he has been unable to make the trip to Seneca.
Over the years, however, the bar has gone through “ebbs and flows,” said Potter, and has been opened every so often, sometimes attracting hundreds of people for musical events.
The news of Seneca being offered for sale has gone viral in the last few weeks, first reaching Internet populations and more recently hitting mainstream news. The owners have been approached by three different filming agencies wanting to shoot either feature films or reality shows on location.
An open house was hosted Nov. 25 and 26, and approximately 55 potential investors were served drinks and food from the bar.
Potter has received more than 300 emails from interested buyers, 20 of whom have made offers on the property. Potter said they are considering putting it up for auction because there are so many interested buyers. He said if someone gives them an offer they can’t refuse, however, it will be accepted without hesitation. “We are prepared at any time to make a deal but want everyone to know what they are doing first.” He is encouraging all interested parties to visit Seneca before committing to the purchase.
Potter said, “It is such an unusual situation that it makes us wonder” if Seneca should be sold. He said they are 99 percent certain they will sell it, but are in no hurry to do so.
In addition to the appeal of purchasing a part of California history, whoever buys Seneca will have the opportunity to be surrounded by the many recreational opportunities that Plumas and Lassen counties have to offer.
Among its many attractive surroundings, the scenic Feather River Canyon is 18 miles south of Seneca; Lake Almanor is 5 miles north; and Butt Lake is only a couple miles away.
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