Bagdad: A California Desert Ghost Town

Bagdad, CA is another Route 66 ghost town in San Bernardino County, CA. A product of the railroad, it would ultimately be superseded by Interstate 40, when 66 no longer functioned as a through route. However, this is not a tale of a town destroyed by a freeway or re-alignment, as this town peaked long before I-40 was built, the bypass was just another nail in the coffin.

Like many nearby towns, it got its start in 1883 when the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway was built between Needles and Barstow, CA. During this time, it served as a stop for mining workers north and south of the area. Even at its peak, only a few hundred people called the town home.

Towns built by the railroad usually were platted in 10 mile increments to allow steam engines to take on water, supplied by about 20 tank cars a day to replenish tanks in the area, which otherwise is completely dry being in the middle of the Mojave Desert. 

The town is actually the US record holder for consecutive days without rainfall, as it didn't rain in Bagdad between 10/03/1912 and 11/08/1914 - a 767 day streak.

"Going through the station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad between Needles and Barstow, California" Jack Delano photograph. Library of Congress

It would gain further prominence and importance when US Route 66 was built through the area. But like many small, desert towns, it was completely bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1973, which ran 10 miles north of the original Route 66. 

The name of Bagdad, named after Baghdad in present-day Iraq, is one of many railroad towns with names from areas in Asia, my guess as to why is the desert location. Siberia, Bengal, Cadiz and Siam are among some of the other named areas nearby, all of which are ghost towns along the railroad.

1903 Rand McNally map of California. David Rumsey Map Collection.

About 50 miles from Bagdad is the Bagdad Café, a stop also on 66, however, it is often confused as being within the town itself; they actually have no relation. Further confusing things may be a 1987 movie about the café. 

Part of this confusion may be related to a 1939 postcard that implies Bagdad Café is in Bagdad, CA. The café is actually in Newberry Springs, CA.

"FRASHER FOTO (sic) POSTCARD COLLECTION — Stop and See "Dave" for California Travel Information Bagdad, California -210 Miles East of Los Angeles on Hi-way "66" - Pomona Public Library Archives.


North of Bagdad and the railroad tracks also exists an abandoned cemetery named after the town. Another burial ground nearby house the remnants of many Chinese railroad workers who perished constructing the railroad.

Hardly any other piece of infrastructure from the former settlement exists, as by 1991, the remaining buildings were razed, thus almost no trace of the town exists today.

Thanks as always for reading!

Comments

  1. The original Bagdad and the Bagdad Cafe were already gone by the time the movie was made, so they filmed it in Newberry Springs at the Sidewinder Cafe. Afterwards, the cafe changed its name to Bagdad Cafe to capitalize on its fame from the movie.

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