Perched on a hill overlooking the town of Ione, is an ominous presence that screams horror film and haunted encounters. Known as the Preston Castle, this menacing structure's eerie appearance takes on a whole new level of frightening charm after one learns of its ghostly past.
What had started out as a reform school for wards of the state in the early 1890’s, developed into one of the region’s most mysteriously tragic entities with reported ghost sightings, tales of unspeakable brutalities, a living history and at least one unsolved murder.
In the 66 years of the original Preston School of Industry, there were hundreds of escape attempts, numerous violent encounters, abhorred testimonies of sexual abuse, inhumane punishments and murder. Perhaps, no murder is more infamous than the unsolved brutal murder of Anna Corbin.
Anna was the head housekeeper at Preston. On Thursday, February 23, 1950, Anna was brutally beaten to death and discovered shortly before a staff meeting. Historical accounts of where the body was found differ between sources. Some state she was found in a locked basement closet, some say near the kitchen and some say a supply room. One thing is clear, she was found in the basement around 2pm bludgeoned to death with a rope around her neck.
The list of suspects was initially a long one. It was filled with both wards and staff. Eventually a ward named Eugene Monroe became the main suspect. Unfortunately, he was never found guilty of this crime. His first two trials were hung trials and he was acquitted in the third trial. Monroe was also a suspect in two other murders outside of Preston. Within a few years of Corbin’s murder, Monroe was incarcerated for murder in Oklahoma.
In addition to Mrs. Corbin’s brutal death, there have been many suspicious reports of wards dying due to severe illnesses like tuberculosis. Unfortunately, there are also tales of wards being killed by guards and other wards like Sam Goins and Herman Huber. These tales are often debated by researchers, family members of former wards, protestors of Preston’s existence and those who support the school’s restoration. Despite the uncertainty of the details surrounding the deaths of the wards, there’s a nearby cemetery filled with graves of wards who were “rehabilitated” at Preston.
⇒ Check out my partial list of the Famous and Infamous wards of Preston School of Industry
Nowadays, many Paranormal enthusiasts and professional ghost hunters claim that the Preston Castle is haunted. In other terms, there are spiritual “visitors” that reside in the castle. Anna Corbin’s spirit is often reported as one of the main spirits that “visits” the castle. Other reports claim that spirits of the wards who were killed while at Preston, or who died of health issues, also “visit” the castle.
I am admittedly suspicious when it comes to claims of ghosts. But, after touring the Preston Castle, I believe that this former school for wayward boys certainly has a supernatural aura to it.
4 Decades of Silence
The school’s castle structure was closed in 1960 after a more modern facility was built nearby. The castle building itself sat for roughly 40 years, unused, uncared for, and just withering away with time. Tales of the brutalities and murders began to fade into the archives as the town put behind them the most notable Preston tragedies. But, the wards who continued serving their time at the newer Preston facilities, quickly learned about the old castle’s tales. This “history lesson” served as a deterrence to many wards and flirted with becoming urban legends among the region.
In 2001, the Preston Castle Foundation, in effort to preserve the castle, received a 50+ year lease of the building. In November of 2014, the foundation received ownership of the property.
My encounter with the foundation and its docents was pleasant and very informative. Their efforts to preserve and restore the building goes beyond the glorification of death and brutality. In my opinion, their efforts center on returning the castle to its role as a community partner like it used to be. Back in the early 20th century, the Preston School’s infirmary was used by locals who needed medical assistance. Additionally, the school’s band played in local establishments and the sports teams brought some positive encouragement to the community.
Today, the Preston Castle Foundation offers tours to the public. These tours focus on the school’s positive history, touching on some of the paranormal and doesn’t shy away from some of the tragedies.
For more information on The Preston Castle Foundation and their tours, check out their website or contact them at 209-256-3623
The Preston Castle is a California Historical Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When entering the town of Ione, the castle’s Romanesque Revival architecture kicks you in the gut and steals your breath. In fact, I never seemed to fully catch my breath until I left the town of Ione. Turning onto Waterman Road seemed like I was entering a ghost town. It reminded me of my trip to the ghost town of North Bloomfield. All of the buildings were empty and lifeless.
The road slowly takes you up to the Preston Castle gates, where I arrived about 35 minutes before the tour began. So, I decided to park by the gate and walk back down the street to visit the “modern” section of the Preston School of Industry.
A Warning Sign
As I stepped onto the grounds of the Colonial house for the first pictures of the day, a large vulture landed on top of the home almost directly above me. I could hear the wings flapping prior to its landing. Once on the roof, it let out an ungodly screech that sent chills up my spine. It was as if the scavenger of death was warning me of things to come. Either that, or it was putting a claim on my carcass.
This was the largest bird I have ever seen in person. In fact it’s 5 foot wingspan made it look more like a medieval creature. I quickly recognized the vulture’s red face and black body. I hurried out into the grass to take a picture of this creature.
It was an eerie experience and one that weighed on me as I prepared for my four hour tour of the haunted castle.
The Castle’s Exterior
If the castle’s appearance doesn’t make you slightly apprehensive to enter, it’s massive size, which at times can block out the sun, will. Approaching the steps to the main entrance, my senses went into overdrive. It’s like I could hear sounds more clearly, smell things more clearly and feel every breeze no matter how gentle it may be.
Being on a Photography Tour allowed me the ability to freely roam the grounds. I wasn’t confined to a designed tour of the castle. So, I took advantage of this freedom, and chose to explore the exterior first.
It’s not a quick journey by any means to walk around the exterior. In fact, this truly puts the castle’s size into proper perspective. One thing I noticed right away, the hopeless views from the windows. It was if the glass was especially created to strip the hope from each ward. They were dark and gloomy like a storm filled sky.
The stairways into the various entrances seemed worn from usage. The bricks, which were built in San Quentin and Folsom Prisons, gave the building a lifeless, reddish outer shell. Initially, Preston School of Industry wanted to provide a “home” feel to the wards and not a prison like feel. Unfortunately, at no time during my lap around the building, did I see anything that would make me think, feel or imagine a “home” type feel to this place. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I felt despair, hopelessness and a drain on the soul.
Entering the Castle
For me, entering Preston Castle was more than just an excitingly, creepy exploration. It was a reminder of my past. Growing up, I was a troubled youth and made many stupid decisions as a teenager. Truth be told, I could have easily ended up in a juvenile detention center due to all of the criminal activities that I committed. There’s an old adage that says “boys will be boys.” Well, I would like to add a footnote to that adage and say “sometimes boys will be wards.”
If I spent my teenage years in California during the heyday of this castle, I could have easily been sent to Preston. I was so lucky not to get caught for any of the foolish crimes I committed when lost in my anger filled, misguided teenage years.
It wasn’t hard for me to put myself in the shoes of these wards and imagine the hard, brutal life at Preston. However, it also made me count my blessings that I never ended up in a place like this.
After making a lap around the building, I decided to head back to the courtyard and enter the castle through the basement into the activity room. Right away, you will notice that the inside of the building is like a maze, spanning both vertically and horizontally. It’s really hard to decide which direction to go. My plan of attack was to spend one hour on each floor. The 4th floor wasn’t open due to safety issues.
The floor plan was rather strange as the shower room was positioned directly behind the activity room with not much privacy.
Perhaps, the most intriguing part of the activity room is the antique looking piano hiding in the corner. After tickling the ivory for a few moments, I proceeded down the grim looking hallway. I walked straight into a large room, bypassing stairs up to the first floor and a hallway leading toward the kitchen.
⇒ Check out my Photo Essay: Spooky Hallways and More
This large room had some school desks to the left and barrels to the right. There was a room to the left of the desks and a room to the right of the barrels. It was down here where Anna Corbin’s body was found.
After a few moments, I went over to the kitchen and the pantry. The old stove made for some wonderful pictures, as did the pantry. Across from the kitchen, was the plunge bath. This was where the new wards were forced to swim in a tub of lye. It looked like an indoor pool but sounded more like an early form of water torture. Unfortunately, there was no open entrance into this room so I proceeded upstairs to the first floor.
⇒ Check out my Photo Essay: Kitchen and Dining for more photos of the Kitchen and Pantry
This was probably the busiest floor in the entire building. Not only were there numerous photographers, but there were also several photo shoots taking place. Of particular interest on this floor was the dining room, infirmary, the prayer room, the main office and the small museum. This is where the outdoor front steps bring you into the building. It’s often where most people begin their tours.
When arriving onto the first floor from the basement, it’s difficult to decide which direction to head. My path of exploration was influenced by the amount of people in the dining area which is in the right wing of the castle if you are looking at the building from the outside.
I decided to head to the left and ended up at the doctor’s office and then the infirmary. The doctor’s office had a strange feel to it. But, the infirmary was even more inspirational to one’s depraved imagination. There are several beds in the infirmary which prompt thoughts of the various deadly diseases that ravaged this country during the early 20th century.
⇒ For more pictures of the medical rooms check out Photo Essay: Preston Castle Creepy Rooms
It really was a dog fight to get into the dining room. I had to save this room for last as there were two photo shoots and about a dozen photographers in here throughout the tour. But, this room is well worth the effort. In fact, it’s one of the most impressive rooms in the entire castle. There’s a nice fireplace, a staircase heading down to the basement and a large dining table from 1930.
⇒ Check out my Photo Essay: Kitchen and Dining for more photos of the Dining Room
The main entrance into the building is where the administration room is located, a large room with historical displays and the cool, old-fashioned vault. Additionally, there’s what I call a “prayer room” located right off the display room. I would suggest that people start here first, say a few prayers and then begin the tour. Because, who knows what one might encounter.
There’s a few stair cases that lead up to the second floor. This floor mainly housed most of the staff apartments and a creepy dormitory for the boys. It’s also said that Anna Corbin’s apartment was on this floor. However, there are conflicting reports that say she lived off site, which I tend to agree with. Regardless, all of the apartments were deteriorated and uniquely spooky. But, it was the dormitory that creeped me out the most.
This was a large room that is often the source of horrific stories about abuse and neglect. The ceiling is a dark wood that looked to be a perfect spot for bats or other creatures of the night. One can’t help but feel some sort of depressing atmosphere while in this room.
Also on this floor was the library. This room was stripped of most of its identity. The 4 large windows provided plenty of lighting. There was a closed room connected to the right side of the library. It had beautiful large wooden doors that may have been made out of mahogany. Some believe there was a former classroom on the other side.
⇒ For more spooky rooms check out my Photo Essay: Preston Castle’s Creepy Rooms
For a while, the third floor was closed off to the public due to safety reasons. However, on my tour, the third floor was mostly open. This floor was filled with apartments but had more of an isolated despair than the rest of the building. It was eerily silent as if its history was forgotten. Part of the third floor was closed off due to safety issues.
One of the rooms provided a view through the rotted floor down to the basement. In fact many of the rooms suffered badly from deterioration. You could also see up to the fourth floor which was closed off. All of this decay and lifelessness added to the overall darkness of this castle.
⇒ Check out my Photo Essay: Preston Castle Deterioration and Decay for more photos
This floor was closed off due to safety issues. Besides looking up from the third floor through the opening of the ceiling/floor of the fourth floor, the most you could explore was going up the staircase to a locked door. The 4th floor reportedly had more apartments for staff.
Whether you believe this place is haunted or not, you can’t ignore it’s spooky appearance and ominous aura. Add in the history of this place with its impressive architectural design, and you have what I call a tragic blend of history, mystery and horror.
Despite what some may say, I believe the Preston Castle should be preserved and restored. This building is a historical landmark with a notorious history. There’s definitely a disturbing aura to this place that would make even the most staunch anti-ghost individuals pause in their tracks.
I highly recommend taking the photography tour for those photography enthusiasts. It allows for more time to freely tour and engage the castle.
My next adventure at the Preston Castle will be the overnight ghost tour. I can only imagine what “visitors” and creatures come out to play at night.
⇒ For more on The Preston Castle, check out my Preston Castle Visitor Guide
From Sacramento – take Highway 50 east to Sunrise and head south. Head about 15 minutes before making a left onto Jackson Rd./Highway 16. Drive 11 miles before making a right onto Ione Rd. which is about two miles past Rancho Murieta. Take this road for 6 miles and continue onto Michigan Bar Road. Eventually, this road veers to the left and becomes 104 East. Stay on here for 3 miles and you will see The Preston Castle off in the distance. Look for the signs to the castle and make a left onto Waterman Rd.