Atolia, Cal

Visit Date: October 7th, 2013

Located about four miles south of Johannesburg, the ghost town of Atolia has quite an interesting life story. Gold is generally the reason for most of the mining in this part of the state, but Atolia rose to prominence as a Tungsten Town.

Atolia panorama, circa 1909. Courtesy of the Rand Desert Museum

Atolia panorama, circa 1909. Courtesy of the Rand Desert Museum

Located right on Hwy 395, I had never heard of the place and only caught a glimpse of a sign announcing its presence as I was speeding by on my way to Randsburg. A couple of old, worn-out buildings had also caught my attention, so as soon as I could, I turned around and headed back to take some pictures.

Two prospectors from Johannesburg, Charles Taylor and Tom McCarthy, discovered the tungsten deposits around 1903 and later shipped a carload of ore to Germany to be processed. They made a sweet amount of money after expenses and in 1906 were bought out by E. B De Golia and a Mr. Atkins, to the tune of $114,000 with $27,000 of that being a cash down payment.

The town got its Post Office in 1906 and the place became known as Atolia,  a contraction of Atkins and De Golia’s names. The two men contracted for a tungsten mill to be built in 1907 and the town continued to grow and prosper.

The town’s boom time were the years immediately preceding World War I. The Atolia mine had a payroll of $60,000 per month and between the years of 1916 and 1918, nearly $10 million was produced, making it the richest tungsten mine in the world. All of the things a miner could need could be found in the town’s four restaurants, drug store, three general stores, three rooming houses, four pool rooms, two stationary stores, ice cream parlor, garage, three butcher shops, miscellaneous stores and picture show. There was even a new school house for 60 pupils and a newspaper to keep the citizens informed.

Atolia, circa 1916. Courtesy Rand Desert Museum

Atolia, circa 1916. Courtesy Rand Desert Museum

The price and demand for tungsten dropped dramatically after World War I and Atolia suffered the fate of most boomtowns. People started moving away, businesses closed and the town began its fade into history. The mines were apparently still worked up into the 1940s and possibly beyond, but the town and its residents were gone.

I pulled off the east side of Hwy 395 onto a dirt road to take a few pictures. There are several old, weathered buildings right near the highway and many remains of the mining days, including open shafts very near the road. Be careful if you stop to poke around. Much of the land is posted private property, so I didn’t venture too far away from the highway. The nearby Red Mountain is very impressive, much more so in person than in the photos I took. It’s hard for me to drive by places like this without stopping and exploring, I’m pretty sure that the next time I’m in the area I’ll stop again in Atolia and try for some more pictures to add to this post.

Here's a great site with in-depth information regarding Atolia.