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Discover the haunting beauty of Preston Castle (formerly the Preston School of Industry) in Ione, California, where history and the paranormal collide! Explore the castle’s past as a reform school, its ghostly tales, and stunning architecture visit today for an unforgettable experience!

Preston Castle - large red brick building with clear blue sky, American flag, and blossoms on tree

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Preston Castle (Formerly Preston School of Industry): Ione, CA

In the small Northern California town of Ione, you’ll find one of the state’s most intriguing historical sites, Preston Castle. A remarkable and hauntingly beautiful piece of architecture, Preston Castle, originally known as the Preston School of Industry, has a rich and storied past that dates back to the late 19th century.

Today, we’re going to visit the fascinating world of Preston Castle, and I guarantee that you will soon be eager to experience Northern California’s most fascinating location for yourself!

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The History of the Preston School of Industry

"Preston School of Industry" wooden sign outside of building

Established in 1894, the Preston School of Industry was one of the best-known reform schools for juvenile offenders in the state. The school was founded with the intention of providing a progressive alternative to the traditional juvenile detention centers of the time. The state of California sought to establish a reform school that focused on education, vocational training, and rehabilitation, as opposed to simply punishing young offenders. Despite its severe strategies for managing wards of the state, the Preston School of Industry soon gained a reputation for its progressive approach to education and rehabilitation.

Preston Castle - large red brick building with plants and trees out front

Located in the city of Ione, the institution was strategically situated far from the more densely populated urban areas of San Francisco and Sacramento, allowing for a more secluded and controlled environment. The construction of the castle-like building, designed by architect George Sellon, began in 1890 and was completed in 1894.

Preston Castle - huge red brick building with arches, spires, and ornate details

Its imposing Romanesque Revival architecture was meant to inspire awe and instill a sense of discipline in the residents and was specifically designed to look more like a school and less like a prison. The bricks were made at San Quentin Prison and Folsom Prison using sandstone that was mined just a few miles from the castle’s location.

close up of names carved into brick wall in varying shades of red and grey
"What is Preston Castle" signage and historical information at the castle

Upon its opening, the Preston School of Industry admitted young male offenders between the ages of 12 and 24, who had been convicted of various crimes, including theft, truancy, and vagrancy. The institution aimed to reform these individuals by providing a structured environment that emphasized education, trade skills, and good citizenship. Residents were taught various vocations such as agriculture, masonry, carpentry, and metalwork, to better prepare them for life after their release.

Copies of old newspaper photos and articles about Preston School of Industry
People posing for photos outside of Preston Castle - massively large red brick building

The architecture of Preston Castle is a feast for the eyes. As the most significant example of Romanesque Revival architecture in the United States, it’s no wonder that the building has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as a California Historical Landmark.

The nearly 50,000 square-foot castle boasts a whopping 120 rooms and opens up to reveal an administration building, complete with a stunning dining room, and living quarters that once housed young offenders before they were transferred to the new facilities in 1960.

Read More About the History of the Preston School of Industry Here!

interior of curved portico in state of disrepair with exposed brick and lath

The 4-story castle is in varying states of decay and disrepair, and at the time of this post, only the basement, first floor, and parts of the second floor are open for public touring.

Preston Castle in front of a dark and stormy sky

Is Preston Castle Haunted?

Antique doll in antique doll carriage in decaying room

If you know me at all, you know that spooky old buildings are totally my jam, so I was very interested in the mysterious and eerie side of Preston Castle! The site has been a favorite of ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts for decades, earning a featured spot on popular TV shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Ghost Asylum.

It’s said that the spirits of former inmates and staff members still roam the halls, with sightings of a woman named Anna Corbin, Preston’s head housekeeper who was tragically murdered in the castle in 1950, being particularly frequent. Her brutal murder remains unsolved to this day. The castle has also served as the location of several horror movies, further solidifying its status as a haunting hotspot.

Vintage wheelchair in dusty and dirty old infirmary room

If you’re a die-hard ghost enthusiast, you will be excited to hear that Preston Castle offers overnight ghost tours. Guided by experienced paranormal investigators (aka ghost hunters), you’ll have the chance to explore the castle after dark, using professional equipment to search for signs of paranormal activity. Who knows, you might even encounter the spirit of Anna Corbin, Eugene Monroe, or Sam Goins – all former residents of the castle who met with untimely deaths.

Kitchen with antique stove, room is filled with both sunbeams and spiderwebs

The castle definitely has a “creepy vibe” and an eerie feeling in a few of the rooms and spaces, but I have never personally had any kind of ghostly experiences there, and I have visited several times.

Preston Castle: Photo Tour

A tour of Preston Castle is a journey through time, with numerous rooms and artifacts that reveal fascinating glimpses into the past. Here’s a more detailed look at some of the highlights you can expect during your visit:

Vintage "Hall's Safe & Lock Co." decorated safe door front

The Administration Building

Your tour will likely begin at the administration building, which once served as the hub of activity for the Preston School of Industry. Here, you can explore offices, meeting rooms, and the grand dining room where staff and residents would gather for meals. In the dining room, original artifacts like tables, chairs, ornately decorated wood furniture, and dishware are on display.

Preston Castle dining room with antique table and chairs
Ornately carved wood chest, antique console radio, and floral oil painting in dining room
Long hallway showing distinct signs of age and disrepair
Collapsed elevator shaft at Preston Castle

The Preston Castle Foundation has been hard at work in an attempt the castle to its original glory, but it is apparent at every turn that age and neglect have taken their toll, and the restoration is a slow and expensive process. As such, only limited areas of the castle are able to be toured as a safety precaution. This place is MASSIVE, though, so there are still plenty of places to explore!

Room with mint green door and fireplace in ruins

Two ornate wooden beds with burgundy bed cloths and doily pillows in bedroom

The Apartments

Many of the people who helped run the Preston School of Industry lived on-site in small apartments. Perhaps the most famous apartment is the rumored apartment of Anna Corbin (though it has been disputed that Anna lived on-site and has been proven that she also kept a home in town).

apartment with antique bed, sewing desk, dresser, chest, and rug

The apartments have been carefully preserved, with personal belongings on display, including furniture, clothing, and photographs. These rooms serve as a freeze-frame in time and a poignant reminder of the tragic events that unfolded within these walls.

apartment room filled with antique furniture and sheer curtains
wingback chair covered in large doily next to an overflowing bookshelf
extreme close-up of ornate radiator detail
Two ornately carved chairs with angels and an antique console radio in apartment
old chair in abandoned room with lots of wear
stairway down to a bathroom with demolished stair wall and broken bathtub
apartment room in ruins with sunlight streaming in

Of course, like the rest of Preston Castle, there are many apartments that are not-so-nicely preserved as well.

old fireplace with missing mantel and tile work
piles of rubble in what was once an apartment in Preston Castle

three metal single beds in a large room that is otherwise empty

The Wards‘ Dormitory

As you venture deeper into the castle and up to the second floor, you’ll come across the living quarters that once housed the young juvenile offenders. These wards offer a glimpse into the daily lives of the residents, and you’ll see original beds, dressers, and other personal items that have been preserved over the years.

intricate beam and rafter system above the dormitory floor
three metal beds in large room with beams and wooden ceiling

If you look closely at the rafter beams and the wood ceiling, you can see where the boys carved their names for posterity. Considering how high up there that is, I’d say that was an impressive feat!

wooden ceiling and beams with names carved into them
dirty black metal bed with thin white blanket and small side table
Pair of black shoes with untied laces at the foot of a metal bed

Yellow "contagious disease quarantine" sign on top of a broken white sink

The Infirmary

Preston Castle’s infirmary, located on the second floor, treated residents suffering from various ailments, including the infamous typhoid fever outbreak in the early 20th century.

room full of sunlight with mint green walls and antique hospital beds and wheelchair

The infirmary features original medical equipment, such as hospital beds, medicine cabinets, and surgical tools, providing an interesting window into the medical practices of the era.

bright room with mint green walls and antique gurney, wheelchair, and crutches
close up of names scratched into a rusty white hospital bedframe

Not gonna lie…if you’re into the paranormal aspect of Preston Castle, the infirmary is definitely one of those “creepy spaces” I mentioned earlier. The abundance of bright light and the cheerily painted walls are in stark juxtaposition to the feeling that you (or at least *I*) get when you step into the space.

rusty white apothecary cabinet filled with different colored bottles
rusty white antique hospital bed with bedpan in sun-filled room
Antique barber chair and shaving supplies in a mint green room
antique claw foot bathtub covered with caution tape in filthy old bathroom
dark grey storage room with pipes, bedframes, and radiator parts

The Basement

The castle’s basement is not only intriguing from a historical perspective but also serves as one of the hotspots for reported paranormal activity. As you descend into the dimly lit basement, you’ll find the laundry room, boiler room, school room, and even a makeshift morgue where the bodies of deceased residents were temporarily stored.

empty and abandoned "plunge pool" in Preston Castle basement

The plunge pool was filled with chemicals and used to decontaminate boys before entering the institution. Often, incoming boys were infected with lice, crabs, and/or scabies.

empty and abandoned "plunge pool" in Preston Castle basement

When the boys entered the institution, they were required to strip, receive a haircut, and then enter the pool at the deep end. They would exit the pool at the shallow end and receive new clothing before being taken to their quarters.

dingy and dirty basement room bathed in yellow light with school desks
door in wall with peeling paint and mold and sign "to livingstone room"
desks and tables in dirty and dingy basement room with peeling paint
peeling paint and mold on wall with stenciled cross designs in brown paint
antique kitchen area with hutch, stove, and table in filthy abandoned space
numerous wine barrels being stored in basement

The castle hosts an annual “Vines & Steins” event every summer, and these old wine barrels are stored down in the basement and turned into tables each year at the event.

oval sign that reads "gift shop"

The castle’s small gift shop is also located in the basement.

brick exterior and courtyard with climbing vines and bistro light string

The Preston Castle Exterior & Grounds

As you explore the castle’s exterior, you’ll come across various outdoor spaces that were used for recreational and educational purposes. The castle’s gardens and courtyards provided the residents with opportunities for physical activity and fresh air. There are also several outbuildings located across the nearly 13-acre property as well.

honeysickle vines climbing the Preston Castle courtyard
girl tracing her finger over names carved into a brick wall

Like the rafters in the wards’ dormitory, the bricks also bear the deeply carved names of the past. If you look hard enough, you might even be able to find the name of country music superstar Merle Haggard, who served time at Preston and reportedly escaped twice during his sentence in 1951-52!

faded and peeling red wooden door in brick wall
metal fire escape tube on exterior of brick building
guard tower at Preston Castle surrounded by trees and clear blue sky
"Preston School of Industry 1894-1994" sign on the wall of the building at ground level

Frequently Asked Questions

Tower of Preston Castle - tall red brick building with spires and ornate detailing

Can I Tour Preston Castle?

Yes! The Preston Castle Foundation offers both guided and self-guided public tours on weekends (check the website for tour times and availability.) Private tours are also available, and the castle may also be booked for private photo/video shoots, paranormal tours (both public and private), and other events.

If you opt to take the guided tour, knowledgeable guides will share captivating stories, anecdotes, and historical context to help you fully appreciate the significance of each room and artifact. The Preston Castle Foundation has gone to great lengths to preserve and restore these spaces, ensuring that visitors can experience the rich history of the castle in all its haunting beauty.

road leading up to Preston Castle with green trees and cloudy sky

Where is Preston Castle Located? Is it Hard to Get to?

Visiting Preston Castle is a breeze! Located in the city of Ione, a little over an hour’s drive from Sacramento, Preston Castle is easily accessible by car, with a parking lot available right in front of the castle. Make sure to purchase your Preston Castle tour tickets in advance to secure your spot, as tours can fill up quickly, especially during the peak season.

What is the Preston Castle Haunt?

If you’re a haunted house fan, you are going to LOVE the Preston Castle Haunt!

Every October, Preston Castle plays up its haunted reputation by hosting one of the largest haunted house attractions in the state. The haunt is open almost every Friday and Saturday night during the month of October and is a fundraiser for the Preston Castle Foundation, with proceeds going towards castle restoration efforts.

Crowd of people in front of Preston Castle at an event where they are all saluting the American flag

What Other Events Are Held at Preston Castle?

Preston Castle is home to many public and private events each year including the annual Vines & Steins evening, Photographer’s Day, Spring Craft Faire, and Christmas at the Castle. You can get more information about events here.

Antique car in front of Preston Castle which has been adorned with patriotic buntings for 4th of July

Preston Castle offers a unique and unforgettable experience for everyone, from history lovers to thrill-seekers. If you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or a paranormal investigator (or a combo of the three!), a tour of Preston Castle offers something for everyone. Don’t miss the chance to explore this extraordinary site and uncover the stories that linger within its walls!

Whether you want to learn about the lives of former juvenile offenders of the Preston School of Industry or come face-to-face with the spirits that are said to wander the halls, you won’t be disappointed!

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"Preston Castle: Discover the Haunted History" graphic with image of the castle and dark, stormy skies
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