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Old Town Gets New Owner

NORTH FORK – After more than two decades of sitting silent among the trees, the quaint and historic village of Old Town is seeing new life.

Since closing down in the early 1990s, Old Town has been rented out for weddings, parties and other social gatherings, but the bustle of daily activity has been a thing of the past.

Now, new owner Jen McMillan is getting to work on the place she fell in love with at first sight. She purchased the 4.4-acre property in December, along with the house/property next door and the parcel adjacent.

Livery StableSo how did a gal living in Watsonville happen upon this local treasure?
 
“I was on my way to a ghost town called Bodie with my friend Shooter Jennings (Waylon Jennings’ son),” says Jen. “He was shooting a video and we stopped for a drink on the way and I happened to pick up the Yosemite Gateway Real Estate Guide where Donna Pride had it listed.”
 
Old Town Main Street - photo by Gina ClugstonShe has now moved into the house next to what will become “Bandit Town,” and is busy with friends and an assortment of locals, looking the place over and assessing what it will take to repair, restore and renovate.
 
Old Town, located on Road 226 just west of North Fork, was built by Bud and Gayle Klette in the 1970s. Designed after an old west town, it was a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, featuring the Klette’s antique store along with several unique gift shops, plus a restaurant and Donna Pride’s Land Office.
 
Chapel and windmill at Old Town - photo by Gina ClugstonThe little chapel, the old Madera City jail, and the cabin reconstructed on the property for Coarsegold resident Richard Kiel’s 1992 film “The Giant of Thunder Mountain,” still stand, along with all the old buildings, and some of more recent vintage.
 
In the early 1980s, Tommy and Donna Pride, and Bob and Beverly Stern joined forces to purchase Old Town and began the construction of a Saloon and Restaurant, where visitors enjoyed dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings and brunch on Sundays, complete with entertainment provided by local musicians and theater groups.
 
Saloon at Old Town - photo by Gina Clugston
 
The new venue boasted the largest oak bar and wood dance floor in Madera County, and still holds that distinction.
 
There is also a horse arena and year-round spring fed pond, along with a Livery Stable which houses an antique hearse and buggy.
 
Giant of Thunder Mountain - photo by Gina ClugstonHearse and Buggy in Livery Stable - photo by Gina Clugston
 
Other interesting items stowed away in the Livery Stable including a couple of coffins and the boat-shaped salad bar from The Beach Club Restaurant, once located at the corner of Highways 41 and 49 in Oakhurst.
 
Inside the old jail - photo by Gina ClugstonOld Town has played host to many a community event, from fundraisers and car shows to Civil War re-enactments and gun fights among the Boot Hill Gang, a local group whose members would outfit themselves as Old West gunfighters and entertain across the mountain area.
 
It has welcomed grade school kids from North Fork School, dressing up in period costumes to experience Pioneer Days, and provided a beautiful setting for weddings and reunions, parties and memorials. Now, everyone waits to see what will come next.
 
As the new owner of Old Town explored the nooks and crannies of the many structures on the place, she shared a bit of her own history and plans for the future of “Bandit Town.”
 
Jen McMillan at Old Town Hotel - photo by Gina ClugstonBorn in Boulder City, NV, the 41-year-old entrepreneur was raised between divorced parents in Colorado and California. After moving to Long Beach, CA, in 2004 and opening a vintage clothing shop, she went to work as a personal assistant for Jesse James of West Coast Chopper fame.
 
There she learned about making T-shirts, and began designing her own, choosing styles that spoke of the ’70s and ’80s, and fabrics that would hold up well over many years of wear. Thus was born Bandit Brand, clothing and jewelry born out of her own personal style.
 
Jen says she is ferociously committed to expending both her money and her energy locally.
 
“I manufacture all of my goods in California,” she says. “I use organic cotton. I want to be sure of who made my goods and what they are made of. I believe in a simple life, full of sharing and helping and supporting each other. Food from our own counties and towns, clothing from our friends and money in our community for schools and programs.”
 
Jen says the Bandit Town mission is “bringing back a way of life similar to the good ‘ol days of the Wild West (without the violence of course) where people kept things local and were skilled in an art or a trade, and used the products they made to earn a living or barter for things they needed.
 
“It all starts in your home, then your neighborhood and then your town. We are here to continue that mission in the most epic place I have ever been – and I have been a lot of places.”

 

 
Saloon and Restaurant porch - photo by Gina ClugstonShe says the plan is to open the place to locals and travelers as a place to create music, goods and memories. She hopes to have weekends with live music and local vendors setting up shop to sell their wares.
 
With extensive work needed on all the buildings, Jen has no immediate plans for the business end of things. Getting the financing in place on the $400,000 purchase was the first step, and what comes next will be a more organic process.
 
“I have a lot of ideas, but don’t know yet what we’ll do. Don’t know yet what we can do,” she says, referring to such things as county ordinances and the concerns of neighbors.
 
For now, she is planning an Open House on Saturday, Jan. 18, from noon to 6 p.m., and is looking forward to meeting the locals and inviting them in for a look around.
 
Looking up Main Street at Old Town - photo by Gina ClugstonThere will be plenty of local vendors on hand, including BBQ by Papa Frank, fry bread tacos by Nancy, pizza from The Pizza Factory, coffee from Mariposa Roasting Co., treats by WIldflour Cottage Bakery and free soft drinks.
 
Vendors offering all American-made items will include Wild Crafted Perfumes by Juniper Ridge; T-Shirts by Bandit Brand, Idylwild and Midnight Rider; Hand made leather jewelry, handbags, belts, cuffs and guitar straps by Heyoka Leather, Oli Rose & Crazyheart Leather; Jewelry by Ghostdancer Collection and Sweetbird Designs; Stained Glass Art by Halona Glass and Art by Alison Casson, Chris Rhodes and Bailey Robinson.
 
Old Town is located at 55420 Road 226, North Fork, Ca.

About Gina Clugston

3 comments

  1. Awesome, yay Jen! I’ll be there for the inaugural weekend, can’t wait to see it in person!

  2. Looks like a awesome place, we will be there this weekend!

  3. Is it open to just look around if we were to take a Harley ride up!

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