Take trip back in time and experience the daily life of the early settlers of the Owens Valley. The Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site celebrates the rich history of the period and tells of a time when the railroad station was the heart of a bustling western town.
Close to 50 authentic structures on eleven acres are filled with artifacts and original objects that depict the lifestyles of the homemakers, artisans, and townspeople of the period. Most of these objects of antiquity are the actual tools used by the practitioners of their crafts such as, newspaper publishers, gold miners, ranchers, blacksmiths, dentists, physicians, and pharmacists who lived and worked here.
All the historic buildings are original structures. Some, like the Laws Depot, the Agent’s house, the locomotive turntable, and the oil and water tanks were constructed right here and have stood on this site since the first train rolled in in 1883. Others are authentic structures that were relocated here from their original sites throughout the Owens Valley, and restored to preserve the history of the railroad. The section of narrow-gauge track that remains on the site still carries restored and working railroad cars – all of which date back to the early days of the railway.
The land and structures of the Laws Depot and the Slim Princess, as this railway was known, was gift deeded by The Southern Pacific Company in 1960 when the railway line was abandoned and train service ended. The deed was handed over with the following statement: “In appreciation of the interest of Inyo County and the City of Bishop in preserving the memory of the Far West’s last common carrier narrow gauge railroad, the Keeler Branch, Southern Pacific Company is pleased to donate steam locomotive No. 9 together with other rolling stock, and the Laws Station building and surrounding installations for safekeeping in [sic] behalf of generations to come.”
What Makes It Great
In 1964 the Bishop Museum and Historical Society was formed to preserve what remained of the Laws Depot and the Slim Princess. It was then that people began donating relevant artifacts, photographs, equipment and even whole structures. The area and its antiquities have been restored and are maintained to depict life as it was 135 years ago.
In addition to the extensive museum exhibits, the site offers train rides on the authentic, restored railroad cars and hosts many family-fun events including, the Laws Good Old Days, the Laws Museum Picnic Concert, and the holiday Railroad Express.
The Laws Museum and Historical Site is officially California Historical Land Mark No. 953 listed on the National Registry of Historic Places under the Department of the Interior. It safeguards the memories and experiences of a not-so-long-ago era of railway magnates, miners, farmers, fortune seekers, high Sierra adventurers, and travelers who rode the Slim Princess.
“Our aim is to discover, procure, and preserve whatever may relate to the natural, civic, literary and ecclesiastical history of our area, and to establish and maintain collections.” — Bishop Museum and Historical Society.
Who Is Going to Love It
The museum is a window to the past that can be enjoyed by folks of all ages and all walks of life. Train buffs will be enchanted by it. Historians will relish it. Kids will love it. Families will rejoice in a shared experience of hands-on learning and fun activities.
The annual Railroad Express is a holiday themed event that happens every second Saturday in December at Laws. It is a day filled with joyful activities and live entertainment. There’s caroling and storytelling, crafts and refreshments, and best of all, Santa and Mrs. Claus come to share the holiday spirit and give the gift of seasons past. It is a marvelous journey back in time that can be experienced nowhere else.
Summer is super for kids of all ages and train rides on the old Death Valley Brill Car No. 5 are fun for all. See the summer train ride schedule here.
The Laws Good Old Days, on the second Saturday in September is a fantastic fall family fun day of music, Pioneer crafts and famous pie auction. Wander through the museum buildings, ride the train, watch skilled artisans make their crafts the old-fashioned way, or just sit on the cool grass under the spreading cottonwood trees and listen to the live music performances.
Celebrate the holiday season on the second Saturday in December at the “Railroad Express” with rides in DV#5 rail car, games, prizes, goodies to eat, carol singing, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, storytelling and so much more railway magic.
As always, remember that the weather is unpredictable most of the year, especially from fall through spring. Winter can have lovely warm sunny days, but dress in layers as temperatures vary from inside to outside and can change rapidly at any time of the day during winter. There’s always a good chance of winter wind, rain or snow any time so be prepared for seasonal surprises.
Summer is usually hot and dry so make sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and protect yourself with a good sunscreen.
Directions. Parking. Regulations.
Six miles north of Bishop on US Highway 6, Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site is not just another theme park, it is a beautifully preserved reminder of the small, once lively town of Laws and the railroad station it served.
The museum is open daily:
Summer Hours (June through August) from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm
Winter Hours (September through May) from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
Admission by donation.
Amateur photography, video, and filming during the Museum’s normal operating hours are always welcome. Any other photography or filming requires special permission. The use of any sort of aircraft such as drones, radio-controlled airplanes, helicopters, etc. is subject to rules and regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration because of the proximity of the Bishop Airport. Dogs are not allowed on the grounds of the museum site. The site has many ramps for access by wheelchair.
For more information about Laws Railroad Museum & Historic Site visit http://www.lawsmuseum.org/index.htm or pop into the Bishop Visitors Center at 690 N. Main St.
Read more about the history of the Slim Princess in a previous blog here.