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Laura Austin Photo / Randsburg United Methodist Church is now a private residence but welcomes visitors.

Rough and tough mining camp Randsburg had churches

 By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– Randsburg is situated in the mountains off Highway 395, a hop, skip, and a jump from Ridgecrest … Take the drive and go up a piece on the little mountain road, and you will enter the Old West Mining Town of Randsburg. There you can step back in time through a Living Ghost Town. You will find original buildings, interesting shops, great food, great stories, a museum filled to the brim, and a saloon.

With a little more exploring, you will find that two church buildings have survived the years. They are not currently offering services, but they enhance the history of this Old Mining Town and revive plenty of memories.

From its first days as a rough and tough mining camp, Randsburg had houses of worship. Reverend Henry H. Nagel, a layman in the Episcopal Church, is credited for building the first church in February 1987.

This church, as well as many buildings over the years, was destroyed by fire.

Laura Austin Photo /
We can’t enter Santa Barbara Catholic Church: however, on an annual basis, it is the site of Christmas celebrations.

Today one can enjoy the graceful beauty of the Santa Barbara Church; unfortunately, it isn’t considered safe to enter. The lovely Methodist Church has been converted into a private residence but is open for tours.

The Catholic church on Butte Avenue is officially titled Santa Barbara Mission from its early days of being considered part of a missionary area. Today, locals refer to it as “Santa Barbara Church.”

Carol Dyer, co-owner of Randsburg General Store up at the Vault, says of Santa Barbara Church., “It is the pretty white church at the east end of town that was built in 1897. It burnt down in one of the two fires of 1898. Until it was rebuilt, they just worshiped whenever and wherever they could because they didn’t have a home at the time.” It was rebuilt in 1904.

“One thing that happens at that church annually, still to this day, is the Christmas tree lighting,” says Dyer.  “Vicki Peterson and Carol Naylor head the committee that helps decorate the whole church and the whole grounds of the church. The Friday after Thanksgiving every year they have a Christmas tree lighting. Everybody in town shows up. Some people make cookies and bring them; some make hot chocolate and pass it around. They have a bonfire, and everybody just hangs out and has a great time.”

Resident Elliott (not his real name) remembers, “Every Good Friday, Father Bob would come up from Ridgecrest, and we’d have the Stations of the Cross.  We’d have the stations in there for Olga. And then we would walk down the street to The Joint and have a beer.

“Father Bob got transferred. So Monsignor Clary would come up from Ridgecrest, and we’d have stations for Olga. Then they got a new head of the parish in Ridgecrest. It seemed he didn’t want anything to do with this up here.”

In the 1990’s Elliott’s mother noticed the Church was in disarray.

“She decided that was enough of that.” She arranged for electricity to be installed. “And then she would go out every Friday and clean.”

Butch Shotwell now lives in Boise, Idaho. He returns to visit the region and is a proud descendant of the Randsburg and Ridgecrest prominent families. His grandfather, Americo ‘Mac’ Rizzardini, who had owned and operated the Economy Market and hardware store in Randsburg.

He moved to Ridgecrest in 1943 after the Navy brought China Lake to the region. He then owned the Victory Market in Ridgecrest. The neighboring furniture store was owned and operated by his younger brother Jim and his wife Millie Rizzardini, called, The Rizzardini Furniture Store. Across the street was the Ridgcrest Variety Store owned and operated by Mac’s sister Eva and her husband Marshall Goulett.

Shotwell lived in Randsurg from his days as a babe in arms and moved to Ridgecrest as a toddler, but spent a lot of time in Randsburg with his grandmother Olga Guyette, long-time owner of The Joint. “ I spent a lot of time in Randsburg running around those hills”

He has a prized family photo with him and his parents.  “My mom’s holding me and my dad is sitting next to her. It’s just a picture of us right in front of the Santa Barbara church, and it said, ‘Butchie got baptized at four months old.’”

He shared this memory, “I was about four or five. My Aunt Bernadette said the Santa Barbara Church needs an altar boy. The altar boy rings the bell and helps the priests in his mass.  I was in the back behind this altar, getting ready for mass. And it’s pretty sweet.

“I remember the Christian Brothers’ wine, the wine they used for the blood of Jesus.  I remember pouring that. You know, he’s showing me how to and the priest is teaching me how to be an altar boy. I remember going out as the mass started and following the priests, sitting on the side and kneeling when you’re supposed to kneel, and standing when you’re supposed to stand.

“My Aunt Bernadette is in the front row; she’s only a year or two older than me.  She’s schooling and me telling me to sit and stand and whatever. She  scolded me when I was doing it wrong.”   After services, they would head to The Joint. “I just remember sitting in the bar with the priest and listening to him and his stories. He would always come down to The Joint because there’s nothing else to do.” He adds, “Priests drink. I don’t know if you knew that.”

One block over at 64 Lexington Ave stands the Randsburg United Methodist Church. The current owner Tom Sanders tells us, “The Randsburg United Methodist Church  (UMC) burnt down and was rebuilt, as you now see it, in 1935 by the Reverend Oval congregation. The origin of the 16-inch bell and the ten stained-glass windows are murky at best. We bought it in 2003 from the Pasadena Diocese of the UMC through Realtor Dana Lyons, who had the listing for ten years. We repurposed the church to be our home but respectfully honor it as a place with a long history of worship and invite visitors to take a look.

 “We’ve had ‘old timers’ regale us with stories of attending Sunday School classes and weddings there before services stopped over twenty years ago. We had a couple renew their vows several years back. The UMC in Ridgecrest has been very supportive of our efforts to maintain the church’s structure and history. They were even so kind as to deliver me two original pews that were in storage as a housewarming gift when we purchased the property.”

Longtime resident and publisher of the News-Review Patricia Farris tell us, “In the 1940s, the Reverend Carrie Oval, the pastor of the Randsburg Methodist Church, was also the pastor of the Inyokern Methodist Church. She would hold services in Randsburg in the morning and then she would drive her little station wagon through Ridgecrest and pick up children to take to the Inyokern church that met at two o’clock on Sunday afternoon.”

Randsburg, California  – an Old West Mining town just up the road from Ridgecrest.