Across rural northern California, grand old hotels stand as reminders of the region’s rich history. Once bustling Gold Rush towns, timber towns and cow towns, these establishments offer fascinating glimpses of the past. And alongside their historical charm, many of them are believed to be haunted.

Although this might seem an unusual recommendation, these buildings also do more than evoke nostalgia for bygone eras. They can also provide hope for the future for struggling communities.

One such venue is the legendary Niles Hotel in Alturas, a 115-year-old establishment known for its haunted reputation. In pursuit of adventure and a brush with the supernatural, four women from West Sacramento recently embarked on a five-hour journey to stay in the venue, in California’s remote northeast corner.

Restoring former glories

The Niles Hotel stands as the last surviving tall building in town, exuding history and a sense of community pride. Constructed in 1908, it once catered to cattlemen, loggers, farmers and local business owners.

When Jim and Elizabeth Cavasso purchased the dilapidated hotel in 2011, they aimed to restore its former glory and save it from further deterioration. With support from the community, the Cavassos embarked on an arduous restoration process, recruiting townspeople to assist in fixing the building one room at a time.

The guest rooms were designed by members of the local community, each with its own unique theme. The hotel’s exterior received a fresh coat of paint, rejuvenating the iconic landmark.

And while the work is ongoing, Jim Cavasso also admits that the Niles Hotel is likely to be haunted, recounting his wife’s encounter with a ghostly figure on the third floor.

Spooky allure

Despite the occasional fright, the Niles Hotel is attracting visitors with its character and spooky allure.

Patrons share tales of ghostly encounters such as tugging pillows, rubbing backs and other strange occurrences. Visitors and locals alike revel in the hotel’s Victorian-era portraits, with some claiming the eyes in the paintings seem to follow them.

As guests’ laughter fills the hallways, the stern faces in black-and-white portraits that hang there seem to glare disapprovingly at each lively group, creating an eerie atmosphere.

A glimpse of the past can offer hope for the future

Scotia Lodge, nestled amidst the redwoods in Humboldt County, re-opened as a cannabis-friendly resort in 2021 after extensive refurbishment. Rumour has it that this hotel too houses a ghost, this time a friendly spirit named Frank who is claimed by locals to regularly roam the corridors.

Placerville’s historic Cary House Hotel, built in 1857, allegedly boasts the mischievous ghost of Stan, a former front desk clerk who is known for pinching hotel guests. Grass Valley’s Holbrooke Hotel, renovated and reopened in 2020, is said to be haunted by cowboys and Victorian madames, their secrets forever preserved within the storied walls.

The charm of ghostly encounters

Weaverville Hotel in Trinity County, a 143-year-old establishment, remains silent about its resident ghosts to ensure a worry-free experience for travellers. But owner Jeanne Muir does acknowledge the possibility of a ghostly presence in the hotel – the spirit of a 15-year-old girl who tragically passed away from typhoid.

For those seeking a connection to the past and a brush with the supernatural, the Niles, the Weaverville and others certainly offer a unique and increasingly popular experience.