CAMPO, Calif. -- In the small border town of Campo, a mile from Mexico, the two Gaskill brothers built what would become one of the oldest structures in San Diego County.
This building was made by hand from stone and has been standing proud since 1887. It started as a fort, with walls four feet thick. It was also a store, selling dry goods, booze, medicine and more.
Over the years, through two world wars and a great flood, the Gaskill Brothers* Stone Store stood as a symbol of the promise of a new life in the west. It was a post office, immigration station and a blacksmith shop. It put the town of Campo on the map in the 19th century, making it a happening place.
“This was also one of the first places to have telegraph in the area,” says Larry Johnson, president of the Mountain Empire Historical Society, which helps maintain the museum.
Almost all items in the museum today are things you would see back in the day – like an old Arm & Hammer baking soda box, Hershey's and Almond Joy chocolate bars, even an antique typewriter that still works -- a favorite among children who visit.
“We’ve put new ribbons in it and paper in it so they can walk up to it and start typing,” says Johnson.
There is, however, one item no one can explain: a mystery skeleton with an ankle chain found in 1885. It was found at the bottom of a well with no key. To this day, no one has been able to crack this cold case.
The building is now a historical landmark with a wide range of visitors, including curious children on field trips.
“They love going into the little cave we have in the back,” Johnson said.
History buffs also visit, like a group of nuns who were retracing the steps of some nuns who came through in 1870.
Even the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is a fan of the museum. They’re the ones who told us about the place!
— Campo Substation (@SDSOCampo) February 24, 2017
While the downstairs area focuses on era-appropriate artifacts, the upstairs area displays Campo’s military involvement from WWI to WWII and after – showing uniforms from that time, the Army’s former Camp Lockett base nearby and an old printing press with small parts that mysteriously keep disappearing.
The museum is a non-profit, maintained with help from about 25 volunteers. And they really just have one simple request.
“It’s a little hidden jewel that we would like people to come out and see,” says Johnson.
*The descendants of the original Gaskill Brothers are spread out across the country, including one living in El Cajon.