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  • Writer's pictureCody Fuhrman

Scary Dairy: An Abandoned Farm Once Operated By Mental Hospital Patients - Camarillo, CA

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Decaying and graffiti-covered ruins of a farm once operated by patients from the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

© Cody Loves Horror

If you make your way a little over an hour north of downtown Los Angeles, you’ll stumble upon a sleepy farming community that once housed the largest mental hospital in the world after its construction in 1932. Originally part of the Camarillo State Mental Hospital, Scary Dairy is an abandoned dairy and vegetable farm once operated by the asylum’s psychiatric patients. Working with animals and cultivating crops proved therapeutic for them. For reason’s unknown, the hospital closed Scary Dairy’s doors sometime in the sixties, letting its structures deteriorate into the beautiful state of decay pictured here. I have always believed that ghosts tend to haunt the places they loved in life. Scary Dairy provided a sense of purpose for the patients who kept it going. I imagine it was a place of respite for them. A break from the day-to-day chaos of the asylum. This might explain the profoundly eerie energy enveloping the property.

© Cody Loves Horror

Camarillo State Mental Hospital

In 1932, The state of California purchased 1,500 acres of Lewis Ranch, an 8,600 acre property halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The agriculturalist Lewis family were best known for the commercial introduction of lima beans. The state planned to build one of the greatest facilities for developmentally disabled and mentally ill patients in the world: The Camarillo State Mental Hospital. State architect, George McDougall, was tasked with designing the hospital and did so in a Mission Revival Style of architecture, an ode to the 18th and 19th century Spanish outposts that span the California coast from San Francisco down to San Diego. Operating from 1936 to 1997, the hospital peaked in the fifties, treating nearly 7,000 patients that decade.

Camarillo State Mental Hospital Dedication Ceremony, 1936 /

Mental Hospitals Close Nationwide

I moved to Los Angeles in high school and soon found out about the nearby mental hospital turned state college. Everyone would say "Hotel California" by the Eagles was about the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Lyrics "you can check out anytime but you can never leave" were supposedly a reference to the asylum adjacent to Scary Dairy. I had been told Ronald Reagan closed the facility along with many other psychiatric hospitals throughout the state in one of his terms as California governor. This is an often-repeated myth. Governor Pete Wilson closed the Camarillo State Mental Hospital in 1997, many years after Reagan was in office.

© Cody Loves Horror

Still, Reagan did set the trend for closing state-run asylums during his two terms as California governor from 1967 - 1975, following John F. Kennedy's mental health initiative: The Community Mental Health Act. The high school rumors I heard surrounding the hospital's closing had the right idea albeit they were off by about twenty years. The real story is that large state institutions like the Camarillo State Mental Hospital were becoming increasingly burdensome to California both economically and politically. So they shut it down and five years later it reopened as California State Channel Islands University in 2002.

© Cody Loves Horror

Paranormal Encounters

Now part of the extremely haunted California State University Channel Islands campus, Scary Dairy and its surroundings have long been a hotspot for paranormal research teams. According to Weird California:

"Numerous phantoms have been seen particularly around or in the bell tower. There is the ghost of a man who appears in the stalls of one of the women's restrooms, you can see his legs, only to disappear when you open the door. A woman around the bell tower asks for directions to the chapel before disappearing. In some of the abandoned buildings, students have reported running into a woman in a hospital gown who silently screams at them before vanishing. A ghostly janitor haunts the school; the sound of his phantom keys jingling alerting those to his presence. The bus stop near the bell tower is also haunted by a ghost. And with all these ghosts so far, it comes as no surprise that there's a woman in white. She is assumed to be a nurse who roams the bell tower's hallways only to disappear when approached."

© Cody Loves Horror

Parking at Scary Dairy

Due to statewide COVID-19 related park closures, the adjacent parking lot was closed to vehicles when I went. I found parking along Camarillo Street and walked the .6 mile trail to Scary Dairy on foot with its location pulled up on my iPhone maps application. If the parking lot is open, you can pay $6 to park and the walk to Scary Dairy is shorter from the lot. Just be careful not to leave your car there past dusk. People have reported getting their cars locked inside the parking lot gates after sunset.

© Cody Loves Horror

The first thing you will see when you arrive at Scary Dairy is the skeleton of a barn on your left. There is a large hole in the fence that surrounds it, allowing anyone to duck through and access the skeleton barn. If you keep walking down the road, you will see another set of graffiti-covered buildings that once housed "the Dairy" on your right. Getting into the dairy is a little harder to maneuver because it lacks a big hole in its fence like the skeleton barn has. I managed to squeeze through the fence near its south western corner. Be mindful, these fences have many "no trespassing" signs posted so you should enter at your own risk. After we left Scary Dairy and started walking towards my car, my mom and I ran into a police officer on horseback on our way out.

© Cody Loves Horror

Getting to Scary Dairy

Scary Dairy is located inside University Park which is technically part of the greater Cal State Channel Islands campus. Open daily from dusk until dawn, there is no drinking water in the park and there are no restrooms, benches or tables. Scary Dairy does not have an exact address, but its coordinates exist in both iPhone maps and Waze. You can also punch in the nearest cross streets:

Old Dairy Road & Camarillo St.

Camarillo, CA 93012

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