Colton Hall Museum

More From Monterey More From California

Justice wasn’t always the result, and lives ended in a painful way here.




Colton Hall has long had the title of being the finest and most important public office building in Monterey County, and has been in continuous use since it was built so long ago. The Greek Revival Style structure is still as stunning as it was in 1849, thanks to the hard work of generations of authorities, owners, builders, artists and craftsmen who have maintained and restored it over the years.

While the first floor is still being used for the offices of the Planning and Building departments, the second floor houses the California history museum in the large assembly hall. Under the jurisdiction of the Historical California Landmarks Organization, this museum was established in 1949 to educate the public on both local and state history. According to the museum’s website it is open for free, daily, from 10-4pm. A docent is on staff during these hours for information and tours.

In the assembly hall, the visitor can peruse displays of early California history. The main exhibit recreates what the historic gatherings of the forty-eight delegates from the ten districts looked like; complete with chairs, desks, etc. When Tom and I visited the second floor, it truly seemed like the delegates had just stepped out of the room for lunch.





This beautiful 1849 town hall was named after the Navy Chaplain, Walter Colton, who was appointed to serve as Alcalde or Chief Magistrate of the Monterey District, a powerful office he held from 1846 to 1849. Colton also served as Mayor, Coroner, Judge, and Sheriff, as well as being in charge of weights and measures. To round out his public service, he served as a prosecutor, and tax collector.

Colton Hall was designed with both community and city government uses in mind. Colton had a vision of the building as a grand, multi-purpose structure; modeled after buildings he had seen in New York City. This edifice could house a school building and supply office space for the Monterey City Government as well as provide room for community events. Committed to finding the necessary funds for it, Colton took full advantage of his considerable political power.

Wikipedia reports;”He would tax cantinas, alcohol and gambling, sell city lots and used the money toward the building. When he found someone ‘misbehaving,’ he would arrest them as the sheriff, throw them in jail and act as the judge, often times sentencing them to labor on the school. When the building was completed on March 8, 1849, it was the largest public building in California.”

Colton described his finished building this way: “It is built of a white stone, quarried from a neighboring hill, and which easily takes the shape you desire. The lower apartments are for schools; the hall over them – seventy feet by thirty – is for public assemblies. The front is ornamented with a portico, which you enter from the hall.”

Colton’s building, deemed by some to be the most beautiful building in 1849 California, was the place chosen by the Military Governor, Bennet C. Riley, to be the meeting place for California’s Constitutional Convention, to make decisions about their soon-to-be state government, as California became one of the United States.

An article on the Atlas Obscura website shares,”Forty-eight delegates elected from ten districts debated complicated issues such as the location of the eastern boundary line — the Sierra Nevada Mountains or the Rocky Mountains. Slavery was forbidden in this historic document and after some heated discussion, San Jose was chosen as the first State Capital. Before voting, each resolution and article was translated into Spanish for the benefit of the eight delegates who spoke only that language.”

Colton Hall became a beloved landmark for the people of Monterey County, who took pains to keep up the maintenance, as they had considerable civic pride for such a classy government building. Over the years, Monterey’s City Hall, a public school, the Monterey County Court House, the Sheriff’s Office, and Monterey’s City Police Headquarters have all resided in this elegant Greek Revival Style city building.

Many events have taken place in the second-floor assembly hall. The museum described above was established in 1949. According to its website it has been closed due to Covid, but when it opens again, it will offer free daily tours from 10-4pm. A docent will probably be there during these hours.

The Monterey City Jail was built right next to the hall in 1854, and was used until 1956! No one ever escaped! The jail is also part of the city museum and can be toured. Its architecture was really basic, and it featured really thick granite walls, and was a sobering place to be held, that’s for sure!

scary hallway with jail cells


When people are executed by the authorities, guilty or not, their spirits have been known to linger where they were put to death. Sometimes they are afraid to go to the other side, or they want justice.

Hangman Tree Ice Cream Saloon and connecting building, CA (Many victims of the hanging tree still linger here. Three spirits were in foul moods).

Whaley House, CA (For years, Yankee Jim protested what he thought was his unjust sentence and botched hanging. The rope didn’t snap his neck, leaving him to strangle to death).

Wyoming Frontier Prison, WY (Men who suffered death by the Julien Gallows, still “hang” around).

Colton Hall, CA (The convicted were hung by a rope over the balcony porch of the second floor at Colton Hall. The idea of humane hanging hadn’t been thought of yet, though in other parts of California a military firing squad took care of criminals facing the death penalty (Massacre at Mission San Miguel, CA).


People who made their living as jailers or security officers couldn’t quite let go of this world as spirits, still wanting to continue on in their service here; either because they loved it or because they failed in their effort.

Cripple Creek Jail, CO (The spirit of a jailor is still taking care of spirits who are still incarcerated here).

Pioneer Village Sheriff’s Office Jail, AZ (The spirit of a sheriff still lays down the rules for both the living and the other spirits still here in the cells).

Santa Barbara Mission, CA (Spectral security guards left over from the Mission days still patrol at night, and will stop paranormal investigators from sneaking onto the property).

Colton Hall, CA (Perhaps the jail guards who led the guilty to their end or security guards hired to keep the authorities safe, still want to continue to do so, not letting the fact that they are in spirit form stop them).


People who in life had a strong influence on the building and maintaining of a favorite structure in this world, sometimes like to visit and keep an eye on the living.

Eldridge Hotel, KS (The spirit of Colonel Eldridge is still a friendly presence, keeping a fatherly eye on the living).

Monmouth Plantation, MS (The original master of this plantation helps to keep an eye on guests and is a guarding presence for the owners).

Glessner House Museum, IL (The spirit of the architect, master designer Henry Hobson Richardson, likes to visit his best and last house creation, which he couldn’t finish himself because he died suddenly).

Colton Hall, CA (The spirit of Walter Colton was the sole force in getting this masterpiece built. He may be visiting it in his afterlife).

colton hall ghost tour



Spirits from the past still stick around to help the living, and protect the building. Others can’t let go of the painful ends they suffered here.

Still on the Job

Spirits of jailers or security guards, or perhaps the spirit of Walter Colton himself, keep an eye on the living. They have taken on this duty with gusto.

Tour Docents and visitors have felt the sensation of unseen presences keeping a close eye on them.

Apparently, there is no shortage of spectral supervisors scrutinizing the docents and visitors.

The Restless Dead

Spirits of Former Executed People

The living have heard footsteps on the porch balcony where the convicted were hung to slowly strangle to death.

Feelings of anxiety have been picked up by sensitives.

Spirits may be reliving their torturous hangings here.

General Activity

The living have experienced moving cold spots that don’t have a logical explanation.

Cool breezes flow by when there are no sources for them, no air conditioning or open windows.


Loads of personal experiences have been reported regarding the manifestations listed above.

No hard evidence has been shared with the public. If a paranormal investigation has been done here, it surely was a private investigation, not to be shared with anyone.



Possibly so. There is no hard evidence, but more subtle activity experienced by many people here may point to some visiting or resident spirits.

It is hard to tell who is here because so far none of these presences have appeared or talked through a medium, EVPs, divining rods or have directly let their presences be known.

There has been subtle activity reported, but no clear in-your-face evidence. The spirits have more class and manners than that. They have the purpose of helping the living be safe and protect the building.

old dirty prison cell through rusted bars



City of Monterey
Museum and Cultural Arts Division
570 Pacific Street, Monterey, CA 93940

Colton Hall Museum is found on Pacific Street, between Madison and Jefferson Streets, in the historic section of Monterey.


  • Photos copyright Tom Carr

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Monterey Haunts in California