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Melody Ranch – Gunsmoke’s Dodge City

September 14, 2011

When James Arness died in June, I started re-watching the early episodes of Gunsmoke. I became fascinated by the mythical town of “Dodge City” that provided the environment that made Gunsmoke feel so real. Most people focus on the characters while the buildings of the town just add to the overall illusion in a subliminal way. I wanted to know how the town was physically laid out so that I could draw a map. I scoured the Web and found that no such map existed, nor did any pictures of the individual buildings shot straight-on. I was forced to rely on black-and-white frame grabs from the TV show and the few photos available on the Web – all of which are shot at an angle. Armed with these pics and Photoshop, I proceeded to recreate the buildings of “Dodge City” as if you were looking straight at their front walls. There were 25 buildings in all. The above photo shows the four most famous ones used in Gunsmoke… Matt Dillon’s Office, Doc Adam’s Office (upstairs), The Long Branch Saloon, and The Dodge House Hotel.

It turns out that the town near Newhall California, known as Melody Ranch, had a rich history in the making of Western films and TV programs until 1962 when it burned to the ground. It was born in the 1920’s a half-mile away on the Trem Carr Ranch when a set designer and Western historian named Ernie Hickson built the first few buildings for the purpose of making silent Western films. In 1936, Hickson bought 10 acres at the present location, jacked the buildings up, placed them on skids and used horses to drag them to their new home. The town had several names over the years… Hickson Ranch, Monogram Ranch andPlaceritos Ranch. Thousands of movies and TV shows were filmed there. It became Melody Ranch in 1952 when cowboy star Gene Autry bought the place. Gunsmoke premiered in 1955 and shot most of the exterior scenes there until the fire in 1962. After that, they filmed mostly on a huge soundstage with some exteriors filmed on other movie ranches.

The charred remains of Melody Ranch sat idle until the 1990’s when Andre and Renaud Veluzat bought the remaining 10 acres and rebuilt the Western town. They deviated quite a bit from the original design but it still goes by the name – Melody Ranch. Once again, filming is being done there. Each year the movie ranch plays host to the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2011 5:57 PM

    I think a lot of people would care. That’s amazing!

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 8, 2012 4:33 PM

    Hi SA – I am starting a new hobby “das relief” art (3-d) and my first project was going to be the streets of gunsmoke. Naturally, I assumed I would find all the bldgs and pics on the web….right. Your blog and gunsmoke investigation is basically it. Your pics of the 4 bldgs are EXACTLY what I need. My buildings will be 2xs to 3xs the size of the photos you posted and they’ll be built out of wood (various species) e.g., popsicle sticks (think siding), tiny dowels and other small piecies I will buy (at our local art strore; Clemson, SC) or make in my wood shop. Bldgs will be simple (they will look exactly like your photos) and about 1-2 inches “deep” built from a backboard with a 2″ bottom surface – room for hitching posts, fences, etc.

    I am a hugh gunsmoke fan (the early 30 minute episodes just started this month on the Western channel; 6:00 and 6:30 pm daily) and have been frantically scribbling pictures of all the building fronts as they show up. However, it appears you have mastered this and have a WONDERFUL resource of all 26 buildings. Is there any way you could provide those to me.? I was only able to find the 4 and assume you have not posted the others. I would be VERY appreciative!

    Sincerely, Ragnar Abzug from the mountains of SC

  3. February 22, 2012 10:53 PM

    I own a replica building business in Allentown PA, My son and I design, cast and sell miniature pewter architecture. I am also a Gunsmoke fan. We should talk. Mike

  4. Anonymous permalink
    January 23, 2013 7:44 PM

    Yeah I’m trying to make a model of dodge city, if you can make a map of the 25 buildings i can make them.

    • January 23, 2013 10:59 PM

      Everything you need was in my book “Melody Ranch – Gunsmoke’s Dodge City – Before the Fire”. Unfortunately it’s no longer available. Let me know how your model turns out.

  5. Jason permalink
    April 19, 2013 3:22 PM

    I’m trying to find a good map and/or views of the buildings in Dodge City, too. That book sounds great but it’s pretty expensive. I may just keep watching the show and try to take some screen shots. If anyone has managed to create a map, let me know!

  6. August 29, 2013 5:55 PM

    Where were Gunsmoke exteriors shot after Melody Ranch burned?

  7. January 22, 2014 6:34 PM

    Hi my family member! I have to say that this article rocks !, great prepared accessible with somewhere around almost all major infos. I have to observe much more threads like this .

  8. Sue Gartner permalink
    May 26, 2015 7:35 PM

    Thank you for your research and sharing this info. I also grew up with watching Gunsmoke as a kid. I love to watch it in reruns. I really appreciate you writings.

  9. Jane permalink
    September 21, 2015 1:32 PM

    There were several references to “mas Molly’s” a boarding house in town but also a reference to it being an actual woman doc would rely on from time tov time for births and wet nursing? Did we ever see mas Molly in any episode?

    • Potif permalink
      January 1, 2016 8:29 AM

      I think the boarding house was “Ma Smally’s Boarding House”. ‘Ma’ Smalley was an older lady, who was seen in many episodes. She helped Doc out with folks who needed a ‘nurse’, a youngster who needed someone for guidance, and help. Also helped Matt out with younger folks who needed a good inexpensive place to stay, and maybe some ‘Motherly’ advice. It seemed as though the Marshall’s office halped pay for some lodging there. She wasn’t a ‘wet nurse’, but would help with deliveries, and caring for infants as needed. Sometimes she would sit with severely sick or injured while Doc was out on calls, or getting dinner, or rest. Kitty would also relieve Doc when she could.

  10. Craig Wood permalink
    January 3, 2016 12:30 PM

    I to build replicas and live in gouldsboro pa. Also big fan of westerns just finished a bar from the interior of store on rifleman and now building facade of Matt dillons jail and general store. Also finishing set for my lost in space robot

  11. Edward D. King permalink
    April 29, 2016 5:39 PM

    Gunsmoke has always been one of my favorite western shows. I still watch the reruns over and over. Gene Autry and the Melody Ranch another great show.

  12. Carolyn Baylies permalink
    June 23, 2016 9:29 PM

    Gunsmoke is on every day here in Mass in the afternoon. My husband and wouldn’t miss it for anything. My dad use to watch it when I lived in California when I was a little girl. One of the best westerns on t.v. Also and still on is the Roy Rogers show. Love him and Dale Evans and Pat Brady to. What wonderful westerns. Little kids should be watching these programs. Nothing can compare to the good wholesome stories they show.

  13. Joe from Raleigh, NC permalink
    August 13, 2016 2:10 PM

    Just thought I would throw this out there – Gunsmoke Radio series was a work of art and in my opinion, much better than the TV series. If you are a fan of the Andy Griffith show, you can here many of the same characters and I believe the Andy Griffith show was a spinoff of the old Gunsmoke radio shows. Podcasts can be found on Apple Podcasts app. Start from the very first episode and listen to how the characters evolved along with the show.

  14. Tony Runfalo permalink
    May 11, 2017 5:25 PM

    Is there any way to purchase a copy of Melody Ranch, Gunsmoke’s Dodge City Before the Fire by Doug Dell.

    • May 12, 2017 11:10 AM

      Unfortunately the initial printing of this book sold out and there are no plans for a second printing at this time.

      • Bernie Cooper permalink
        May 11, 2018 3:05 PM

        Is there anyway you could post or email to me your map of the early Dodge City.

  15. D.W. permalink
    September 16, 2017 7:54 PM

    S.A. Since your book is unavailable, can you please post your map of Dodge City and the graphic models of all the buildings? We’d love for you to share so we can enjoy the fruits of your labor with fellow Gunsmoke fans. Thanks!

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