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Reviving History: Kern Museum’s Interactive Exhibits

Bakersfield is renowned for its agricultural and petroleum production, but one of its notable attractions is the Kern County Museum, situated at 3801 Chester Avenue. Serving as the Steward of History for Kern County, the museum leverages technology to interpret the region’s distinctive history and culture spanning a century.

The inception of the museum dates back to 1929 when the Bakersfield Lion’s Club published a letter in the local newspaper, encouraging Kern County citizens to contribute historical materials to the County Chamber of Commerce. The enthusiastic response led families to bring forth items and documents reflecting Kern County’s history and its residents.

Established in 1941 through a county ordinance, the Kern County Museum was tasked with the mission to “collect, preserve, research, and present the history and culture of Kern County for the education and enjoyment of the public.” Although the museum generated excitement, resource constraints during World War II delayed full operations until 1945 when it officially opened within the Kern County Chamber of Commerce building.

By 1952, the museum had evolved into a prominent tourist destination, educational hub, and cultural focal point. In 1976, the Lori Brock Children’s Discovery Center was inaugurated on the museum’s premises, eventually merging with the main museum in 1993. This center offers engaging hands-on experiences for children aged 8 and below.

Featuring 10 major attractions, the museum’s Pioneer Village stands out as a visitor favorite. With 60 historic buildings spread across 16 picturesque acres, the village resembles a quaint town complete with streets lined with homes, businesses, churches, and offices. Each building is accompanied by an informative sheet, easily navigable through a self-guided tour.

One of the highlights, “Black Gold-The Oil Experience,” offers an immersive journey into the world of oil production. Although currently undergoing renovation, this exhibition space and surrounding area vividly showcase the process of oil formation, discovery techniques, and the evolving roles of workers and their families. The interactive elements, including a simulated diving bell and a holographic oil miner, add a fun and educational dimension to the experience.

The Watson Transportation Exhibit is another crowd-pleaser, tracing the history of 40 horse-drawn and early motorized vehicles dating back to the late 1800s. Adjacent to this exhibit is a meticulously restored 1912 trolley, known as a California Car, which operated in Bakersfield from 1912 to 1942, charging a modest five cents per ride. The trolley, now the sole surviving California Car, underwent a six-year restoration process to preserve its historical significance.

The Tejon Ranch Gallery, located near the museum’s entrance, showcases western-themed exhibits that rotate periodically, highlighting Kern County’s diverse history. Currently, the gallery features a collection of photographs captured in the late 1880s by renowned photographer Carleton Watkins, focusing on the indigenous tribes of Yokuts, Chumash, and Shoshonean. These photographs depict various aspects of tribal life, paying homage to their enduring presence in the Kern River Valley over millennia.

An exhibit dedicated to the “Bakersfield Sound” celebrates the city’s unique musical heritage, attributed to influential country music figures like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and more. This exhibit showcases stage costumes, musical instruments, sheet music, and memorabilia associated with the iconic “Bakersfield Sound,” which emerged from the local honky-tonk scene and gained widespread recognition.

Operating from Wednesdays to Sundays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., the museum offers admission at \(10 for adults, \)9 for seniors and military personnel, $5 for children aged 3-12, and free entry for children under 2. Additionally, active-duty military personnel, National Guard, Reserve members, and their families enjoy complimentary admission from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Throughout the year, the museum hosts various special events such as Village Flea, Get Lit, Safe Halloween, and Day in the Wild West. For event details and inquiries, individuals can contact 661-437-3330 or visit the museum’s website.

In essence, the Kern County Museum stands as a testament to the rich culture and history of California’s Kern County, offering visitors an enriching and immersive experience. I encourage you to explore this cultural gem—it’s a journey worth taking.