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Bakersfield's Kern County Museum Celebrates its 75th Anniversary

By S. Mathur

The Kern County Museum documents the history of the region from Native American times to the Gold Rush, pioneer settlement and the development of the oil, mining and agricultural industries that are central to the state's economy today. Real pieces of history, like artifacts and buildings, bring the past alive for visitors. The 16-acre campus has 56 historic buildings that include a one room school, the general store, the jail, an oil derrick, and seven historic homes. There's a Discovery Center for children and a Bakersfield Sound exhibit which recalls the region's contribution to the musical world.

The collection of artifacts actually predates the Museum itself. In 1929, with a little help from the Bakersfield Lion's Club, the County Chamber of Commerce requested families to donate papers and objects that documented the history of Kern County and its people, and received a generous response. The Kern County Museum was founded in 1941with the original mission to "collect, preserve, research, and present the history and culture of Kern County for the education and enjoyment of the public."

Beginning operations in a basement corner of the Chamber of Commerce building, the Museum soon took over the entire building. The first outdoor exhibit, the Barnes family log house dating back to 1868, was located on the adjacent former County fair grounds. The Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center was opened on the grounds of the Museum in 1976 and later became part of the Museum. The exciting, educational hands-on experiences at the Discovery Center are specially popular with the under-8 crowd. The County Chamber of Commerce Building continues to house the main exhibits. Other exhibits on the grounds include the Pioneer Village, Black Gold- the Oil Drilling Experience, the Neon Courtyard and the Bakersfield Sound.

Beth Pandol, Vice Chair, feels that the most important buildings on the grounds are Howell House and the Beale Memorial Clocktower, both of which are part of the Pioneer Village. The Howell House is a Queen Anne Victorian house dating back to 1891, with beautifully preserved period architecture and furnishings. The Beale Memorial Clocktower was built in 1904 and stood at a downtown intersection until it was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 1952. The original clock works, bell, iron stairway, balcony railings and arch grillwork were used to reconstruct the Memorial Tower, now located on the Museum grounds.

The 75th anniversary is being celebrated with a year-long series of events. As well as a a series of lectures by curatorial staff on museum history and county memorabilia, a 1940s Garden Party was held on May 19, the actual birthday, with dinner, dancing to 1940s swing music, a 1940s fashion show, and an exhibit of 1940 artifacts. The '40s theme will be continued with the Forties Front Porch Party on July 9th. A front porch "crawl" will take guests to the museum's historic houses, where they will be offered 1940s inspired food and drink. There will also be dancing, a "USO Hall" and other 40s activities.

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