A visit to the Kern Valley Museum is truly a trip through America's past, giving a glimpse into what life was like for American pioneers and cowboys who headed west in search of gold and prosperity. For over 40 years the museum has housed fascinating artifacts from American history, including Native American objects, gold miners' tools, a recreated general store, equipment manufactured by the Edison company, and even prehistoric fossil remains such as a 10,000 year-old Mammoth tusk.
"Visitors are quite surprised at the various things that have gone on in the Valley from the Native Americans, to the gold mining, the movies and the Edison plants," says the museum's curator, Dianna Anderson.
Outside, the museum's collection of "backyard exhibits" includes a pioneer-era covered wagon, a full size stamp mill, stagecoach, work wagon, a 150 year old restored and furnished cabin, and a restored 1925 Graham truck that will fire up when its crank is turned. The museum is also home to an array of early road signs that were designed by the Automobile Club before the American government took over the responsibility.
Admission is free, and the museum is open Thursdays through Sundays. The museum enjoys engaging with the surrounding community by hosting events on a regular basis. Each May, it oversees a History Day event featuring entertainment, food, and demonstrations of early American activities including Dutch oven cooking, butter churning, blacksmithing, and panning for gold. During the warmer months, movies are shown at night in the museum's backyard, and an annual ice cream social is held at Greenhorn Mountain each July. The museum also organizes public field trips to local attractions with historical significance.
Kern Valley Museum gives back to the community in other ways; up to four $500 scholarships are awarded annually to high school students, and the Board of Directors of the Historical Society gives grants to local schools to support educational projects. This year's annual fundraiser will give away a prize worth $600 and will help raise money for next year's philanthropic endeavors.
Incredibly, the Kern Valley Museum has no paid staff - instead relying entirely on volunteers to run the museum, do publicity and bookkeeping, organize field trips, take visitors on tours, and ring up sales in the gift shop. Liz Bardos, a Board member, calls the staff "wonderful."
"Everyone is there because they want to be," she says. "And everyone cares about the betterment of the Historical Society and the Museum."
Visit the Museum online at kernvalleymuseum.org.