Relive Old Bakersfield in Its Pioneer Village
Farmers who settled in Kern County’s lower San Joaquin Valley turned it into a food basket for the Southland. On a visit to Bakersfield you can view the past and present life styles of families who till the soil.
Tribute is paid to the area’s early farmers at Pioneer Village, a remarkable outdoor museum that resembles a frontier village. And you’re welcome on a working produce farm where pumpkins are this month’s featured crop.
At the Al Bussell Ranch kids can go into the field to select the perfect pumpkin for Halloween and see a grand display of scarecrows. It’s all part of the pick-your-own farm’s annual Jack-o-Lantern Jamboree that continues today and next weekend.
Halloween also is celebrated in the Pioneer Village, where youngsters are invited to trick-or-treat on two nights at the end of the month. The museum’s vintage buildings will be decorated especially for the occasion.
The mock town comes alive again during the second weekend of December when candlelight tours of the grounds recall Christmas in Victorian times.
Even without a special event, Pioneer Village provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the past with a stroll around its 15-acre grounds. You’ll encounter a host of artifacts that portray the ways the people of Kern County lived between the 1860s and 1930s.
The village began more than three decades ago and has grown to 58 buildings. Some are historic structures moved to the site for preservation, while others have been built as representations of places that existed in earlier times.
Some of the buildings with displays of related memorabilia are a ranch home, sheepherder’s cabin, dressmaker’s shop, dentist’s office, general store, blacksmith shop, assay office and drugstore. You’ll see a bank, hotel, jail, hospital, church and schoolhouse too.
Pioneer Village is spread over Bakersfield’s former fairgrounds in the heart of the city. It’s behind the three-story Kern County Museum building and marked by the fancy Beale Memorial Clock Tower that dates to 1904.
Get there from Los Angeles by driving north on Interstate 5 to join California 99 to Bakersfield. Exit east on California 178 (toward Lake Isabella) and turn left on Chester Avenue. Go north past the traffic circle and turn left into the parking lot beyond the clock tower.
Walk past the main museum building to begin your visit of Pioneer Village. Pay $2 at the ticket booth (seniors $1.50, kids 6-12 years $1) and pick up a brochure with a map of the town.
One of the first buildings you’ll see on a clockwise stroll through the village is Alliance Hall. Women gather there for an old-fashioned quilting bee on Tuesday mornings. Opposite is an undertaker’s parlor that serves as an orientation center for the outdoor museum.
Across the street you can visit Howell House, an 1891 Victorian mansion that’s one of the village’s most impressive buildings. By contrast, nearby is a simple Mexican adobe and an 1868 log cabin with plain furnishings.
Around the corner you’ll see the Weller ranch house and its outbuildings that represent rural life in days gone by. On display are a barn, windmill and water tank house, hay derrick and hog-scalding kettle.
A side street leads to reminders of early railroading, including a turn-of-the-century steam locomotive. Also look for the wooden jail that was carried on a flat car to follow the rough-and-ready crews laying the train track.
Also important to the development of Kern County is petroleum, and you’ll see all sorts of articles from the oil fields. The large display building is next to a 74-foot-tall drilling derrick.
Along the way you can visit the Rosedale Church of 1892, a one-room country school from that century and a replica of the first county hospital. Another re-creation is the Bella Union Hotel with a lawyer’s office of frontier times at the rear.
No food facilities are available in Pioneer Village, but you can picnic at shaded tables on the grounds. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, from 10 a.m. on weekdays. Figure 90 minutes or more to explore the village; no tickets are sold after 3:30 p.m.
Also plan time to view the permanent and changing exhibits in the main museum building, where admission is free. Its collections range from guns of the Old West to gems and minerals, oak furniture and penny post cards.
To ensure a safe Halloween, the museum sponsors trick-or-treating in Pioneer Village on Oct. 30 and 31 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Admission is by advance-purchase ticket only and limited to 1,500 kids in costume ($3) and 3,000 adults or non-trick-or-treaters ($2) each night. Call the museum for details, (805) 861-2132.
West of Bakersfield you’ll find more fall fun at the Al Bussell Ranch, the area’s largest you-pick farm.
At least 75 scarecrows decorate the farm where you can go into a field to pick out a pumpkin for Halloween. Kids like to play in the haystacks and visit the barnyard with its chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, ponies and a calf.
Scarecrow mimes, magic shows and carnival games add to the festivities of the farm’s Jack-o-Lantern Jamboree that runs today and next weekend. Pumpkins are on sale daily through October when the farm is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The phone number is (805) 589-2329.
To reach Al Bussell’s from the Kern County Museum and Pioneer Village, drive south on Chester Avenue 26 blocks through town and turn right on California Avenue. Then go right on Stockdale Highway and head west 14 miles to the farm entrance.
To return to Los Angeles, continue two miles west on the Stockdale Highway to Interstate 5 and head south.
If you’re hungry while in town, Bakersfield boasts several Basque restaurants where hearty meals are served for lunch and dinner.
For instance, the $7 lunch special at the Wool Growers (620 East 19th St.) includes lamb stew, spaghetti, vegetable soup, Basque beans and salsa, bread and a green salad, plus the dish of the day: roast lamb, pork, beef or spare ribs.
Others to try are Chateau Basque, modern Maitia’s and the venerable Noreiga’s that serves family style at long tables.
Round trip from Los Angeles for pioneers and pumpkins in Bakersfield is 240 miles.