In 1929, a call from the Bakersfield Lion’s Club in the local newspaper encouraging locals to donate historical materials and artifacts, and its overwhelming response, was the start of the Kern County Museum as we know (or yet have to discover) it. People actually donated entire houses.
I was surprised entering the museum for the fist time. I had pictured it as an outdoor exhibit, and there I was, in the historic Chamber of Commerce Building, in dim lights. I wandered towards the first pod to my left – something looked like textile… 🙂 – and got caught up in the History of the Golden Empire exhibit. Besides oil and gold related items, cultural artifacts, Yokut coiled baskets and carriages set me in the mood for a good time travel.
I then headed to the Bakersfield Sound exhibit, which got me as lost in chronology as in amazing outfits, embroideries and overall radiance. The room is small, but quite educational for a newbie. Definitely a nice and straight overview of the Bakersfield Sound (and shine).
And only from there can one enter the outside world of the Pioneer Village. This exhibits features over 50 historic buildings, narrating the story of Kern County and the wild wild West as we picture it in France, between western movies and the Little House on the Prairie TV show.
The amount of materials, items and details is overwhelming. People donated shoes, tools, utensils, or entire houses, carried in one piece through Bakersfield up to the Kern County Museum.The inside of the buildings ae not accessible per se, but on can get a glimpse of staged interiors behind windows, and walk on the patios and decks, listening to the musicality of ancient hardwood floors.
The glass windows and reflections can be quite disturbing, but after all, it adds a charming interactive body experiment : like spying in Mrs Oleson’s Mercantile, lurking on beautiful lace gloves, or trying to catch a glimpse at some gold nuggets at the bank or have a good scare at the prison…!
Interiors are very well staged, with a touching attention to details. And if not nuggets of gold, you are good for amazing pieces of furniture, textiles, and wall decor.
Not to be missed, the Neon Courtyard where iconic Bakersfield shop or restaurant signs are displayed after having being restored by passionate people. If you are -as I am- fond of typefaces and fonts, be sure to walk around.
The Museum also fosters a black gold exhibition, which I found very helpful (I am sometimes lost in translation when it comes to derricks). And the first room, retracing the life of a family settling while listening to their audio story is great for kids, too.
A Historic Vehicle Exhibit should open soon in addition to the railroad exhibit, and if you visit with little kids, you should try the Lori Brock Children’s Discovery Center for hands on activities.
I cannot think of such a place in France, where you actually walk in a whole village put together with real buildings and/or reconstructed ones. And there are so many I keep discovering new ones, or new rooms, reading new panels, or try different paths to stroll in the park. The Pioneer Village is definitely my favorite exhibit, but the whole Museum is worth an extended visit… you can easily spend a whole day there. A minimum of two hours is a good call.
The museum is closed on Monday, and open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Sunday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
Don’t hesitate to call beforehand to make sure there are no special event or closed exhibit.
For more info about the Kern County Museum, visit their nicely done website here.