Historic Havilah (No. 100 California Historical Landmark)
Photo © David Jordan, December 2007
The mining town of Havilah, literally meaning "Stretch of Sand," was named from the Book of Genesis.
The story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:11:
"And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium (a resin similar to myrrh) and the onyx stone."
July 1864 is the date signaling the birthday of the town. Asbury Harpending, a Kentuckian who had been involved in an abortive plot to seize California for the Confederacy during the Civil War which was still raging, named the town and decided to seek sanctuary there. He arrived just in time to cash in on the Havilah boom and left eventually with around $800,000 (Over $11,000,000 in today's dollars). Later in San Francisco he became prominent in real estate and gained a degree of notoriety through his involvement in the Great Diamond Hoax.
Between 1866-1874, Havilah became the center of the rich Clear Creek Mining District. At its peak in 1866, Havilah had nearly a score of flourishing mines, with nine stamp mills, 13 saloons and quite a few gambling and dance halls as well. Horse racing along the main street was a popular sport. Holding up the stage was another method of killing time. In fact, holdups became so frequent that the express company nearly went out of business, and finally refused to carry any more bullion. It was said that, although many men died in town, not many were sick!
In 1874, Havilah lost its position as the County Seat to Bakersfield. It was not many years before her mile-long business street began to look like so many other ghost towns in California history. A raging fire destroyed most of the town in the 1920s. Today only a few foundations remain. There are signs along the main street depicting the location of previous stores and buildings.
A replica of the first courthouse was built on the actual site in 1966 commemorating the centennial of the founding of the town. It serves as the Havilah Museum. Nearby, a replica of the original schoolhouse is available for community meetings and tours.
The museum and schoolhouse are open from April through September on weekends from 11am to 3pm and at other times by appointment. There is no admission fee. There is a cemetery nearby - the Old Havilah Cemetery.
The Havilah School District was formed on November 9, 1866. It was the first public school to operate in Kern County. At that time Havilah was a bustling mining community and the County seat. The first district clerk was William Gill Mills. One of its earliest teachers was Rev. J. H. Cornwall. Rev. Cornwall taught the Havilah School in 1868. He later became the County Superintendent of Schools. The Havilah School was small in size and teachers moved often. Bakersfield became the County seat in 1873. After that business conditions in Havilah were poor and the need for school funds were great. Celsa H. Carnall, Havilah teacher in 1904-05, wrote about this hardship. On September 1, 1920 the Havilah School District lapsed due to low attendance. The school was annexed by the Vaughn School District. The Vaughn School District was annexed by the Kernville Union School District on January 23, 1950.
The Bodfish-Caliente Road which goes right through Havilah was once the main road between Bakersfield and the Kern River Valley until State Highway 178 was extended through the rugged Kern River Canyon. In late 1919, Highway 178 (then known as Legislative Route 57) was added to the state highway system and was called "The Walker Pass Route" for the pass the road covers on its way to the desert junction of Freeman. The state highway bond issue of 1919 allowed for the grading of the road between the KR1 powerhouse and Democrat. The grading was done by convict labor from Folsom Prison Camp 9 and was completed in 1924 at a cost of over $530,000. The county of Kern improved the 17 mile section of road from Democrat to Bodfish and turned it over to the state for maintenance as part of the State Highway on January 1, 1926.
Every year on the first Saturday of June, a frontier-type celebration takes place in Havilah, called “Havilah Days.” The annual event involves live entertainment, stagecoach rides, Wild West shootouts and various other activities. June 4, 2011 will commemorate the 45th celebration.
California State Historical Landmark #100 HAVILAH
Gold deposits at Havilah were discovered in 1864. Havilah was the county seat between 1866, when Kern County was organized, and 1872, when the government was moved to Bakersfield. Havilah was an active mining center for more than 20 years, and there are still some operating mines in this vicinity.
Location: State plaque in front of Bodfish post office, NE corner of Miller St and Kern River Canyon Rd, Bodfish - private plaque S side of 1866 county courthouse, Caliente-Bodfish Rd (P.M. 279), Havilah
The Havilah Stage Robbery plaque reads:
The last Stage Coach Robbery in Kern County occurred near here on August 26, 1896. The Kernville stage to Caliente was held-up by a lone gunman on horseback who got 1,700 coin and gold bullion from the Wells Fargo Strong Box. He did not molest the passengers, however, although the local citizens searched doggedly, the loot was never recovered nor the bandit ever apprehended, as a result of the stick-up, the route was discontinued, thus ending an era.
Dedicated April 18, 1999 by The Kutzner Family & The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (Peter Lebec Chapter #1866)
Havilah is located approximately 7 miles south of Lake Isabella, at 6789 Caliente-Bodfish Road. It is located in a beautiful mountain setting in a quiet community.
June 2, 2012 HAVILAH DAYS 46th CELEBRATION
The folks in the Havilah Centennial Group want to invite everyone to their upcoming frontier day celebration Saturday, June 2 from 10 am until 3pm. This annual event includes fun for the entire family. There will be Buffalo Bill’s Cowboys & Indians Exhibition, live entertainment provided by “Roy Orbison” & “Roy Rogers” as well as Karaoke participation open to our visitors. Watch out for the Tombstone Lawdawgs who just might be “shootin’ up the place” (not to worry, Roy Rogers will be on hand to keep the peace). There will be hay rides with an opportunity to tour the CCC site across from the Havilah Forestry Station, a white elephant sale, vendors, an early days antique engines demonstration, Smokey Bear, a coin toss, lots of raffle prizes, “Pockets” the Friendly Donkey & hot dogs & drinks. & hot off the press, the Courthouse Cookbook will make its debut. This book offers secret, favorite & time-tested recipes of Centennial Group members & friends, along with stories, anecdotes & drawings of the Old West in general & Havilah in particular. So y’all come to Havilah, the First County Seat on Saturday, June 2 from 10 am until 3pm.
Time Period Represented: 1866 – 1874
Hours Open: The Havilah Museum and Schoolhouse are open from April through September on weekends from 11am to 3pm and at other times by appointment.
Visitor Fees: There is no admission fee for the Museum. Donations are welcome.
Seasons Open: April through September