Entering the front door at the Kern Valley Museum is like taking a walk into the past.
Woolly Mammoths walking the canyons. Native Americans finding the area as they hunted and gathered along the Sierra Nevada. Miners arrived with the Gold Rush. Ranchers settled. Hardy loggers appeared, and businesses soon became a part of the growing communities that bordered and lived on the Kern River and its tributaries.
Located in Kernville, the Kern Valley Museum is home to some of the most fascinating collections and exhibits about the southern Sierra Nevada. Archives and spectacular displays interpreting the rich and complex social, cultural and economic history of the Kern River Valley are offered to visitors without charge.
Through its exhibits, publications, and programs, one can trace who, what and how Kernville and the surrounding area achieved its distinct identity in history, and what unique contributions it has made to the Sierra Nevada region and the State of California.
There are displays and written material depicting the Native Americans who inhabited this area for thousands of years before white settlers arrived. There are artifacts of the Gold Rush era settlements and their inhabitants, which define the everyday life of these determined dreamers who came expecting to acquire their fortune. Playing a significant role during this time were the Chinese. They not only contributed to working inexhaustibly in the mines, they also contributed to shaping the culture and history of the area.
The exhibits that document the development of the more permanent population of farmers, ranchers and merchants who came to stay, building homes and raising families are fascinating and amazing. Many descendants of these original Kern Valley dwellers still make it their home.
Many of the old western movies produced in the 1930s through the 1950s were filmed either on old Movie Street in Old Kernville (under the lake) or in various locations throughout the Kern Valley. Some of the big names of the era included John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Nix and so many more. A top quality collection of old projectors and paraphernalia are representative of items used in these earlier days.
Along with all the other historical aspects of the Kern River Valley, Southern California Edison was a significant player in shaping the big picture. As early as 1902 construction was started on Powerhouse #1 at the mouth of the Kern River, leading eventually to three Powerhouses all generating hydro-power. The pictorial time line lets you view the progress, dangers and equipment of each project. One of the first light fixtures used on the Borel plant over 100 years ago is on display at the Kern Valley Museum, as are many other electricity tools, along with some pretty wild stories in the written material available.
A stroll around the outside displays will add to the pleasure and education of visiting the museum. There is a cabin that was moved piece by piece from the Greenhorn Mountains, a very large stamp mill used in gold ore crushing, a covered wagon that made the trip on the Oregon Trail, and the Stagecoach that was used in John Wayne’s movie ‘Stagecoach’ and so much more for your viewing experience.
The Kern River Valley is rich in history and the Kern River Valley Historical Society and the Kern Valley Museum continue to promote and preserve that history for generations to come. We must never forget yesterday, regardless of when yesterday was. An hour, a day, a year, a generation, a millennium that is yesterday. That is history and that is why you need to come and discover the treasures the Kern Valley Museum holds!