Old Kernville aka Whiskey Flat (No. 132 California Historical Landmark)
Photo © unknown
Whiskey Flat began as a place for those seeking their fortunes in the Big Blue Gold Mine in the Southern Sierra Nevada on the Kern River in 1860. Alcohol was not allowed at the mine site, so an industrious fellow threw a plank across a couple of whiskey barrels down on the flat south of the mine and so named it Whiskey Flat.
A few years later in 1864 the name was changed by the people of the growing town to the less wild and woolly name of Kernville. Named after the artist Edward M. Kern who had accompanied Captain Joseph Walker in the expedition in 1843. Families were moving in and it was no longer fitting to have the name associated with "demon rum," as the ladies of the town called it.
Old Kernville now lies at the bottom of the Isabella Reservoir that was created by a dam on the Kern River. The reservoir was built between 1948 and 1953, leaving nothing of the once thriving community behind. Most of the residents of the Kern Valley were in shock when they were told their homes were in the way of a new lake and they had to find a new home and make new roots.
Even the California State Historical Marker No. 132 for Old Kernville was moved. You can find it about 1 mile north, at the entrance of the Old Kernville Historic Cemetery and it reads:
This monument moved from old Kernville
And rededicated May 3, 1953 by
Kern River Chamber of Commerce
Kern River Veterans Club
Kern River V.F.W.
Kern County Historical Society
Kern County Museum
California Historical Landmark
Kernville called Whiskey Flat until 1864, was founded in 1860 when Adam Hamilton a
whiskey dealer moved shop here from for more temperature Quartzburg, founded
earlier that year. Both camps resulted by the discovery of “The Big Blue Ledge” by
Lovely Rogers while tracking a stray mule from the earlier camp of Keyesville.
Dedicated April 18, 1937
Kern River Chamber of Commerce
Department of Natural Resources Reg. No.132
State of California
The entire towns of Kernville and Isabella were to be under water when the dam was completed. And so it was.
Welcome to Old Kernville.
Picture a quiet and quaint historic community with huge cotton wood tees, feathery willows, gardens and front porches with the magnificent Kern River running through it. There were people here. There was life here. It survived explorers, massacres, gold rushes, massive floods and tourism, but it could not survive progress and now sits in silence with very little to let one know that it was even here.
When the waters of Isabella Reservoir are low enough, some of the remnants of Old Kernville are exposed and appear as tombstones. The elementary school and the old Methodist Church foundations are the most prominent features left from those years. A walk through the ghost-like surroundings fill one with magical visions of what it once was as a piece of pottery shard is discovered, an old metal pipe sticking up from the lake bottom, a piece of rock wall appearing lost in the silt or maybe even a rusted bolt or faucet catches ones eye. History continues even though it appears to be gone.
Old Movie Street is gone where Hollywood filmed some of the best western movies ever, featuring the best of the best. John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Yvonne DeCarlo, Hoot Gibson and Gene Autry.
The bridge is gone. Bert James Store is gone. The Barber Shop is gone. The Telephone Company is gone. The Post Office disappeared up river. Riverside Beach is under 60 years of lake silt. There were two gas stations, a general store, more than one saloon, a small doctors office and 3 bed hospital, tended by the doctors wife. The malt shop was torn down, the motel moved, old cabins and houses burned or bulldozed away into heaps of rubble. Many of the structures were moved up river to the present day site of “Kernville,” that was part of the Burlando Ranch. Some buildings were moved to a new community on the Wofford Ranch, and it is now present day Wofford Heights.
Old Kernville was alive with flavor, history and family life. The Kern River has been its stability throughout the years. Old Kernville has been gone for almost 60 years, but it thrives in the memories of those who lived there, grew up there, helped to move it, watched as it disappeared and now do what they can to keep it alive.
The most complete collection of books, artifacts, photos and stories of Old Kernville is housed in the Kern Valley Museum in Kernville.