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Saturday, Nov 24 2012 12:01 AM

History: A driving tour of Kern County historical landmarks

By Jeff Nickell

There are many historical landmarks throughout Kern County that people drive by each day, though others are in not so well-traveled areas. This article will take you to some of those places with the idea that you can have a fun day driving to them while learning about how the area came to be what it is.

These are abbreviated versions of their history to lure you to actually go see them.

Related Photos

Elisha Stephens

California Historical Landmark honoring Gordon's Ferry.

In this historic photo crude oil is loaded into a tank wagon from one of the earliest wells drilled in the Kern River field.

* The first California State Historical Landmark on the drive is Rio de San Felipe, which is east of Bakersfield at Highway 178 and Rancheria Road driving toward the Kern River Canyon. One mile from this place is where Padre Francisco Garces crossed the Kern River, or what he called Rio de San Felipe.

* The second landmark is Gordon's Ferry on the Kern River. It is on the southwest side of the river if you travel on North Chester Avenue and make a right on China Grade Loop. If you pass the "Bakersfield" directional sign leading you up the bluffs, you have gone too far -- after the sign, the road turns into Round Mountain Road. Instead, turn right at the "Bakersfield" sign, and you will see the marker on the right-hand side just as you cross the river.

Gordon's Ferry was an overhead cable-type of ferry operated during the 1850s by Maj. Aneas Gordon. Gilbert Gia writes in an article published in 2010:

"As a term, Gordon's Ferry first appeared on April 20, 1852, as an entry in the Tulare County Franchise Book. Ex-Officio Tulare Recorder Major Aneas B. Gordon, 36, had been granted a tax-free, eight-month license to operate a ferry and sell goods and liquor on the Kern River."

The pertinence of this being listed in Tulare County was that Kern County was not created until 1866; Tulare County was formed in 1852.

* Not far from Gordon's Ferry is the site of the famous Discovery Well of May 1899. Head back to China Grade Loop, which turns into Round Mountain Road. Make a right, and the site is only about seven-tenths of a mile up the road, on the right-hand side. An appointment is needed to gain access to the marker -- call 393-2200; otherwise, you will only get a view from the road.

The Discovery Well was hand dug. About 400 feet to the north is the site where Kern River Oil Field's first commercial well was drilled. This discovery led to the creation of more than 200 oil companies forming in just a matter of months.

* Heading back into town, go south on North Chester and make a left on West Columbus Avenue to drive to the historical marker in honor of Elisha Stephens. The marker will be on the northwest side of West Columbus and Isla Verde streets.

The story of Elisha Stephens is quite remarkable as outlined in an article by local attorney Timothy Lemucchi. Lemucchi's great-grandmother was on the wagon train known as the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party. Stephens was the leader of the wagon train, which departed near Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1844, and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains two years before the ill-fated Donner Party. The trail was later used by John Fremont, who received credit for opening up the West.

Lemucchi indicates that Stephens "observed bitterly that Fremont 'found' the path that he had made."

* The last stop is the Kern County Museum at 3801 Chester Ave., to see the landmark in honor of the Jewett Family, particularly Solomon and Philo. The marker is in front of the Beale Memorial Clock Tower. The Jewett brothers were giants in the early stages of our city. They were pioneers in oil, agriculture, water and banking industries, and they opened the first bank in Bakersfield, the Kern Valley Bank. They owned a huge section of land where Kern County Museum, Sam Lynn Ballpark and Bakersfield Memorial Hospital now stand, to name a few. What you won't find on the historical marker plaque is that in his diaries, Philo claims to have been the person who suggested our town be renamed from Kern Island to Bakersfield.

So find a friend or friends, and enjoy your tour through a small portion of Bakersfield. But if you don't feel like driving, you can always read about the landmarks online. Or make your own special tour.

To view all of the historical landmarks in Kern, go to ceres.ca.gov/geo_area/counties/Kern/landmarks.html.

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