Up from slavery, Colonel Allen Allensworth lived in this Sears Roebuck prefab home.
Say you're cruising along Highway 99 north of Bakersfield, Calif., and you spot the turnoff for Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. If you knew the story behind this low-profile 1,000-acre park, you would take the exit and the short drive back almost 100 years.
The town of Allensworth was founded in 1908 by Allen Allensworth. Born a slave in 1842, Allensworth served as a chief petty officer in the Union army during the Civil War and later as an army chaplain. He retired in 1906 as a lieutenant colonel, the highest-ranking black officer of his day. The town was home to a thriving farm community of 200 African-Americans who moved there to govern and educate themselves, free from oppression and discrimination. Allensworth prospered for a few years until its water supply ran dry and its residents spread out around the Central Valley.
By the early 1930s, the town had all but shut down. Since 1976 it has been coming back to life as a state park. You can stroll the gravel roads and peer into about 20 wooden buildings that have been restored to their original 1911-14 style, including the library, the schoolhouse (which remained in use through the 1950s), and Allensworth's Sears Roebuck & Co. prefab home. Contact the park for dates of annual events. INFORMATION: (661) 849-3433, www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=583.
Photography courtesy of Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
This article was first published in July 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.