Kern County: Rich in Oil and History
Kern County has been a major oil hub since oil started being extracted back at the turn of the 20th century. Even before wildcats began drilling for black gold, Native Americans had been using the black, sticky material that seeped out of the ground to waterproof baskets and boats and to secure stone points to arrows. As soon as oil became a commercially viable commodity on a large scale, Kern was a logical place to drill. In 1899, Milton McWhorter drilled 256 feet deep to establish the “Discovery Well” and access 15 barrels of oil a day. The rush was on. In 1910, the “Lakeview Gusher” was drilled—the largest producing well in the history of California. Today, Kern County accounts for 64% of California’s oil production.
Kern County Museum
Kern County Museum had a collection before it even existed. In 1928, county residents began donating historic relics to the County Chamber of Commerce. By 1941, the collection had grown to such a size that the Kern County Museum was founded…but not opened. WWII delayed the official opening until 1945. Since then, the museum has taken over the historic Chamber of Commerce building as well as 16 landscaped acres of historic structures and educational displays.
Black Gold: The Oil Experience
In a back corner of the sprawling Kern County Museum complex is the Black Gold: The Oil Experience. Opened in late 2002, this collection includes a 9,640-square foot exhibition and surrounding 2.3 acres of historic drills, derricks, wells, and other oil equipment and structures—including a historic gas station. Today, the collection has been visited by over 550,000 people.
Kern Pioneer Village
While you are there, also wander through the Kern Pioneer Village, home to over 56 historic buildings. There are homes, shops, school rooms, and barns with exhibits discussing Kern Counties early industries and citizens. For country music fans, tour the newly renovated childhood home of Merle Haggard, a Kern County native.