Visiting Merle Haggard’s Home and More at Kern County Museum

Being vaccinated means I feel a bit more comfortable going out and doing some things, and I’ve been itching to get on the road for a little day trip. I recently heard that Bakersfield had a wealth of great neon signs, which are a favorite subject of mine, including an entire courtyard display dedicated to signs saved by the Kern County Museum. So, Patrick and I headed up north for a day to hunt down vintage neon, and our first stop was the Kern County Museum.

Exterior of the Kern County Museum, a long Spanish Colonial revival style building with red tile roof, and palm trees out front.

Due to COVID, only the outdoor exhibits were open, which was fine, we came for the neon courtyard and the Merle Haggard house, but what I didn’t expect was a sprawling 16 acre outdoor space with over 50 buildings (nearly all of which were relocated to the museum) showcasing the history of Kern County. Saving local history started early in Kern County, 1929 to be exact, when the Bakersfield Lion’s Club wrote to the local paper suggesting locals donate historical items to the Chamber of Commerce. A little over ten years later, in 1941 the Kern County Museum was founded.

The Standard School, named for the Standard Oil Company, painted yellow with blue trim.

A tall oil rig rises from the outdoor portion of the museum.

Myself standing on the porch of the newspaper building, an old west style building painted white with black letters at the top reading "The Havilah Courior", wearing a white cowboy hat, black shirt reading "Nudie's Rodeo Tailor", jean shorts, and a tooled leather purse that resembles a saddle.

An old cook wagon, painted red, it features a massive dinner bell just outside the doors.

What I loved is that for many of the buildings you could peek inside, seeing displays of what various merchants and services were like in the 1800s and the early 1900s. Agriculture and the railroad served important roles in Kern County, and there is a large area dedicated to the railroad. It is within this area that the childhood home of country music legend Merle Haggard is located in. But why exactly is it in the railroad area? Well, it was originally a Santa Fe refrigerator car from 1910, that Haggard’s parents, James and Flossie (what a great name) purchased in 1935, and they converted it into a home, making additions and giving it a pitch roof.

Merle Haggard's childhood home, which was converted from an old refrigerator railcar, it has additions to make it more home like including a pitched roof, door and windows.

Myself, standing in front of Haggard's home, wearing a white cowboy hat, black shirt reading "Nudie's Rodeo Tailor", jean shorts, and a tooled leather purse that resembles a saddle.

Close-up of a railroad car, with text reading "Sandstone Express"

The engine of an old train.

Old trucks sit on the platform of an old railroad station, which is painted a sunflower yellow with brown trim.

An old west style two story hotel, with balcony. Painted grey, with a white front, and blue trim. Along the top in large blue letters reads "Hotel Fellows" signs hanging from the balcony read "Rooms Home Cooking"

Myself standing on the porch of the old Kern County Court House, a white, old west style building.

Interior of the old Kern County Court House. Purple wallpaper surrounds a chair made of cattle horns, that is behind a desk. Dark wood chairs reside in front.

The General Store, painted green, with a porch. Two signs hang off the porch, one white with a bathtub painted on it reading "Baths 5 Cents" another sign shaped like a shoe reads "Repairing"

Inside the general store, with shelves stocked with various goods, and a cash register on the left.

Myself standing on the porch of the newspaper building, wearing a white cowboy hat, black shirt reading "Nudie's Rodeo Tailor", jean shorts, and a tooled leather purse that resembles a saddle.

A white sign hangs from a yellow peaked roof, featuring a horse and buggy with script reading "Harness Shop Custom Work Our Specialty"

Interior of the saddle shop, with an array of saddles, horse collars, and tools for making saddles and other horse equipment.

Exterior of the blacksmiths shop, a long white building. An array of wagon wheels sit along the side.

Inside of the blacksmith shop. A variety of tools line the walls, a wagon wheel sits awaiting repair.

Myself standing on the porch of the newspaper building, wearing a white cowboy hat, black shirt reading "Nudie's Rodeo Tailor", jean shorts, and a tooled leather purse that resembles a saddle.

An old Buick.

A mannequin of a woman appears as if she is working on a white dress that sits on a dressform.

A little red church, with a steeple.

Inside the drug store, where a wide selection of glass bottles sit on shelves. Some are clear, others blue, and some brown.

Myself leaning over a porch railing.

A beautiful Victorian home painted in a sage green with dark green trim.

The remains of a large clock that was made to resemble a pocket watch to advertise a watch maker shop.

Amid the neon courtyard, which is filled with saved signs from various local businesses, is a service station built in 1936, that was originally located at E. 18th and Sonora, and in 1989 it was moved to the museum and restored by the local Modal A Ford Club.

A yellow and red neon sign with white letters reading "entrance" and a yellow arrow pointing to the left.

An old gas station from the 1930s, done in a Spanish Revival style with red tile roof and white stucco.

A red neon sign with white letters reading "Open Jolly Kone" and a small ice cream cone on top, with a face on the ice cream.

Multiple neon signs, one for "Andre's Giant Hamburgers" another for "Flloyd's"

A neon sign shaped like a pagoda building, painted red with yellow letters reading "Far East Fried Shrimp Chinese Dinners Family Style"

An array of neon signs, in the front is a simple green one reading "Cafe Frank Amestay's Cocktails"

Neon sign for The Silver Fox, which features an adorable fox made of neon.

While some of these businesses are gone, you can still grab a bite at Andre’s! Which we stopped at for lunch, check it out here.

Overall I was extremely impressed with the museum, and shocked we ended up spending nearly two hours there! The interior portion of the museum has a Bakersfield Sound exhibit, which I would love to see, so I look forward to revisiting the Kern County Museum in the future once it reopens.

Soak up Bakersfield history at the Kern County Museum, located at 3801 Chester Avenue in Bakersfield.

Outfit
Hat: Redlands Galleria, Redlands, California
Mask: Made by me
Shirt: Nudie’s Rodeo Tailor
Shorts: Buffalo Exchange
Belt: Belonged to my grandfather
Saddle Purse: Honestly, I don’t remember…probably Buffalo Exchange…
Shoes: Minnetonka

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