Bellevue Ranch

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It is true that our lovely city has grown quite a bit throughout the years. It has seen swampland turned to farmland that fed the world, and farmland turned to homes that housed generations of families. Along with the transitions, local history was made by the hands of many from all over the United States.

Pictured above is Bellevue Ranch. This shot that looks right out of an old Western film is just a part of a large piece of our history. It got its start with James Ben Ali Haggin, a young Kentuckian lawyer who struck it rich in the California goldmines; Lloyd Tevis, another lawyer from Kentucky; and William “Billy” Carr, a man the book titled A History of Kern County Land Company termed “a political Napoleon for Southern Pacific [Railroad],” and “fat, aggressive, determined, unabashed, and a clever boss.”

Bellevue Ranch

Bellevue Ranch

 

After the passing of Bakersfield’s founder, Colonel Thomas Baker, the men went right to work acquiring large masses of swampland that once belonged to Baker. Bellevue Ranch, itself, was a sprawling 13,500 acres, and the stories surrounding it were as wild as the times. In Pioneer Days of Kern County, tales of the characters that worked the ranch suspended disbelief. The meat packing plant and slaughterhouse were built in 1897, and, “All work those days was done by horsepower, the gasoline engine being totally unknown.” One employee was noted simply as their “hypnotist,” and was accused of both hypnotizing pigs as well as co-workers (who called him a devil!) and then ended his employment by trying to bludgeon the author of Pioneer Days before narrowly escaping a lynching by the other workers, never to be seen again.

Another fascinating tidbit about this vast ranch was detailed in Inside Historic Kern County, where it is noted that Carr and Haggin were actually responsible for hiring the first former slaves in the south to work in Bakersfield and help with crop picking at the ranch. In the book, William Henry Pinkney recalled, “My mother and father were among the first colored people to arrive in Bakersfield…many people don’t know that cotton raising began around Bakersfield in 1884. Carr and Haggin, who brought in the colored people including my family through agents in the east, planted three sections between Wible Road and Kern Island Road. It was a wonderful arrangement for us since meat was furnished, as well as our housing and the use of animals.”

As the times changed, so did the land. Parts were bought and sold, and the last of the buildings were demolished in the 1980s, making way for the growth of the CSUB campus, other commercial development, and inevitable modernization.

Photos Courtesy of Chris Brewer

Article appeared in our 31-5 Issue – December 2014

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