The state park and visitor's center preserves the history of Allensworth, CA, an African American town established in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth. Allensworth was born a slave in Louisville in 1842, Allensworth was killed in 1914 but by that time town that bore his name had grown to 200 residents. The town declined in the coming decades but many of the homes, businesses, and churches have been restored.
The Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park was established in 1976 in recogontion of the town’s importance to the development of Arfican-American communities in the United States and to its founder Colonel Allensworth. Colonel Allen Allensworth (1842-1914) was born into slavery but later escaped and joined the union army, the the navy, earning the rank of petty officer by the end of the Civil War. Afterwards he took an interest in theology and was ordained as a minister; he also served as a Kentucky delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880 and 1884. After listening to the complaints of other African American soldiers, Allensworth tirelessly campaigned to become the army’s first African-American chaplain, with the rank of captain he led the 24th Infantry, one of America’s four all-black regiments. Immensely influenced by Booker T. Washington, Allensworth toured the states and advocated self-reliance and black community through various lectures and preaching. He agreed with Washington that African-Americans were not going to receive the treatment they deserved from whites and that they needed to establish skills and sustainability within their communities.
Allensworth eventually met William Payne, a West Virginia native, who shared a similar passion. The men developed the idea for Allensworth the settlement and set up the California Colony and Home Promoting Association and secured land for their town in Solito, a rural area close to Bakersfield. Within little time the town was booming and the population reached over 100 within the first 4 years of its establishment. There was a post office, library, two general stores, and a school among the over 300 settlers that lived there by 1915.
Sadly the town faced serious turmoil after the railway bypassed it and channeled people and goods away from the town; the railway company running it was notoriously racist and refused to acknowledge Allensworth as a legitimate town. The white landowners also stopped bringing water into the town after the population began to diminish, forcing more families to leave. The death of Colonel Allensworth, the result of being hit by two motorcyclists, robbed the town of the fervent leader who had kept things running for so long. Eventually Allensworth became a ghost town, until it was revived and declared a national historic landmark in 1976 and all of the buildings were reconstructed to appear as they once did.
A history of the town from the CA State Parks Website. In August 1908 Colonel Allen Allensworth and four other settlers established a town founded, financed and governed by African Americans. Their dream of developing an abundant and thriving community stemmed directly from a strong belief in programs that allowed blacks to help themselves create better lives. By 1910 Allensworth’s success was the focus of many national newspaper articles praising the town and its inhabitants.
An unavoidable set of circumstances made it impossible for the residents of this tiny town located 30 miles north of Bakersfield to achieve their founders’ dreams over the long term. But the town did remain home to a handful of families and individuals throughout the 20th century, and true to the courage and resolve of its founders, the town has survived and persevered, earning the well-deserved title “The town that refused to die.”
In 1974 California State Parks purchased land within the historical townsite of Allensworth, and it became Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Today a collection of lovingly restored and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings—including the Colonel’s house, historic schoolhouse, Baptist church, and library—once again dots this flat farm country, giving new life to the dreams of these visionary pioneers.