Friends of Allensworth will hold 10th annual Rededication Festival at California’s first Black-owned town Oct. 9 at Col. Allensworth Historic State Park
ALLENSWORTH – More than 113 years ago, a former slave turned Buffalo soldier founded the first town in the Western United States to be founded, financed and governed by Black people. Col. Allen Allensworth founded his namesake town in southwestern Tulare County in 1908 with the dream of developing a thriving community where blacks could help themselves create better lives. Located just a few miles from the former Tule Lake bed in Corcoran, Allensworth had grown to 200 residents by 1914 thanks to its train station and ample supply of water and was the focus of many national newspaper articles praising the town and its inhabitants, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Allensworth lived long enough to see the town’s success, but then died that same year when he was hit by a motorcycle while exiting a street car in Monrovia, Calif.
Without its founder, the town was ill prepared to deal with the diversion of its surface water from white farmers in nearby Alpaugh, about seven miles away, and the Santa Fe Railroad’s decision to bypass the town in favor of a stop in Alpaugh in 1914. That same year, the town needed a new well after discovering alkaline in the soil and then a five-year drought hit the area. As the water supply dried up so did the town. The drought coincided with The Great Depression, which sent many looking for work in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Post Office closed in 1931, and by the 1940s most of the residents were migratory farm workers, and the population was mainly a mixture of Blacks and Hispanics. Housing deteriorated, as most of the people didn’t consider Allensworth their permanent home. The population had shrunk to 90, in 1972, and later dropped to almost zero. But true to its title as “The town that refused to die,” a portion of the town was purchased by California State Parks in 1974 and state park was created with reconstructed early 20th century buildings, including the Colonel’s house, historic schoolhouse, Baptist church, courthouse and library, once again dots this flat farm country, giving new life to the dreams of these visionary pioneers.
For the last decade, Allensworth has honored the town’s historical significance with an annual celebration of its undying spirit. The 10th anniversary of the Rededication Festival will be held this Saturday, Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. off Highway 43 at Palmer Avenue. Visitors get to have an enjoyable day of living history activities led by people in early 20th century attire such as square dancing, self-guided tours of historic buildings, historic games with prizes, storytelling, and great entertainment. There are also arts and crafts and food vendors for your enjoyment.
Admission to the Rededication Festival is free. The parking fee is $10 per car. Amtrak has even scheduled special trains at a 50 percent discount rate to bring visitors to the park for the historically significant event. Travelers can also bring their bikes and chairs aboard Amtrak trains and thruway buses. Normally a whistle stop on the San Joaquin line, Amtrak trains stop at the Allensworth station, where they will be met by a free shuttle for the short ride to the main property. The southbound trains that will be running for this event include trains 702, 710, 712, and 714. Northbound trains include trains 713, 715, 717, and 719. More information on the discounts available for everyday travel aboard the Amtrak San Joaquins can be found at amtraksanjoaquins.com/promotion/share-fare.
“We are excited to be welcoming guests traveling from throughout the state aboard the Amtrak San Joaquins,” said Sasha Biscoe, president of the Friends of Allensworth which organizes the event. “We encourage any individual that is interested in the rich, ethnically diverse history of our state to consider taking advantage of the affordable, environmentally friendly, convenient, and fun transportation option provided by the Amtrak San Joaquins.”
The rededication is one of four major annual events hosted by the FOA, a charitable organization whose mission is to support, promote, and advance the educational and interpretive activities at colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. According to FOA, the re-dedication is “presented to renew the commitment of the citizens of California to help the Department of Parks and Recreation preserve the history of the ethnically diverse contributions made in the development of the state of California and our nation.”
For more information, contact Friends of Allensworth by calling 661-748-8461 or emailing [email protected].
While there has long been interest in the town’s history, more recently, there has been renewed interest in Allensworth’s future. A new effort to revitalize and restore the once-thriving Black town was formally launched in August.
The effort is being spearheaded by the newly-formed Global Economic Impact Group (GEIG), a minority-owned company specializing in serving non-profit, for profit, corporate, and government agencies. Part of its core values is “To be the world’s most successful business development and management company that successfully helps each client solve their business challenges while providing new opportunities, growth, and generational wealth to historically underrepresented and/or economically disadvantaged communities.”
The nonprofit is led by CEO Randall Cooper, a retired deputy chief of the San Jose Police Department who spent 7 years as City of Fresno Parks Director, who said plans for the park include expending the visitor center, an amphitheater for events, shade structures, a kids play area, and more parking for tour buses and mobile homes.
“We don’t have beaches. We will have the mountains,” CEO Randall Cooper wrote in a press release. “So we have to create something to get people to want to come out here.”
More than a park revitalization, the work to restore Allensworth is to restore and honor Black history in California while bringing new tourism opportunities to the region. According to its website, “GEIG believes that bringing recognition and attention to Lt. Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park as the site of one of the most historically monumental African American communities and as the only town in California that was exclusively established and independently sustained by African Americans, it is set to become a Historic Destination for not just Californians, but for people and families from all walks of life.
For more information, contact Global Economic Impact Group at 833-443-4487 or [email protected].