Amtrak offers historic route to Allensworth state park

Photo by Rigo Moran

Amtrak honors Juneteenth with special discounted trip to Allensworth, offering passengers a chance to explore the state’s first Black-governed town

ALLENSWORTH – Allensworth is a special place in Tulare County that has been a State Historic Park since the 1970s, and Amtrak is offering passengers deals on tickets to visit the unique ghost town in celebration of Juneteenth.

Amtrak does not ordinarily stop at Allensworth, but in celebration of Juneteenth, the rail line is offering a special trip aboard the San Joaquins Line.

“Make riding the train part of your historical day at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park to commemorate the emancipation of all Black Americans. Take Amtrak San Joaquins from Southern California, the Bay Area or the Valley, right to the doorstep of Allensworth for the Juneteenth Celebration,” Amtrak states on their website.

Amtrak is offering discounts of up to 50% off the cost of tickets. The annual celebration will include live music and dancing, storytelling, tours of the town’s buildings, arts and crafts, food vendors and horse-drawn carriage rides. Tickets for the Allensworth Juneteenth celebration are available through the Amtrak website.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of Black individuals who were enslaved after the end of the Civil War. The holiday, also called Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865 when 250,000 Union soldiers landed at Galveston, TX with the proclamation of freedom.

For its story, the town of Allensworth was the first settlement in the region that was established as a town governed completely by Black residents. The town was founded in 1908 by Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth; Professor William Payne; William Peck, a minister; John W. Palmer, a miner; and Harry A. Mitchell, a real estate agent.

From humble beginnings, the fledgling farming community eventually grew to include a general store, a hotel, several homes, and most importantly, a train station. Residents grew alfalfa, wheat, sugar beets and cotton. Ranchers raised cattle, chickens, turkeys and Belgian hares.

Allensworth was profitable at first, but a common problem in the San Joaquin Valley ultimately led to the death of the town. Initial wells drilled in the area provided water, but by 1912, just four years after the founding of the town, the water table had dropped. By 1914, water access had become a serious problem. By the 1950s, water in Allensworth was contaminated with arsenic and was declared unsafe. The remaining residents were resettled and the town was abandoned.

Dozens of small towns that sprang up in California have been abandoned and many no longer exist. A similar fate could have come to Allensworth were it not for former Allensworth resident Cornelius “Ed” Pope. Pope worked for the California Department of Parks and Recreation and successfully wrote an application to have the town declared a State Historic Park. Former Gov. Ronald Reagan signed legislation in 1974 securing the town as a historic landmark.

Restoration efforts have brought back nine buildings including the schoolhouse, the general store, a hotel, a library and several homes. The park is only open by appointment, but 15 nearby campsites are available year-round.

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