The Short and Exciting Life of Havilah - Land of Gold
Last updated 9/2/2019 at 7:46pm | View PDF
Before Kern County began in 1866, much of the area within its current boundaries was part of Tulare County. One of those areas was the mountainous region lying between the Kern River and Walker Basin. It was an interesting place in its early days and created all kinds of excitement...all centered around finding gold.
In the spring of 1864, a small group of miners discovered a rich quartz deposit. They tried to keep their gold discovery quiet, but the word could not be contained and the area was overrun with prospectors. One of the early arrivals was a man named Asbury Harpending who took it upon himself to name the little settlement Havilah - a biblical name found in the book of Genesis, which loosely translated means "land of gold."
Havilah was located on Clear Creek, so the mining district took the name of the creek. The little gold camp in the heart of the district became a boomtown attracting statewide attention. But not all the news was good. One reporter acknowledged that the new town had become an "important point as the center of trade for the rich and extensive district," but added that the community, like all new mining towns, had been "infested and overrun by a host of adventurers, sharps, gamblers and desperadoes..."
Another writer was even harsher in his assessment of the town and its people when he wrote, "But of all places for drinking, swearing, fighting and bumming, I guess the like has not been seen in California since its earliest days. If ever there was a God-forsaken set of reprobates collected in an unprotected town in the state, it is here. Los Angeles, San Bernardino, El Monte, Aurora, Virginia City and San Quentin seem to have colonized all their worthless vagabonds and gambling wretches at Clear Creek. From morning to night and night to morning, it is one ceaseless round of drinking and gambling, only varied by an occasional shooting, scrape or fight. Unfortunately, none of the scoundrels get killed, and a good pummeling detains them from their cards and whiskey but a few days."
Another critic observed that when Tulare County Deputy Sheriff Harding came to the area on one of his official visits, "I think he arrested about one an hour...and then didn't near keep up with the demand."
But peace keepers were on the way. In 1865, probably in response to the rampant hooliganism, a group of Havilah citizens petitioned the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to appoint Ezekiel Ewing Calhoun Justice of the Peace. He was a logical choice as he had been a Tulare County judge at one time. One day in the same year, Father Daniel Francis Dade, Visalia's Catholic priest whose clerical jurisdiction included Havilah, "celebrated mass and preached a sermon to a large and attentive congregation" in the town. He also picked a site for a new Roman Catholic Church and received pledges of $600 for its construction. With their arrival, it seemed as if law, order and civilization would finally come to the wild little town.
The timing seemed right too. The area was continuing to attract more and more gold seekers. The Visalia Weekly Delta newspaper, for example, reported in mid-1865 that "hardly a day passes that some emigrant trains do not pass through town" heading to the Havilah country. The area was so popular that some were even speculating that Clear Creek could soon become one of the richest mining districts in California. And who could dispute it? Havilah was doing a land office business selling Main Street frontage lots for $50 per front foot. By the end of 1865 the town had 147 business buildings including 13 saloons and numerous gambling places, dance halls, and houses of "pleasure."
In 1866, the county of Kern was created from Tulare County's southern section and with that move, the Clear Creek Mining District, including Havilah, was no longer part of Tulare County. Havilah, with about 3,000 residents, was picked as the Kern County seat. With its new status, the Havilah Courier newspaper began publishing, a U.S. Post Office opened, and Calhoun was named the first district attorney of the new county.
But in the late 1860s, things began to change for the boomtown. The earlier discovered veins of gold were no longer producing and people were beginning to leave, many moving to the valley town of Bakersfield. With that migration, by 1870 there were calls for Kern County to move its county seat to Bakersfield. Clearly mining was on the decline, and agriculture was taking over as the industry of choice.
In 1874, Bakersfield became the county seat and Havilah was speeding toward ghost town status. Today, the town has all but disappeared, and is remembered only by a couple of historical markers.