The city of Arvin, tucked at the foot of Bear Mountain southeast of Bakersfield that bills itself as "the garden in the sun," indeed owes its livelihood to the farming of agricultural commodities, from carrots and cotton to grapes and grain. It's also immortalized in migrant history due to the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and John Steinbeck's classic "The Grapes of Wrath."
The city is named after beloved store keeper George Arvin Richardson, the son of one of its original settlers, George Andrew Richardson. The family was originally from Kentucky, where the younger Richardson was born in 1883. The area was the first valley point in the Southern San Joaquin visited by Father Francisco Garces in 1776, as he sought a new route from Mexico through California.
Wheat farmers settled a colony in the 1880s. But it was Richardson's family, along with several others from San Bernardino, who settled the Foothill Citrus Farms Company colony in 1907, in this windswept pastoral region, and planted 10 acres of fruit trees. The colony, however, was beset with problems, including silting of its well, and frozen citrus trees.
Seven years later, the town was surveyed and Birdie Heard petitioned for the addition of a post office. Heard, the first postmistress, opened the office in the living room of her house, but later moved it to the general store owned by the Staples family. That in-store postal branch doubled as the area's first unofficial library.
Among the proposed names Heard submitted with the petition -- Bear Mountain, Walnut and Arvin. Postal officials chose Arvin as it was the only suggestion not already in use in California at that time. Ironically, according to descendants, it was Arvin's brother, Carl Richardson, who established the community.
Arvin worked in the fields and delivered mail in his pickup truck before opening the general store. He and wife Kitty had two daughters, Elizabeth and Jane, and lived in an apartment above the store. Relatives recall Arvin as a jokester with a wonderful personality. He died in 1951 at the age of 67.
Over the years, major growers and produce packers, like the DiGiorgios and Kovaceviches, made the area their headquarters.
And Arvin's history in oil discovery has been equally rich. The Mountain View Oil Field, which lies beneath the town and much of the surrounding area, was discovered in 1933, and was developed extensively. Many oil wells still stand amid fields of crops, with some slant-drilled to reach formations directly underneath inhabited areas.
In 1937, the first federally operated farm labor camp opened. Two years later, The Arvin Tiller began publication, and in 1949, Arvin High School was built. Arvin was incorporated in 1960, and has survived notable natural disasters, including the earthquake of July 21, 1952 -- which nearly destroyed the town -- and an infamous December 1977 massive dust storm.
Descendants of Arvin Richardson still live in the community, who also named Richardson Drive and the Richardson Acres development after the influential family.
-- Lisa Kimble