There are plenty of opportunities to see large fireworks displays this Fourth of July weekend but only one place to see a 31-cannon salute to our country’s independence.
With firework shows Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Kern County residents can easily make the most of their holiday weekend. The cities of Taft, Shafter and Bakersfield will each host their own evening celebrations, while Tehachapi’s festivities go all day.
About 38 miles south of Bakersfield, though, something a little different will be going on at Fort Tejon State Historic Park. The Old Time Fourth of July 1856 Celebration will take guests back in time to a year when the first Independence Day wasn’t so far in the past — well, 80 years earlier versus 240 years.
“The 4th of July celebration at Fort Tejon is unique in itself,” said Karina Mooradian, president and chairwoman of the the park’s board of directors, in an email. “You are on historic grounds surrounded by nature as it was 160 years ago.”
In lieu of the modernly aerial fireworks show, the park’s celebration will fire a 31-cannon salute for the 31 states that were in the union in 1856, a time when Fort Tejon was an active post for 100 to 350 soldiers between 1854 and 1864, Mooradian said. A state and the date of its statehood is announced with each cannon.
Period-appropriate activities will include a pie-eating contest, tug of war, sack races and egg toss. The celebration, which goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is also a chance to learn about the park from docents and volunteers portraying real civilians and soldiers of the 1st Regiment of the United States Dragoons, Mooradian said.
She said Fort Tejon is a military, social and political center, where during the peak of activity there were more than 35 buildings and 960 civilians living in the town. Though the post was small, its soldiers traveled as far east at the Colorado River, Owens Valley, Los Angeles and even Salt Lake City on occasion, she said.
"The troopers controlled and protected Indians at the nearby Sebastian Indian Reservation, guarded miners, chased bandits and generally offered protection to the region and enforced United States law and authority in the southern part of the state,” she wrote.
To honor this history, the park regularly holds Living History demonstrations and events like last month’s Victorian Tea Party. For at least the last 30 years, it has held the Old Time celebration, Mooradian said, which gets about 200 to 250 visitors.
Mooradian encouraged Bakersfield residents to make the trip to the park for the event and suggested anyone attending bring a lunch and wear sunscreen. Cannons tend to be loud, so earplugs might be a good idea for those with sensitive ears.
The history at the park was almost interrupted in 2012 when it was slated to be closed due to budget cuts. It was saved when it was discovered that the California Department of State Parks had been sitting on hidden assets of about $54 million, Mooradian said, citing an article from The Sacramento Bee.
“Where do we stand now? The park is open and very much active,” she said. “Will it ever get on a closure list again? It’s a state park and we’re at ‘their’ (the state’s) mercy.”
Mooradian said the public must defend state parks should they be put on the chopping block again.
“Fort Tejon is one of Kern County’s hidden gems,” she said. “It is up to each and every one of us to preserve it and its history. We do it through supporting and attending its events, by volunteering and advocating it verbally, in writing and with the current social media.”
To follow the park’s events and activities, find its Facebook page by searching “Fort Tejon Historical Association.”