For me, the history of Bakersfield and my own family history are inextricably tied together. My great-grandfather, Elmore Calderwood, came here with a degree in agriculture from the University of Vermont in 1897, eager to try his hand at farming this warm, sunny land.
By 1900, when the population of Bakersfield was a mere 4,500, he was living in a boarding house on F Street. Here he would meet my great-grandmother, Katie Hasch, a recent immigrant from Germany who worked as the house cook. They married in 1902 and bought land south of town in the Greenfield area, located off South Union and Hosking Avenue. There is a street that today bears their name — Calderwood Lane — in the area where their farm once stood.
My grandma, Leona Calderwood, and her three siblings, Florence, Arnold and Robert, grew up on this farm. My entire childhood was filled with stories of her days there — the long walks to and from Greenfield school and later Kern County Union High School (now BHS), the weekly horse and buggy rides downtown to Hochheimer’s General Store (later Brock’s downtown), along with the many toils and amusements of living on a farm, from predawn cow milking and the annual Thanksgiving turkey kill to Saturday community picnics with food, three-legged races and games for the kids.
One story that especially stands out is the one of the fire that destroyed the family home in 1913 when she was 7. It was early morning and her father had been making candy when the cookstove caught fire. As she woke to the horrible sight of flames, he told her to run for help. She had to run more than a mile to get to the nearest house. She described the way the wet earth felt under her stockinged feet as she ran through the predawn fields.
Despite all efforts, they couldn’t save the house, but neighbors from miles around came out to help build a temporary cabin for them to live in until a new house could be built. They worked from sun up to sun down, and by nightfall the family had a place to rest their heads.
Neighbors brought them clothes and furniture and children even gave up their toys so she and her brothers and sister would have something to play with. The family had lost everything but what my grandma remembered most wasn’t the sadness or the tears, but the busy, hardworking sound of hammers on wood, the excited chatter of children playing and the flurry of women preparing food and drink for all the workers who had assembled to help.
Fire may have destroyed the house, but thanks to the selfless generosity and hard work of their neighbors, the family home remained. This is the legacy of this place: a warmth of community like no other. The Calderwoods’ new house was the site of generations of family memories, as well as a showpiece of craftsmanship for decades. It still stands, though no longer in my family — it was bought and moved in the 1980s to a location in south Bakersfield.
Like my grandma, I, too, feel the earth of this place under me, a deep and lasting connection to Bakersfield I wear proudly and would never want to lose. ￼
Anna O’Neil Wilder is an English teacher at Centennial High School and a proud multigenerational Bakersfield native. The views expressed are her own.