Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Hanford Carnegie

I collect Carnegies, and this Romanesque building in Hanford, California, is one of the most beautiful I have come across.   Like so many of the old libraries, this one is now a museum.  I'm just thrilled it still exists.  It has a colorful history, which the citizens of this little town are very proud of.  They have insured its survival by getting it listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings.

Back in 1902, the ladies of the Grand Army Republic Reading Room Association (What a name!) applied for a grant to build this library from the foundation set up by steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.  The foundation agreed to give them $10,000.  Well, these ladies were insulted!  How could they build a library for that paltry amount of money?  Negotiations ensued and they were able to get an additional $2,500.  It is inconceivable in today's economy that the final cost of this architectural beauty was $12,472.90!

If you love old turn-of-the-century buildings, a pit stop in Hanford is worth the effort.   Hanford is located south of Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.  Besides the library, I was astounded by the historic preservation the citizens have undertaken.  My travel buddy and I spent an entire afternoon here walking around the town.  There are maps available by the carousel, but we met several people who were more than eager to help us out.

We found this place quite by accident.   After rolling into town in search of a good restaurant, we ended up at the Superior Dairy Products Company for turkey sandwiches and hot fudge sundaes.  This place is worth a pit stop all by itself!  There were entire families eating here and most of them were indulging in banana splits or big scoops of peach and lemon ice cream.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  While we were eating, we were admiring the brick buildings across the street.   One building led to another.
The Bastille
Old Kings County Courthouse
An Allan Herschel Carousel
I intend to return to this gem of a town.  The next time I plan on staying over night at the charming Irwin Street Inn and take a second stroll through a neighborhood of historical homes.   I want to tour the inside of the Taoist Temple and the Carnegie Museum.  Take in a play.   Bravo, Hanford!  You may be off the beaten track, but you are a traveler's dream.
Taoist Temple

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Old Taoist Temple

As we continued our exploration of California's San Joaquin Valley, we stopped at the small historic town of  Hanford.  The western expansion of the railroads in the late 1800's created many new towns in California.  The "Goshen to the Ocean", the produce-hauling train was the first to pass through here.  Passenger trains followed.  But who built these long swaths of tracks that connected the two coasts?  Chinese immigrants.

They arrived here in 1877.  The work was hard and the environment, harsh.  Chinese ghettos popped up over night.  The segregation was embraced by the men who found themselves in unfamiliar and hostile territory.  In these densely packed towns within towns, mah jong games were played, herbal tea was drunk and offerings could be made to departed ancestors and to the eight immortals.  By day they toiled in the sun, but at night they retreated to a safer and more friendly world.

Many of these Chinatowns have been long destroyed, mostly by fires, but the one in Hanford is still remarkably intact.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has declared that "Hanford's China Alley is one of California's best examples of rural Chinatowns, reflecting the history of the local Chinese American community over the course of more than a century."

The Taoist Temple is available for tours by appointment only.  Call (559)582-4508 to arrange one.  However, the first Saturday of every month, the museum is open to the public from noon until 6 p.m.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mimi Visits the Hindsmans

The Hindsman's House
The Hindsman's General Store

Zebedee and Sarah Hindsman were active citizens of Allensworth, a town founded by African Americans in the San Joaquin Valley of California in 1909.  They owned the largest and the longest standing business in the community, a popular general store filled with food, clothing and specialty items like candy and fruit.  There was a well-worn path between the store and their cute little house.  Yes, they were store-owners, but Mr. Hindsman was also a Justice of the Peace, an insurance agent, a realtor and a notary public.  Mrs. Hindsman took over the library when the county no longer supported it.  They loved this town and tried their hardest to keep it going even after Colonel Allensworth passed away in 1914.

I am happy the State of California has made Allensworth into a state historic park.  The life story of the Hindsmans and other members of this hard-working community is truly inspiring.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

Home of Colonel Allensworth
General Store
First Baptist Church
Although I seek magical moments whenever I travel, sometimes the road takes me down a more reflective path.  As we drove down the vast San Joaquin Valley in California, I noticed a spot on the map:  Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.  "That might be a nice place to stop for a picnic," I suggested, not really having a clue what the park was all about.

We rolled into a ghost town.  The gates were closed, but the buildings, scattered throughout a field of scorched grass, were freshly painted, quaint, and oh, so inviting.  The sign at the gate informed us the park was closed Monday through Wednesday (and it was Tuesday) but that we could park outside and walk.  Paying the fee was based on the honor system.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but after a picnic of iced tea and turkey sandwiches, we set out to find out what this enticing little park was all about.   We ended up spending the entire afternoon here, stunned at the historic significance of the place and saddened by how cruel and unjust history can be.

Allen Allensworth was born into slavery in 1842.  He fled Kentucky twenty years later in order to join the Union Army and after the Civil War, life changed for the better.  He married an educated woman who was a school teacher and gifted musician, and he earned a doctorate in theology.  He re-entered the army as a chaplain and retired in 1906 as a lieutenant colonel--the first African American to do so.

After retirement, he toured the country promoting the philosophy of Booker T. Washington--that men like him could put the humiliation of slavery behind and grow to realize their full potential as human beings.  He met other like-minded men and women and together, they decided to purchase 800 acres along the Santa Fe rail line and build a town in the San Joaquin Valley.  Allensworth was to be California's first town to be founded and governed solely by African Americans.  The dream of living a dignified, hard working life, free of discrimination had been realized.  The year was 1909. 

People from all over the country heard about this remarkable town and found their way to California.  They built houses, stores, schools and churches.  Education was a high priority.  Allensworth became California's first African American school district.  A library was started and Tulare County supplied it with 50 books a month.  

But racial discrimination found them, even in this isolated spot, in the middle of nowhere.  Other communities were popping up.  In 1914, the Santa Fe Railroad moved its depot from Allensworth to Alpaugh, a town that had been promoted heavily in the Los Angeles newspapers.  "All Aboard for Alpaugh", the headlines read where "Colonists will find a profitable market at home for all their produce."  White colonists, not black ones.

Allensworth's decline began.  Although the town survived into the 1960's, a failing water supply and continual droughts forced the few remaining inhabitants to seek work elsewhere.  By 1973, it was no longer even on the map.

Today, nearly 70,000 visitors come to pay their respects to these incredible pioneers.  The buildings have been restored and are filled with antiques.  There are signs in front of each building, documenting their stories.  They are inspiring, yes, but also serve as a reminder that American History is tarnished.  Racial discrimination is an ugly fact.  All of us must work together to stop it.