Nestled in the Tehachapi Mountains along State Route 58, there are a couple of little out of the way communities that very few people have stopped at; Keene and Hart Flat. Sure, everyone heading to and from Bakersfield has come across the exit signs along the highway but has anyone wondered how they came to be? During my research of the high desert and different communities, I found some interesting things about Keene and Hart Flat and wanted to share them with you so, here we go.
KEENE – formerly known as WELLS is a census-designated community in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains in the southern extreme of the San Joaquin Valley; Keene is located approximately 8.5 miles northwest of Tehachapi and sits at an elevation of 2,602 feet above sea level. Keene is also known as the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) which is a national farm workers organization that was organized and led by the late Cesar Chavez. Keene is sometimes referred to as “Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz which means Our Lady Queen of Peace.
According to Wikipedia and the U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System Keene was founded in 1876 with the name Wells as a railroad town. The name Wells honored Madison P. Wells who was a local rancher in the area; the town was renamed after James P. Keene who was a financier that settled in the area. The first post office opened in Keene in 1879, closed in 1881 and re-opened in 1885 before the community was founded.
The United Farm Workers (UFW) moved their national headquarters to Keene from Delano and Cesar Chavez spent his last years in Keene where the National Chavez Center was opened on the UFW campus in 2004 by the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation. Mr. Chavez is buried on the UFW headquarters campus which is located on Woodford/Tehachapi Road in Keene. The center consists of a visitors center, memorial garden and the gravesite of the late civil rights leader. A 2-acre monument known as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument was dedicated on Oct. 8, 2012 and sits in the little community of Keene.
HART FLAT – Another little out of the way community (about 200 plus homes) in the Tehachapi Mountains is a place called Hart Flat and sits just off of Exit 137 along State Route 58 where hundreds of people drive by every day. Hart Flat can be traced back to the California Gold Rush Days when in 1870, San Francisco carpenter Angus McCloud Crites homesteaded approximately 160 acres of land on the northern slope of Bear Mountain with his wife and became the first residents of Hart Flat.
“I tell people this was a move to pre-heaven” said Pete Algra who is a retired Kern High School District administrator who moved to the area in 1987 with his wife and fell in love. “We really have some novel things out here that you don’t have or find downtown”.
Man of Kern County’s historical families have also called Hart Flat their home; they include the Wells, the Warners, the McCarthy’s and of course, the Harts (the area was given the name Hart Flat after the Harts).
People who live in Hart Flat take the threat of fire very seriously and help the fire departments efforts to battle any potential fires; residents have built three large dip tanks for the fire department helicopters to quickly refill their tanks. Art also thrives in Hart Flat; jewelry artist Judy Warren moved to Hart Flat from the bay area in Northern California and built her home and studio to blend in with the natural landscape; the result is an organic split-level house which seems to flow with the contour of the land.
Today, Hart Flat offers a retreat from the rat race of city life while still being close enough for an easy commute. Myra Knight who move to Hart Flat with her husband Bob many years ago says, “My husband to sick and tired of the noise and traffic of the city; I’ve got to get out of here but didn’t because he didn’t want to leave all of his friends behind. Hart Flat is peaceful, tranquil and quiet; my favorite thing to do in the morning is sit on the front porch looking at Bear Mountain and watching the birds while I eat breakfast”.
Hart Flat is high enough to get snow every year but not so much that it becomes a problem to area residents.
Randy Reiswig who is a retired Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief says, “There’s very little in the way of government services here and not a single road was put in using government funds; all the roads were put in by the locals. Water is supplied by a mutual water company owned by property owners and comes from a system of wells and springs. The only things the residents rely on from the government is the dumpsters in Keene which we haul our trash to and of course, the Kern County Fire Department”.