Old Kernville, aka Whiskey Flat

Main Street in Old Kernville in the 1800s.

By Barbara Hinkey

Whiskey Flat began as a place for those seeking their fortunes in the Big Blue Gold Mine in the Southern Sierra Nevada on the Kern River in 1860. Alcohol was not allowed at the mine site, so an industrious fellow threw a plank across a couple of whiskey barrels down on the flat south of the mine and named it Whiskey Flat.

A few years later, in 1864, the name was changed by the people of the growing town to the less wild-and-woolly name of Kernville. It was named after the artist Edward M. Kern, who had accompanied Capt. Joseph Walker in the expedition in 1843. Families were moving in and it was no longer fitting to have the name associated with “demon rum,” as the ladies of the town called it.
Old Kernville now lies at the bottom of the Isabella Reservoir that was created by a dam on the Kern River. The reservoir was built between 1948 and 1953, leaving nothing of the once-thriving community behind.
Most of the residents of the Kern Valley were in shock when they were told their homes were in the way of a new lake, and they had to find new homes and make new roots.

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