Allensworth is a historic California town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. In the southern San Joaquin Valley, a collection of restored and reconstructed building marks the location of the historic town now known as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. A schoolhouse, a Baptist church, businesses, homes, a hotel, a library, and various other structures symbolize the rebirth of Colonel Allen Allensworth’s dream of an independent, democratic town where African Americans could live in control of their own destiny.
ALLEN ALLENSWORTH – A VISIONARY
Colonel Allen Allensworth – Army chaplain, educator, orator, and town founder – was born into slavery in Louisville, Kentucky on April 7, 1842. Intelligent and eager for knowledge, he was encouraged by his mother to learn to read and write. At 12 years old he was sent away for violating the law that prohibited the education of slaves. In 1862, he fled his enslavement to join the Union Army Forces and was later honorably discharged as a chief petty officer from the U.S. Navy.
After the Civil War, Allensworth achieved the formal education he had been denied. In 1877, he married Josephine Leavell, a schoolteacher, music teacher and gifted musician, and they raised two daughters. In 1886, with a doctorate in theology, Allensworth became a chaplain to the 24th Infantry, one of the Army’s four African American regiments also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1906 – the first African American to attain such a high rank.
THE TOWN OF ALLENSWORTH
Retirement found the Colonel lecturing throughout the eastern and mid-western states promoting Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of African American self-reliance. They both firmly believed that through education and hard work African Americans could rise above the effects of slavery, attain greater social stature, and more fully realize their potential as a people.
The Allensworths settled in Los Angeles, and in 1906 Colonel Allensworth met Professor William Payne, an educator whose family had recently moved to Pasadena. With a mutual desire to live in an environment where African Americans could live free from discrimination, they merged their values with those of other pioneers of like mind to establish an independent, self-sufficient colony. They formed the California Colony and Home Promoting Association in 1908 and purchased 800 acres along the Santa Fe rail line from the Pacific Farming Company, at a railway stop called Solita. In 1909, the colony of Allensworth began to rise from the flat countryside. The name and reputation of Colonel Allensworth inspired African Americans who were looking for a better life. People from all over the country, including many who settled in California, came to populate the town.
By 1910, residents had built a small school. Two years later, Allensworth became California’s first African American school district, and in 1914 the town became a judicial district. When rapid growth necessitated the construction of a larger two-room school, Josephine Allensworth turned the former school building into the Mary Dickinson Memorial Library in honor of her mother.
Soon after the settlement began, it became obvious that water would be a problem. In 1913, residents formed the Allensworth Rural Water Company and took control of the water system from the Pacific Farming Company. Unable to raise the funds necessary to drill deeper wells or improve their existing system, the town of Allensworth was seriously impacted by a lowered water table by 1914.
1914 was a difficult year for the town. When the Santa Fe Railroad moved its rail stop from Allensworth to Alpaugh that July, much of Allensworth’s economic base was lost. On September 15, 1914, the town suffered its most significant setback – the tragic death of their inspirational leader. Colonel Allenworth was in Monrovia, California preparing to preach at a small church. As he crossed a street, he was struck by two men on a motorcycle. After the Colonel’s death, the struggle to survive bacame more difficult. Drought, poor crop yields and a failing water supply became hopeless obstacles. When an economic slump followed World War I, residents left in search of a better living. The town’s decline gathered momentum. In the 1960s, after naturally occurring arsenic was found in the water, Allensworth was scheduled for demolition. By 1973, it no longer appeared on the California map.
A TOWN REVIVED
However, the dream of Colonel Allensworth was not dead. The spark has been rekindled by a group of dedicated individuals – including some former residents – who continue to advocate for the growth and development of this vital cultural resource.
COLONEL ALLENSWORTH STATE HISTORIC PARK
In 1974, the California Department of Parks and Recreation purchased land within the historic townsite of Allensworth, and it became Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Today, a collection of historic, restored, and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings—including the Allensworth’s house, Allensworth School, Baptist church, and library—showcase the dreams of these visionary pioneers.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park is on the ancestral lands of the Yokuts, which today includes the federally recognized Tachi Yokut Tribe and Tule River Indian Tribe. Allensworth is within the traditional territory of the Wowol, the area of the beaver. Chawlown was a Wowol villlage near present-day Allensworth that moved with the tides of Pa’a’shu, later called Tulare Lake. Pa’a’shu is the center of the Yokuts’ world and their creation place, despite its destruction. After the invasion, many of the Wowol arrived at the Santa Rosa Rancheria, which belongs to the Tachi Yokut Tribe.
CONTACT THE PARK
Colonel Allensworth SHP
4011 Grant Dr.
Earlimart CA 93219
Our email address is Allensworth@parks.ca.gov.