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Maricopa, Kern County, CA






Gary B. Speck




MARICOPA, California is the scrawny remains of what was once an oil boom town of several thousand people.  It is located at the junction of SH 33/166, 29 miles southwest of Bakersfield, in the far southwestern corner of Kern County, in the far southwestern corner of California’s great Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, nestled up against the stark, barren, bumpy eastern slope of the Temblor Range, the easternmost of the multiple mountain ranges that make up the Coast Ranges.  Granted, this old incorporated city is getting a bit ragged and bedraggled, and generally sits outside the parameters of what I usually consider for inclusion on this website.  But there are some extenuating circumstances.  By looking at population figures at least from 1930 until now, one would generally not include it.  SO, before all you Maricopians (Maricopites?) get all huffy and declare your town isn’t a ghost town, remember the parameters used to determine inclusion in this website and my files.  I sure don’t know where the 1000 or so residents live, but cruising down SH 33/California Street (the main street) is like driving back in a time capsule to a time before people!  The long block is lined with buildings, most of which sit unused, especially on the east side of the street.  The 2000 census claimed there were 404 households living in the town’s 460 residences, which leaves an occupancy rate of 88%, or for those who see the glass half-empty, a vacancy rate of 12%.  Not too bad.  Actually that is equivalent to many much larger cities. We are still awaiting the 2010 census figures, which should be released at any time.  When they come out, I will add those new stats.  There is an active church and two active schools – Maricopa Elementary School and Maricopa High School. 


OIL is what made this town, and oil is what keeps it alive.  It sits up against the Midway-Sunset Field, the third largest oil field in the United States.  And those pumps are a pumpin’!  The 30 square mile field contains around 11,500 active wells!  The oil field was discovered in 1894 and by the end of 2006 had produced over 3 billion barrels of oil, with better than 500 million still in reserve.  Because it was an oil boom town, it was an early 20th century boom - and late 20th Century nearly bust town.  The Post Office was established in 1901 and is still active in 2011 (93252).  When the oil boom began, Maricopa grew quickly, added numerous businesses, including a fire department in 1910 and a hospital in April 1911.   It incorporated in July 1911 and in 1914 it had 2500 people.  The good times in this full-on oil boomtown didn’t last and by 1930, the population had faded to 680.  Since then it has see-sawed up and down, generally hovering within a couple hundred of 1000 people.


The crashing economy of the mid-1990s and again in the mid-2000s has taken its toll.  In 1998, the city gave up its police department, contracting with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department for services until 2006.  That year the Maricopa Police Department was re-established.  In August of 2010, the Maricopa Police Department consisted of only two paid employees – the Police Chief and a sergeant.  All other officers and personnel are unpaid volunteers.  Kern County Fire Station #22 is located in Maricopa, which indicates that the county now provides fire services for the city.  The station was built in 1989.  California Street is lined with a neat row of unused and reused buildings replete with a covered sidewalk.  An operating bar, a “private club and a rock shop still appear to be operating.  At the time of my visit on a late Saturday afternoon, only the bar was open.  Across the street is the white-painted, clapboard First Congregational Church, which is still operating.  Anchoring the strip of buildings along the east side of the main street on the north is an abandoned brick building with four store fronts, while on the south end is a large brick building on the corner across from the little post office.  Just to the east of it are two more abandoned stores on the north side and a gap-toothed cluster of four old stores the south side of Klipstein Street.  Along California Street, faded signs still line the fascias.  Above the Maricopa Quilt Company is the old Maricopa Trading Company and the Meat Market sign.  Above Sandi’s Jewels and Gems Rock Shop is an old Arden Ice Cream sign.


Even though Maricopa may NOT fit into a popularly conceived notion of what a traditional ghost town is, the mere fact that its population is less than 50% of what it was during the boom period and its main street is lined with empty or seldom-used buildings places it on this roster.  Yes it is a viable city.  Yes it still provides its citizens with the basic services a city provides.  BUT it is a true ghost of the once roaring oil town it was a century ago in the 1910s. Yet, no matter what you call it, Maricopa is a fascinating place to visit and enjoy what life is truly like in the “Past Lane.”




          1914 - 2500

          1930 – 1071

          1960 -  680

          1970 -  740

          1980   946

          1990 – 1193

          2000 – 1111

          2009 – 1149 (Census Bureau est. for July 1, 2009)

          2010 - 1154


This was our Ghost Town of the Month for March 2011.





·       SW corner Sec 1, SE Corner Sec 2, NE corner Sec 11, NW Corner Sec 12, T11N, R24W, San Bernardino Baseline & Meridian

·       Latitude: 35.0588580 / 35° 03’ 32” N

·       Longitude: -119.4009509 / 119° 24’ 03” W





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FIRST POSTED:  March 01, 2011

LAST UPDATED: April 12, 2011




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