Pioneer George Chester accomplished several “firsts” for Bakersfield, including acting as its first postmaster and first telegraph operator and opening its first general store. Born in Connecticut in 1835, George and his older brother Julius moved to San Francisco in 1854 to make their fortunes. There they met Horatio Livermore, a businessman who had purchased thousands of acres of land in Kern County. Livermore hired Julius as his agent and the brothers arrived in Bakersfield in 1866 with big ideas and a healthy grubstake. The gregarious, entrepreneurial Julius started a newspaper, the Southern Californian, and helped Colonel Tom Baker survey the town. The quiet, unassuming George opened his general store and became the first postmaster. The store was a success and drew other businesses into what became the city’s first business district.
Chester Street, named for the brothers, became the bustling main street of the new town.
George started many other ventures, including a ferry service, telegraph office, stagecoach and sawmill, but these were unsuccessful. His fortunes ebbed, but he remained committed to building the community, donating land for the first high school and providing the site for the first town hall.
Julius left Bakersfield in 1879, while George lived out his life in the city he loved. Sadly, he lost much of his property due primarily to his generosity and failure to collect debts owed to him. In his later years he lived in a rooming house and worked as a watchman.
Despite his role as an early business leader, George Chester was not a rich man when he died in 1903. He was however, beloved in the community for his pioneer work ethic and commitment to building the city. His obituary called him “the friend of everyone and the enemy of none.”
He rests today in Union Cemetery space 112-14.