Founded in 1921 by Stephen A. Ragsdale, an itinerant preacher and cotton farmer, this now desolate and mostly-abandoned place has quite an interesting history. It was once, for instance, a World War II army training center and the local cafe a hangout for Maj. General George Patton. And, oddly enough, this tiny town is also credited as being the birthplace of Kaiser-Permanente, the largest managed health-care system in the world. Very strange!
That Desert Center ever existed at all, however, was the result of serendipity. Originally from Arkansas, Ragsdale was driving to Los Angeles on business in 1915 when his car broke down in a remote area of the desert. He would later return with his family and establish businesses that catered to motorists, offering travelers a much-needed place to stop for food, gas and car-repair services.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the remote location (he provided the only services for 50 miles in each direction) Ragsdale did very well. When it was announced in 1921 that the sand road running through Desert Center would be replaced by a modern highway, Ragsdale essentially rebuilt the town, adding a new cafe with an attached gas station and service garage, a market, a post office, and an enclave of cabins for travelers who wanted to spend the night (one of which appears in today’s photo). Ninety-three years later, the only one of those businesses still in operation is the post office.
Despite his vision and success, Ragland would eventually, after a scandal involving a woman other than his wife, leave Desert Center in disgrace. His son Stanley purchased the town from him and ended up running it for decades.
I’ve merely touched on a few of the highlights of this town’s colorful history. For more info on Stephen Ragsdale and Desert Center click here.