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Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Mar 17, 2013
Darryl Manzer

Darryl Manzer

Everyone tells a story in a different way. Remember the story about the blind men who described an elephant as a tree (leg) or a rope (tail) or a snake (trunk)? That seems to be how folks tell the history of a people or a place.

Growing up, I was told (in class at Castaic Elementary School) that John C. Fremont, the “Great Pathfinder,” found the pass between our valley and the San Fernando Valley. Then we called it “Fremont Pass.” It was the “gospel truth.” Of course now we know he didn’t, but some folks still call it that. These days we call it “Beale’s Cut.”

Does anyone know about Weldon Pass? Or the Five Mile or Seven Mile grades on the road to Gorman? Anyone?

In the early 1960s, Art Perkins wrote a story about Pico Canyon and illustrated it with a very young “me” holding a length of wooden sucker-rod in front of the building we called the “Firehouse” at Mentryville.  Another shows me leaning out of the window of the old foreman’s shack above the CSO No. 4 well. A boulder made that little building into splinters when the new road was made up the CSO Hill. I don’t know why we called it the “Firehouse” and I’m not sure that I was in a “foreman’s shack,” but that is what my source and perspective called those things. And it must be true; it was printed in the newspaper.

Darryl with a sucker rod at the firehouse in Pico Canyon, 1961-62. Click image to enlarge and see more.

Darryl with a sucker rod at the firehouse in Pico Canyon, 1961-62. Click image to enlarge and see more.

My sources and my perspectives of history at Pico were different than residents before and after me. This makes my Pico story a little “different” for residents who came before and after me. It doesn’t make their story wrong or right, but rather just different from mine.

And when exactly did the Pico Cottage become haunted? I heard that today again in the form of the usual question: “I was told this place is haunted. You lived here, so did you ever see any ghosts?” After I groan, I say, “No. We never heard it was haunted and didn’t see any ghosts.” Ever.

A generation or two later, SCVi Charter School student Evan Decker spearheads a weekend cleanup project at Mentryville's Felton School.

A couple of generations later, SCVi Charter School student Evan Decker spearheads a weekend cleanup project at Mentryville’s Felton School. Photo courtesy of Amber Raskin.

Today I went to Pico Canyon and Felton School, to open it for cleaning and clearing of brush. Should complete the job tomorrow. SCVi Charter School is doing the work, and those kids are learning first-hand about our history. Learning with a hoe and rakes and other weed-clearing tools. Inside it was brooms and mops and all of that good stuff.

They learned to take care of a school just like the kids who attended classes there. A couple of them even got a lesson in “post hole digger.” My personal least favorite of all tools.

So what about the story of Mentryville? Sure, we know dates and times and some of the people, but do we really know the whole story? I tend to think we don’t know much at all.

Sure, we know a lot, and much of it conflicts with what others know.  Sources and perspectives. That is why we, each of us who lived there, all have a different “history” of something we know for sure.

Let’s take the history of Pico Cottage – er, The Big House. Some state it was built in 1889 and others say 1898. A map on file at Huntington Library from 1890 or 1891 does not show the house or the barn. It must have existed by 1893, because a picture of Mr. Mentry sitting on the porch is dated 1893. But is that the date?

Charles Alexander Mentry on the porch of his Pico Cottage in 1893, according to a hand-written date on the print.

Charles Alexander Mentry on the porch of his Pico Cottage in 1893, according to a hand-written date on the print.

When I lived in Pico Canyon, all of the old residents I met lived there between 1885 and 1920. They were old and told wonderful tales of watering trees and hunting skunks and such. I never heard them call the place “Mentryville.”  They called the house “Pico Cottage.”  No talk of “Mentryville” or “Big House” from them. They called the whole place, “Pico Field.”

Talking with residents from a later time, the names seemed to morph into “Big House” and “Mentryville.” All from a different source and perspective.

I remember reading that Pico’s boarding house was demolished in 1976. News to me. I never saw the place from the time I first went to Pico Canyon with my father, around 1958, until I read that date. Must be true, though, since it was printed in an article about Pico/Mentryville.

I did see some of the leftover lumber from it. You can, too. It is in the pole barn next to the barn at the gate. We used that lumber to build it.

I’m still laughing at the preservation of that “historical” structure near the barn. If it was a vehicle, it would now be able to be registered as a “Historical Vehicle.”  Once again, 1964 was the “historical” year it was built. Now that fact gives me a whole new perspective on ME.

Remains of the jackline plant in the late 1950s or early 1950s. Click image for more.

Remains of the jackline plant in the late 1950s or early 1950s. Click image for more.

So much has been lost to “progress.” I’d love to go to the top of PCO Hill and dig for the old jackline plant. [UPDATE: Can’t be done. Here’s why.] I watched it get buried when Standard Oil was making a place to re-drill an old well. I wonder if it has ever been uncovered, or if it is still under a few feet of dirt. There should be the big eccentric wheels and the gearing that went with them.

There was also one huge steam engine. What happened to it? I’ll bet it is still there. [UPDATE: It’s not.] It went under that dirt about 1965. Not many people remember it there. At least one former resident has told me it never existed. Sorry – my source was me, and my perspective was from a point nearby as the bulldozer pushed dirt over that piece of history. Sad. So very sad.

When you live in a place so rich in history, you don’t need to embellish it with what you’d like it to have been. The truth is so rich … and twisted. A twisted road to what is the real truth about the times, people and places.

Did the kids of the “Pico Field” really hoist their father’s whiskey jugs up the flagpole during dances at the community hall? Great story. I’ve told it myself many times. True? I’m sure it is. How many times did the kids do that? It only takes one time for an action to become the stuff of legend.

I’m sure all of the Pico workers went to Newhall to have a beer and listen to the piano player. I’m sure they were fine, upstanding men. I’m sure they treated the ladies who worked in those places with the upmost respect. It must be true. Why, even Mr. Mentry and Judge Powell married girls who worked in the saloon Judge Powell’s brother Mike owned. Must have been a great piano player.

A ranger who was assigned to Pico recently while a film was being made told me the eucalyptus trees were planted in the 1920s or so.  His source told him that. He couldn’t name the source. I met the gentleman who watered those trees in the 1890s. We have pictures of the whole town from about 1900 and 1920 that show those trees. The trees are gone now, save for one up near the wells or the “works.”

I would argue forever the ranger about that, but it may never change the fact that my sources and perspectives were different from his. Was he wrong? I think so, but maybe he wasn’t. Clearly my perspective has changed about such matters. And that changes my thoughts of the history of the “Pico Field” or “Mentryville” or “Pico Cottage” or “The Big House” or …

My sources and my perspectives can shift and bend and twist a little more. I’m now willing to admit that the house might not have been built in 1889, as we all have been told. But it was close to that year. And what if that map in the Huntington Library is wrong? What if they just didn’t put it on the map? Maybe the source they used told them not to put it there. That could change the perspective. That could twist our history just a little bit.

I know it has mine.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

Felton School: Cleanup in progress.

Felton School: Cleanup in progress.

SCVi Charter School instructor Luke Salzarulo and student Evan Decker take a quick break from sprucing up the Felton School at Mentryville this weekend.

SCVi Charter School instructor Luke Salzarulo and student Evan Decker take a quick break from sprucing up the Felton School at Mentryville this weekend.

 

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