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Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
June 22
1972 - Vasquez Rocks added to National Register of Historic Places [list]
Vasquez Rocks

Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Dec 28, 2014

darrylmanzer_blacktieI’ve been spending a right good amount of time over at Heritage Junction the past couple of weeks. Well, I should. I’m working there now. That bunch of SCV Historical Society nuts hired me. Just what were they thinking?

For those of you who are wondering what and where Heritage Junction is, all you need to do is drive to Newhall and turn in to William S. Hart Park. You’ll see a big sign that has an arrow to the Historical Society and Heritage Junction. You can’t hardly miss it if you’re on Newhall Avenue headed north just before you cross the tracks and go into Newhall. You can see the old Saugus Train Station on your left. There is also a big, old steam locomotive. Bring the kids and let them pull the rope to ring the bell.

I’ve found out a few things since I started working there. First and foremost is that I really don’t know the history of my home valley of Santa Clarita. Things like the bell that used to be atop the Felton School in Mentryville. It was there for about eight years before the 1893 earthquake that brought it down. I actually saw a picture of it before that quake. (I wasn’t born yet, for the record.)

So four of us were sitting in my office in the train depot trying to figure out where that bell went. Then it was the Saugus School bell, and someone heard about someone who said there was a bell in a closet in the house in Mentryville and … you get the picture. So now we’re on this quest to find the bell or bells.

History is fun. How many of you learned about the “Oak of the Golden Dream” in our local schools? You know that story. Francisco Lopez was taking a nap under this huge oak tree and had a dream about gold. When he awoke from his nap he pulled up a wild onion and saw gold flakes in the roots. It was in 1842, long before the gold discovery up a little north of what we call Sacramento now.

Guess what? The dream story seems to have first appeared in the early 1930s. Wild onions and just about anything else will not grow under an oak tree. If there were a lot of gold under that tree, folks would have dug for the gold all around it and eventually removed the tree to get at the gold around the roots.

It was a wonderful story. Still is a wonderful story. But it is a story, not a fact.

When the big gold discovery in northern California happened, the word got out from the onetime state capital city of Benicia. Nice little town to visit. Antique stores and some great places to eat. It also has the first capitol building. Walk down the main street toward the river, and there is a sign that points to the place where the ship was that got out the news of gold. Benicia was not a capital then. California wasn’t a state.

History is funny that way. It changes and can get even more interesting when you find out the truth. Usually the truth is more interesting and exciting.

Camels from Egypt and Syria hauled supplies across the American Southwest in the 1850s. After the short-lived experiment ended at the start of the Civil War, some of the beasts were used as pack animals on the road between L.A. and Fort Tejon, cutting through the SCV.

Camels from Egypt and Syria hauled supplies across the American Southwest in the 1850s. After the short-lived experiment ended at the start of the Civil War, some of the beasts were used as pack animals on the road between L.A. and Fort Tejon, cutting through the SCV.

Like, did you know there was a “range war” between a couple of ranchers up in the Castaic area? How about the Battle of Palmdale in the 1950s? We also had camels from the U.S. Army Camel Corps come through our little valley. They stayed for a while up at Fort Tejon near Lebec.

We have the world’s longest operating oil well, 1876 to 1990, up in Pico Canyon in the ghost town of Mentryville. Did you even know we had a town up there?

For those of you who live south of Lyons in Newhall and near the freeway, know that at one time, the area was a prohibitionist dream. The guy even ran for president on the Prohibition Party ticket. He lost. I think the folks over at the Derrick Saloon voted against him. Just to let you know, the Derrick has been in operation for a long, long time, too. It is called the VU today. Prohibition in the SCV was a decided failure.

The SCV had and has ranches, mines, oil wells, gas wells, farming and manufacturing. The first rail link between northern and southern California was completed not far from the roads up Sand Canyon. A place called Lang Station.

The second-largest civil engineering failure in the history of all the U.S.A. happened in 1928 when the St. Francis Dam failed and a wall of water swept to the sea about 54 miles away. That dam was up San Francisquito Canyon. Around 450 folks died that night. Some were never found. Today the SCV Historical Society is working to get that event and the site of the dam declared a national memorial.

Every day I’m at Heritage Junction, at least one person walks up and asks about some little bit of history of our valley. Many didn’t have a clue about the place. They ask all kinds of questions, and maybe a few can come back and learn more.

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society could do a lot more if it had more members. It also has a need for donations. We always take money but would love a huge endowment. There are roofs to replace, buildings to repair and make safe. The train engine needs paint, and if you can’t help with any more than just being a member, that is great, too. We’ve a huge room filled with pictures and memorabilia that has to be catalogued and made ready for display. Come learn the history of your valley and help get our collection a little more organized. Hey, you can even go on a ghost hunt.

We’ve got other events too. Like next weekend there is our monthly Marketplace where you can buy craft and manufactured items. Some really cool stuff to buy, and maybe someday what you buy will become part of the collection in our museum. The market opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see all y’all there.

Come on over and see our history and maybe create a little of your own. Wouldn’t it be great to have your great grandkids see what you did in the old days of 2014?

You know it would.

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. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed [here]. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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