The day after the golden spike was driven at Lang Station in Soledad Canyon, Newhall Depot opened its doors for business. The depot was not located at the present townsite, but rather at the modern-day junction of Bouquet Canyon Road and Magic Mountain Parkway.
Presiding over this small, box-like structure was the twenty-nine year old native of Genesse County, New York, John T. Gifford.
Gifford was married to an English woman, Sarah Beckworth. Having been a crew chief on the San Fernando Tunnel project, and perhaps because of the colorful telegraph messages he sent from Lyon's Station, he was appointed Southern Pacific's first agent at Newhall. It was a mixed blessing, as quarters were not provided and there was no town. John and Sarah set up housekeeping in a box car parked on a siding.
The town of Newhall was laid out on October 13, 1876 by Western Development, a real estate subsidiary of Southern Pacific. The first lot was sold to George Campton, who built a general store that doubled as a post office, with Campton as postmaster. This was followed by the Campton residence, Mrs. Harper's four-room boarding house with dining area, and Wilson's Saloon.
Earliest known photo of downtown Newhall, ca. 1879 | Click image to enlarge
Unfortunately, this was a time of drought. The levels of the wells had dropped dramatically. Not only people, but great steam engines needed the precious liquid, so on January 15, 1878, the decision was made to relocate the depot and town two miles southward to Sixth Street and Railroad Avenue. The move was completed and everyone reestablished by February 16.
Later that year Henry Mayo Newhall began construction of his Southern Hotel at what is now San Fernando Road and Market Street. The two-story Victorian building became "one of the finest and best-appointed establishments outside of San Francisco," according to one guest.
A boardwalk led patrons from the much-expanded depot through formal gardens, past a gushing water fountain of classical design, to the wide veranda. Inside were found a shop, a well-furnished reading room, a restaurant and D.W. Boynton's "Genteel Bar." Panelled bedrooms were located upstairs. Here a gentle traveler could rest and refresh himself while awaiting the next stage to Ventura or Santa Barbara.
John and Sarah Gifford finally got a real home of their own after laying out $125 for two city lots. They erected a board-and-batten bungalow, the remains of which are now located under the parking lot of the Anawalt Lumber Company.
By 1882, Henry Mayo could look with some pride at "his" little town. Businesses were sprawling up and down Railroad Avenue, residences were being built, the trains arrived on time, and there was considerable shipping from local ranches, farms and mines.
In March of that year, upon arriving at his Rancho San Francisco, Newhall called for a horse to be saddled and took off for a leisurely canter across the rolling, oak-studded hills. Somewhere along the way the animal stumbled, pitching its rider headlong into the spring grass.
Newhall was taken to his home in San Francisco, where he died on March 13 at the age of fifty-six. Rather than quibble over the six California ranches and other holdings, the widow and five sons banded together and incorporated The Newhall Land and Farming Company on June 1, 1883. The eldest son, Henry Gregory, then just thirty years old, took over active management of Rancho San Francisco, which would ultimately come to be known as the Newhall Ranch.