January-February 2006 Year 12, Number 1.
In Newhall, History Is All Around You.
By DARRYL MANZER
"I think most people assume that America was founded by the Pilgrim Fathers. That's the big myth which England has grown up with."
Tom Wareham, curator of collections at London's Museum in Docklands.
Most people in England and America, too think of the Pilgrims as the beginning of America. Sitting here in Virginia as we approach the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 1607, I am reminded that what I was taught in the schools of the Santa Clarita Valley wasn't always accurate.
By the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the colony in Virginia had already celebrated the first Thanksgiving. And yes, the local natives came to that first celebration, too. Funny how that was never mentioned during my school years at Castaic Union Elementary, Peachland Avenue Elementary, Placerita Junior High or Hart High School.
Local history wasn't fully taught, either. I knew nothing of the local American Indian population until I was at least 40 years old. And of the Spanish and Mexican history of California, little was mentioned other than the twenty-one missions and the Gold Rush of 1849.
What the heck, the mascot for Placerita Junior High was a miner. The caricature wasn't of a Mexican-looking miner as we had in this valley throughout the 1840s, but rather an all-Anglo-looking miner, complete with the turned-up hat brim that we see in old movies of the later Gold Rush in California.
Even living in Mentryville didn't teach me the name of the place until I had been there for two or three years. It was just "Pico Canyon" to us who lived there.
There are many little and big bits of history in Newhall and the Santa Clarita Valley, the railroad tunnel to the San Fernando Valley being one. At one time, it was the longest tunnel in the world.
Of course, there is also Mentryville, with the first commercially produced oil in the state, and Beale's Cut and the Oak of the Golden Dream, site of the first discovery of gold in California. Don't forget the home of actor William S. Hart. And what about the first oil refinery in California? Yep, it's in Newhall, too.
Recently added are the Walk of Western Stars and even a new Veterans Memorial Plaza. The Santa Clarita Valley also is the place where a "golden spike" was driven to link northern and Southern California by rail.
How many movies and television shows have used the Santa Clarita Valley as a location for filming? Many hundreds have be made in the valley and are still being filmed almost every day at some location near you. I can show friends here in Virginia what my hometown is like, just by watching television.
History is all around you in the Santa Clarita Valley. You don't even have to look very hard. You could start in Old Town Newhall one weekend and each weekend after that for a year and still not see it all.
Perfect family outings to take, just about anytime, include old mansions (in Mentryville and Hart Park), geologic formations (Vasquez Rocks), trails, train stations and homes, and even an old oak tree or two where you might rediscover your lost gold mine. Drive up to Fort Tejon where camels were put to work after the United States Army tried, and eventually failed, to use them as a mode of transportation. (Tejon was also the site of one huge earthquake in 1857).
It is all in the Santa Clarita Valley. At the current price of gasoline, it is the cheap way to learn a little more about your own back yard.
Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s. Today he lives in Virginia.
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