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Notes on My Grandfather, H. Clay Needham.



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H. Clay Needham was known by the family as "Daddy Mo," after having been so named by me when I was learning to talk. This nickname was adopted by the rest of the family. His wife, Lillie Taylor Needham, was christened "Mama Mo" at the same time.

He was born on June 8, 1851, near Percival Mills, Kentucky, the son of Parkman and Rebecca (South) Needham. On April 17, 1879, he married Lillie Florence Taylor at her parents' home in Crawford County, Kansas.

The family moved to Los Angeles County in 1888, and he died on February 21, 1936 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

His children (all now deceased) are as follows:

• Nellie May, Born in Kansas

• Blanche Pearl, Born in Kansas

• Russell, Born in Kansas

• Neil, Born in California

• Henry Parke, Born in California

Nellie May married Ralph Miller, a widower with two children. Prior to Nell's retirement, she lived in the family home at 1343 Temple St. in Los Angeles. She moved to Newhall in the early 1950s after her husband's death.

Pearl, who was my mother, married Eric Segerstrom in Los Angeles in 1914. They moved to Sonora, where my father had lived for several years. He owned the title company and was involved in numerous other businesses including mines in California and Nevada, and San Francisco hotels.

Russell was a civil engineer and surveyor and worked primarily in the oil industry. He was involved with the development of oil fields in Mexico and in the Newhall area. He later resided in Bakersfield.

Neil was a vice president of General Petroleum and headed its land and lease department. He was very active in the Southern California oil industry for many years. After his father's death, he also managed the family oil holdings.

Henry Parke, known as Parke, went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and made the Navy his career. He was in the Construction Battalion, the SeeBees of World War II. He attained the rank of commodore and was the commanding officer at Port Hueneme in Ventura County at the time of his retirement.


Henry Clay Needham obtained his higher education in Elizabethtown, Kentucky where he attended the academy and briefly taught school. As a boy he lived at the "Old Brick," the family home. It was on Nolin Run; the mill there ground grain for the local area. Henry loved the outdoor life — hunting wild turkeys, riding on the property and visiting other old-time families.

As a young man he went to Illinois where some of the family had already migrated. He taught school and roamed through much of the frontier middle west looking for opportunity. He began teaching in Girard, Kansas, where he also became part of the short-lived coal boom.

After his marriage in 1879, it was time to settle down. He became a partner in a general store, a real estate agent and a notary public, as well as a farmer. H. Clay entered politics and was elected mayor of Arcadia. His interest in the prohibition movement intensified. He began making speeches, meeting many of the middle west's most prominent prohibitionists. He became good friends with John P. St. John, who was later Republican governor of Kansas. At the state I.O.G.T. Grand Lodge Convention, H. Clay wrote the "dry laws" that were later adopted by the Legislature with the influence of Gov. St. John, sympathetic always to the prohibitionist cause. (I.O.G.T. was the International Lodge of Good Templars, a prominent 19th-century temperance organization.)

It was easy to see how H. Clay's speech making and his abilities meeting people in the prohibition movement led his to California to take charge of the "St. John Subdivision." Several thousand acres of land surrounding the town of Newhall had been purchased from The Newhall Land and Farming Co. by Jesse Yarnell of Los Angeles, George Kalzenstein of Sacramento and Gov. St. John. They planned a colony where prohibitionists could settle in Southern California. Every deed for land in the tract contained a covenant that no liquor could ever be sold or consumed on the property.

The Needhams purchased a large tract themselves, which eventually grew to approximately 600 acres.


The Southern California "land boom" of the '90s burst soon after H. Clay's arrival, and many tracts were left unsold. Money became very tight, and Mama Mo said she had difficulty "making ends meet" at the ranch.

H. Clay became an outstanding member of the Newhall community. He was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, helped build the Good Templar Hall, and owned the Newhall Water Co. Later he also owned a restaurant and one of the earliest gas stations in the area. He was also active in oil development on his own and adjoining lands, and organized the Pearl Oil Co. and the Neil Oil Co., named for two of his children. At one time during the Depression he constructed a free picnic area and campground on his property for use by the traveling public.

Nelle and Pearl both graduated from Newhall Elementary School. At that time there was no high school in the entire Santa Clarita Valley, so the family bought a large Victorian house in Los Angeles and moved there. H. Clay became a leader in local politics, serving at one time on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He soon became the chairman of the California Prohibition Party and traveled throughout the state as a speaker for the prohibition cause.

Mama Mo ran the family in Los Angeles. It was the era of long family visits, and usually one of the Needham brothers and his family came to spend the winter. Mama Mo enjoyed the culture of the city. She was a great reader and was always a special person to her grandchildren. We went to every movie we could when we were with her in Los Angeles.

Daddy Mo liked the rustic life at the [Newhall] ranch but was frequently "on the road" campaigning for the prohibitionist cause. He ran for virtually every state office on the Prohibition Party ticket, including U.S. Senator. Whenever he was at the ranch he would come to Los Angeles at least twice a month, always with chickens, fresh eggs, fresh corn and the like, and to visit with his kin. By this time he had a cook and other employees at the ranch.

As the children married and moved away, Mama Mo left the house on Temple Street and moved to a large flat on Bonnie Brae. Daddy Mo lived there as well when he was not at the ranch.

My sister and I used to ride quite often with Daddy Mo from the ranch to Los Angeles. Even in 1929 we knew he was a terrible driver, looking at things along the way instead of watching the road. We stopped often. He told us that as a boy he had never gotten his fill of ice cream, and he wanted to be certain it didn't happen to his grandchildren. All three of us would arrive in Los Angeles happy and very full of ice cream. Often my sister and I developed stomach aches, and Daddy Mo was lectured not only by his wife but by his daughter as well.


The ranch remained much the way it was in the 1890s. Daddy Mo liked it that way. The entire upper floor of the ranch house was the sleeping quarters, a large loft partitioned by curtains for privacy. I was always a bit frightened sleeping there, although the beds were big and comfortable with clean sheets and wonderful quilts. But even a well-ventilated second floor got very hot in the summer months!

For many years there was a privy in the back yard, a root cellar, and a cold cellar. It was a different experience for us to get the milk, the vegetables, etc., out of these hillside walk-ins. Running water came only to the kitchen and to a wash basin. Cooking was done on a wood stove, and illumination was provided by kerosene lamps. No electricity reached the house until the early 1930s.

Usually there was a reunion of family, ex-Kansans and Kentuckians, and Newhall friends early in June, about the time of H. Clay's birthday. Long tables were set outside under the oaks, and the wood stove in the house produced wonderful meals. Daddy Mo loved tongue, so a large tongue was always the piece d'resistance. Everyone canned, so lovely sauces, pickles and relishes were up and down the table — all gifts brought by the many guests. Daddy Mo also looked forward to the Newhall community reunions held on the Fourth of July.

The dining room, either around the table, or in winter, around the heating stove in the "living end," was the stage for discussions about the Bible, religion, regional development both pro and con, what needed to be done in Newhall itself, and the "hard luck" coming often to hard-working families. Many is the time we knew Daddy Mo would quietly try to do something to help— always a good Christian and always concerned about others.

Daddy Mo loved wildlife. There was always a big washtub full of clean, cool water for the deer and coyotes occasionally seen. His tree squirrels were a joy not only to him but also to his guests. He had placed pipes between some of the large oaks so that the squirrels could run from tree to tree without touching ground. Each morning Daddy Mo would go out with a big bag of nuts and an old hammer. He would sit in a battered chair, a high round chunk of wood before him. "Here, squirrely, squirrely, here squirrely," he would call, and the squirrels would come from everywhere. Some old-timers would sit on his shoulders, on the chopping block or on the ground, waiting to be fed from his hand. He knew them all and the feeling didn't end until every squirrel had his treat. I don't remember any birds — there was nothing left out for them; they liked to find leftover chicken feed in the back yard.

Before the ranch got electricity it was possible to have ice delivered — a real bon in summer. Then came 3.2 beer. The ice truck had a sign on one side, "ICE," and on the other side, "COLD BEER." Daddy Mo was older by now, but everyone still tried to maneuver him so he saw only the "ICE" side of the truck, as they feared he would refuse to buy ice if he knew they also sold beer.


Daddy Mo's health was not too robust in his later years. He was injured in a fall from a tower when he owned the water company. He had trouble with his stomach, which he always blamed on lettuce. His doctor didn't believe him; I'm sure he would today.

He was bothered by phlebitis and had several hospital stays because of it. He kept his leg elevated a great deal and walked slowly and with a cane in his later years.

In 1931 H. Clay went alone to Kentucky and Cincinnati to see his family and attend the Prohibitionist National Convention. He was supposed to have been nominated for president on the party's ticket, but he had been ill on and off from phlebitis and would not have been able to accept the great honor.

When H. Clay returned to Newhall he bought back many Needham family relics. In 1932 he built a Kentucky log cabin on the ranch to house the furniture — and to have a museum of log cabin history for his family, friends and community. I remember a huge fireplace with a "long rifle" over it, spinning wheels and loom, and an old table and chairs. Both house and cabin burned in the 1960s. Fortunately, all of the cabin's contents had been removed by that time.

The large barn, home of many chickens and horses in Daddy Mo's best days and later a storage area for buggies and then a car, burned at the same time. The tennis court had long ago cracked, and the little stream dammed for swimming was no more.

Only the oil wells kept producing. The Needham Land and Oil Co. had been formed to hold the ranch properties and other family oil properties. The Santa Clarita Valley was starting to develop; it was no longer the rural area it had once been. In the late 1950s the corporation was finally dissolved. The ranch was sold, and is now the site of Eternal Valley Memorial Park. Nelle is buried there, and the square grand piano which H. Clay gave to his wife is on display in the office area.


Daddy Mo was, to the end, a prohibitionist. If he saw a drunken man on the streets of Newhall, he would go to the Sheriff's office and swear out a warrant for his arrest. After the man was put in jail, Daddy Mo would go talk to him about the evils of drink. He would then pay his fine and take him home.

Often when we were children, our whole family would go south by the overnight train for special occasions. The Valley Limited stopped at Saugus very early in the morning, and we could get off there. Other times we would continue on to Union Station in Los Angeles. Everyone preferred to go to Los Angeles, as the Newhall Tunnel was a special part of the ride. We'd heard of and walked to Beale's Cut many times, and knew that getting a railroad from Newhall to Los Angeles had been dreamed about for many years.

Daddy Mo and Mama Mo were frequent visitors to daughter Pearl's home in Sonora. Several times Daddy Mo came alone and stayed weeks at a time, for he enjoyed family and being away from the city. Of course, all the "drys" in Tuolumne County came to meet him and he made a few speeches. My sister and my friends loved Daddy Mo's visits, for he was always friendly and usually gave everyone a quarter for ice cream or a treat. He loved to read, even children's books, and would always be talked into reading aloud. Once I'd chosen "The Five Little Peppers" and we were enjoying it immensely. Then Daddy Mo told me he had to stop. Going to Mother, he said, "Pearl, if I leave tomorrow I can't read to Marjorie — we'd never finish the book together. I need to finish it quickly so I'll know what happened."

From his youthful days to his old age, H. Clay enjoyed writing poetry. Some pieces were published in prohibitionist publications, others in magazines and local papers. Lengthy, descriptive poems of his boyhood in Kentucky appeared in Louisville newspapers. The large monument he had erected in the family graveyard in Kentucky has poems to honor both his father and mother engraved on the stone itself. He wrote of God's love, current events and World War I. He also wrote poems about his family.

Daddy Mo died in 1936. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times, the masses of flowers, and the great variety of people at the service showed he was not only loved by his family and dearest friends; he had touched many lives along his way.


©2000 SCVHistory.com
HENRY CLAY NEEDHAM

SEE ALSO:
• Needham Ranch


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Wild Turkey Story by Needham ~1900

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Pearl Oil Co. Stock 1901

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Oil Field Notes 1900/1901

Times Obituary


Signal Obituary


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Granddaughter's Story 2000

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Needham Piano & Organ Donated 2001

Worden Story 2006


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