While the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall may not be the oldest religious establishment in this valley, it is certainly the longest running existing house of worship.
Strictly speaking, Mission San Fernando laid claim to the Upper Santa Clara River Valley after its founding in 1797.* The land was later granted to Don Antonio del Valle. The granary and other buildings were demolished during the 1857 earthquake leaving only scattered, shattered adobe brick to mark its location.
Communities such as Newhall, Acton, and Honby grew around railroad stations after 1876, while an oil town boomed in Pico Canyon and the Soledad Mining District hop-scotched up and down the Santa Clara River with each new gold or silver discovery.
Into the wild and lawless land strode the Rev. F.D. Seward, a Synodial Missionary from Los Angeles. Pastor Seward preached in schoolhouses, saloons, and the Southern Hotel (erected by Henry M. Newhall in 1878) at Market and San Fernando Road. It is difficult to imagine in this day and age the difficulties and hardships this circuit riding preacher must have endured. He battled the blazing heat of summer, flooding and mudslides during wintertime, grizzly bears and an assortment of cattle rustlers that infested the region in those days.
There were several attempts to organize a Presbyterian Church in the late '80s. The most significant effort was during the months of August and September of 1889, Rev. Seward reported that the community was "not ready yet."
A year later a Canadian arrived in Newhall, setting up a ranch near the head of Elsmere Canyon. Alexander Hume was born in Toronto on January 28, 1852. At age 33, he married. He and his wife were Walt Wayman's grandparents. Walt is a member of our Historical Society. Mr. Hume journeyed to Los Angeles in 1888, liked what he saw, returned to Canada, moving his family to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1890.
Alex Hume proved to be the catalyst around which the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall was finally established on May 31, 1891. There were 16 members including Mr. Hume and P.V. Kinnear acting as Elders.
That original congregation consisted of Alexander I. Frazier, his wife, Maggie (he was the first station agent of the Saugus Depot), Samuel and Callie Grier (their children were the first recorded baptisms), Mrs. Flora Arnott, Henry and Ellen Miller, Lillie Miller, Mrs. Barbara Lane, Mrs. Ella Drew, Mrs. Ward, Mrs. R.D. Shyrock (recently arrived from Los Angeles) and Mary Mendenhall (her husband, Frank, was a hunter who left his name on a local mountain peak.) All they needed was a church building.
A plot of ground, 100 by 150 feet was donated by Newhall Land and Farming Company, a contractor from Pacoima was secured, then construction started on the first of August. A simple New England style building rose with board and batten walls and tall steeple. Completed by September 15, the First Presbyterian Church was dedicated October 11, 1891, debt free. By the way, the cost was a staggering $1,225.
Mr. Ed Pardee donated the organ and the church was off and running. Incidentally, Mr. Pardee owned the livery stable facing Spruce Street (now San Fernando Road) just west of Market. His home is presently the headquarters for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Through the years the dozen or so pastors have baptized our youth, married our lovers, consoled our widows, fed the poor and buried our dead. They have been there through good times and bad, sharing in our triumphs and helping us through our tragedies. The original church is gone now along with a second that stood on that plot. The present chapel, dedicated February 6, 1977, is modernistic, suited for the '80s.
We congratulate the Rev. Robert Bingham and his flock on the occasion of their 95th anniversary, and pray that this is just a beginning - a prologue to even greater things to come. The spirit of Rev. Seward and those pioneering sixteen founders lives still in the bodies of 423 active members.
* At this point in the original text, the following sentence appears: "An Asistencia, or sub mission, known as Rancho San Francisco was set up near Castaic Junction in 1804." Reynolds was unaware that the
estancia de San Francisco Xavier (its name) was never elevated to asistencia status.