Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

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Election of 1875

Considering there was no town of Newhall before 1876, where exactly was J.F. Powell living when he was elected judge in 1875? The best information we've found to date is a little notice that ran in the L.A. Herald newspaper, April 30, 1875: "Mr. John F. Powell, of Powell Bros.' coal mine, 10 miles north of Lyon's station, reports that the indications are improving and he continues the sinking of the shaft with great confidence." Lyon's station was located where Eternal Valley Cemetery is today. His confidence seems to have been misplaced because we know of no coal deposits in the area indicated.

Powell was living in the L.A. Township in 1870[1] and registered to vote here, in Soledad Township, in 1871.[2] Soledad Township covered 1,200 miles of territory including the Santa Clarita Valley and much of the Antelope Valley, so that doesn't help pin it down.

One challenger for the judicial position in the election of October 20, 1875, was Maurice Kraszyinski, who won the Herald's endorsement (October 5, 1875). At the time, Maurice was the co-proprietor with his brother Andrew J. Kraszynski of Lyon's station and its hotel.[3] The Kraszynskis had emigrated from Poland.

Powell wasn't the only person elected to a judicial seat in Soledad Township in 1875. He shared the distinction with August Ferlin (aka Augustin), a farmer from France who lived at Elizabeth Lake. The two men were declared the winners in "Soledad Township including Elizabeth Lake." The judicial elections in all other L.A. County townships also had two winners.[4] Ferlin was married to Loreta Lopez, a daughter of landowner Chico Lopez (1818-1900),[5] for whom the nearby mountain range was named (the Chicalopes) before it came to be associated with Tiburcio Vasquez. Chico's ranch foreman was Tiburcio's brother.

In March 1878, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors appointed Joel H. Turner — the man who held the position in 1873 — justice of the peace for Soledad Township.[6] Whom he replaced, or whether the township had more than two justices, we don't know. Powell was still in office in 1879, and Ferlin was still at Elizabeth Lake. Both men would soon move away, however; Ferlin to Compton and Powell to Inyo County in 1880 where he was working as a merchant.[7]

Powell was back for good in 1882. We'll need to research subsequent elections, but when he retired from the bench in 1922, he had been in office for 26 years.[8] He died in 1925.

Regarding the reference to Powell being in Seco Canyon in the story at left: In 1897, Powell homesteaded land at what is now Copper Hill and Tamarack. References to him being in that area a quarter-century earlier are vague at best.

1 & 2. 1870 Census and 1875 voter registration, courtesy of researcher Tricia Lemon Putnam.

3. Los Angeles Herald, October 21, 1874, and October 5, 1875.

4. Los Angeles Daily Star, October 26, 1875.

5. Genealogical research by Putnam.

6. Los Angeles Herald, March 7, 1878.

7. Putnam, ibid.

8. Op.cit., January 25, 1925.

SCV's 'first' judge wasn't

Although the modern historical record lists John F. Powell as the area's "first" judge in 1875 and shows that the Soledad Judicial District was formed contemporaneously, there are significant discrepancies. Unfortunately there is no community newspaper to consult, as the Acton Rooster didn't come along until 1891 and there was no Newhall Signal until 1919.

The late historian A.B. Perkins — who was himself appointed justice of the peace in 1925 — makes an unattributed reference in a mid-1950s essay to a J.D. LaRue as having been elected justice of the peace for the Soledad Township in May 1869. The same information shows up in Merle Adams 1988 (pg. 9): "An election was held in May 1869 to elect the first Justice of the Peace for Soledad Township and J.D. LaRue was elected to serve the area."

Perhaps more revealing are the records of the local Justice Court itself.

In 1940 a group of Newhall women made what was probably the first attempt to compile a complete history of the valley. They contacted numerous agencies and persuaded them to write their own histories, then compiled the documents into an unpublished manuscript.

On official court stationery is written: "The Justice Court of Soledad Township came into being on the 15th day of October, 1873, with J.H. Turner as Justice of the Peace, who was elected at the judicial election and received three votes. He had no opposition."

Granted, the Justice Court official in 1940 could be wrong. It happens.

But either way, why is Powell considered to have been the first judge in 1875? Perhaps because of a typo­graph­ical error. The original 1940 document from the Justice Court was messy — in part hand-written and riddled with overstrikes. When it was retyped, "1873" inad­ver­tently became "1878."


The Los Angeles Daily News of May 12, 1869, reports: "In the matter of the petition of J. B. James, et al., of Soledad Township, it was ordered that the petition be granted and that J.D. La Rue, be and the same is hereby appointed Justice of the Peace for Soledad Township, and that W. J. England be and the same is hereby appointed Constable for Soledad Township, and that the Clerk issue certificates accordingly."

The Los Angeles Herald of March 7, 1878, reporting on the actions of the Board of Supervisors, says: "Joel H. Turner appointed Justice of the Peace for Soledad Township."

And More...

John F. Powell was the last recorder of the San Fernando Petroleum Mining District, serving from 1901-1923. Before him, George Campton served from 1888-1901. The first recorder, Christopher Leaming, served from 1865, when the district was formed, until his death in 1888. On July 21, 1923, the last location notice was recorded in Book "N" of the SFPMD.

Justice comes to Newhall
• Old photo album conjures up memories of an influential pioneer.
First of two parts.

It was advertised as an "antique photo album," and its colorful, Art Nouveau motifs and gilt trimmings certainly would intrigue book and photograph collectors alike. But it was the original owner's handwritten inscription inside the front cover that made it a must-have item for the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

"Judge John F. Powell, Newhall, California."

It was clear that the album contained only a few photographs, but even one of the unique, hitherto unknown images — like the circa-1890 tintype of Powell's young son Francis — is at least as important to local history as its pedigreed container.

We discussed a price and I trekked out to the desert to meet with Janna Harriss, a collectibles dealer who had purchased the photo album at an estate sale. Harriss was familiar with the historical society's museum at the Saugus Train Station in Newhall and ultimately decided to donate the valuable volume to the museum.

* * *

Northern Los Angeles County was untamed country in the early 1870s — the sort of a place where a notorious outlaw like Tiburcio Vasquez could hide out for years without much hassle. A contemporary directory listed 30 surnames in Soledad Canyon; 20 near the future town of Newhall; and eight in Placerita Canyon. Permanent residents either ran their own family farms or operated the inns and supply stores that catered to the wayfarers.

There were more and more of the latter as the word spread about the gold and oil to be had in the hills. Mix a little booze with a heated faro game and some contested mining claims, and you're asking for trouble.

The Board of Supervisors formed the Soledad Judicial District to bring law to the land — Soledad being the name of the immense township that included all 1,200 square miles of the north county from Los Angeles city limits to the Kern County line. A judge could expect to do a lot of horse-and-buggying to get from one end to the other.

On May 8, 1875, the task fell to John F. Powell, an imposing, 35-year-old Irishman who'd served in both the Army and Navy, and whose fair dealings with local Indians are said to have caught the attention of the county supervisors.

Powell, born Dec. 17, 1839, in Galway, Ireland, was a wee lad of 15 months when his parents brought him to Charleston, Mass. At 19 he took a Navy commission as a lieutenant on the USS Constellation and set sail for Africa to suppress the slave trade.

Historian Jerry Reynolds writes, "In between hunting lions and other big game, Lt. Powell met Dr. David Livingston, who led him to a camp filled with 705 slaves. (Their) liberation was an accomplishment that he took pride in to his dying day."

During the Civil War as an Army officer, Powell led the 5th Massachusetts Infantry into seven battles, then commanded Goat Island in San Francisco Bay until his discharge on Dec. 1, 1869.

Civilian life brought him to Los Angeles County. Reports indicate he homesteaded high up Dry (Seco) Canyon and ran sheep in the Antelope Valley with his brother until he was called upon to mete out justice. Reportedly he had never before set foot in a courtroom.

* * *

John F. Powell

Powell evidently moved down canyon in 1878 to Newhall, which had quickly become the area's largest town and center of activity.

A.B. Perkins, the Santa Clarita Valley's chief historian during the mid-20th Century, writes that the local development company — which had paid Henry Newhall $1 for land for a town site — gave Powell a couple of building lots on Main Street (Railroad Avenue today) because it wanted to bring law and order to the territory. Powell's house itself, records suggest, may have been a building he brought down from his sheep ranch.

That's likely, since the entire town of Newhall literally picked up sticks in 1878 and moved 2 1/2 miles south from its original location at today's Magic Mountain Parkway-San Fernando Road intersection.

An 1878 election also brought Newhall the first lawman whose name is recorded (others preceded him). Constable John Howe would haul in the crooks, and those who earned an extended stay behind bars would be sent off to jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Howe's successor as constable, Joseph Leighton, ran one of the many taverns in town — the Derrick Saloon on 8th Street (today still a bar, the Rendezvous). Leighton, according to Reynolds, employed a pair of sisters from New York named Dora and Flora May Lake.

Dora would wed Judge Powell and give him three children: first Florence, then two boys, Francis and Alfred. Soon thereafter, in 1879, Flora May would marry Alex Mentry, the skilled oil driller who brought in California's first commercially successful oil well in Pico Canyon. Flora May gave Alex three sons and a daughter.

Powell was a successful entrepreneur throughout his tenure on the bench. When he arrived in Newhall he set out fruit trees near his home, and developed them into a large and profitable orchard.

A philanthropist with a strong sense of civic duty, he had headed the list of 48 signatories on a petition to form the Newhall School District, and in 1879 he financed the construction of Newhall's first permanent schoolhouse for the princely sum of $3,500 (albeit not too permanent; it burned down in 1890). He also donated money to help build Newhall's First Presbyterian Church in 1891.

By 1900 he had moved his family to a home at 8th and Chestnut Streets. The yellow house was started when Newhall was new and had been expanded. (It was razed in 1960.)

Hunting remained the favorite pastime for this well-rounded jurist, as it had been in Africa. Reynolds writes, "He once bagged a rare white wolf up in Bouquet Canyon, which he had made into a rug that sold for $125. Powell held the record for the largest mountain lion in the state. It was very old with loose teeth and few claws left, but measured 12 feet, 6 inches from nose to end of tail."

Unravel more SCV history mysteries at on the Internet or stop by the Saugus Train Station in downtown Newhall, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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