Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

43. Boom Town

The year 1876 brought the railroad; Lang, Ravenna, Acton and Newhall stations; the Pioneer Oil Refinery; and the first commercially successful oil well in the west — California Star Oil (CSO) No. 4.

There was a cluster of homes out in the canyon known as Pico Springs or Pico Camp. However, after 1876 it came to be known as Mentryville, for Charles Alexander Mentry, the man who brought in CSO No. 4. Three years later Mentry married Flora May Lake of New York, who gave him three sons and a daughter: Arthur, Ray, Guy and Irene.

In San Francisco, several businessmen formed the Pacific Coast Oil Company (PCO) and began gobbling up small petroleum claims. Managed by Demetrius G. Scofield of CSO, the company president was Charles Felton, who would go on to build the large refinery at Alameda. Felton had made his money during the California Gold Rush and had an impressive home in Menlo Park. One day he would become a U.S. Senator.

After seven months of wheeling and dealing, PCO was finally incorporated on September 10, 1879. By this time California Star was a wholly owned subsidiary, with Alex Mentry still employed in the Pico field.

Mentryville, at best, was an oil boom town with cottages scattered among the derricks in no organized pattern. By 1880 there were about one hundred families living there in board-and-batten structures built on leased land. When the head of the household moved he either took his home with him or sold it to his replacement.

New arrivals stayed in a couple of bunk houses or boarding houses until they secured a place of their own. Bachelors slept in a sort of tent city.

Farther down the canyon was a large machine shop, blacksmith shop, boiler sheds and store houses. There were no grocery or merchandise stores of any kind. Residents had to journey down to Newhall for food and other items. Finally, in 1897, Anthony Cochem started a bakery, supplying bread, cakes and other goodies for the community.

Twice daily the Telegraph Stage Line creaked and rocked into the town from Andrew's Station or Newhall, bringing passengers, mail and contraband liquor. Alcohol was forbidden, yet it is reported that the coach drivers carried some under their seats to be sold to residents who, no doubt, kept a few bottles in their first-aid kits as protection against snake bite.

Lyman Stewart and Wallace Hardison drilled seven dry holes in the canyon on a lease agreement with PCO. Their eighth produced seventy-five barrels a day at 1,620 feet at a place called Christian Hill, so named because of Stewart's aversion to profanity. That same year, 1883, they built a warehouse in Newhall but finally went bankrupt. Discouraged, the partners moved over to Santa Paula — where they became immensely successful with the Union Oil Company, which they founded in 1890.

To get an education, children in the oil field were packed off to Newhall until October, 1885, when the Felton School opened its doors. After school hours, dances and meetings were held within its walls (until a separate dance hall was built next door).

Mentryville may very well be the first town completely heated and lighted by gas, which seems natural since it sat in the middle of an oil field. Even the tennis courts, croquet field and horseshoe area were illuminated by natural gas.

Common laborers were paid $2.50 per day, while experienced drillers got four dollars for working twelve hours, six days a week. This might not seem like much by today's standards, but in 1880 a nickel would get a loaf of bread or a pitcher of beer, while blue jeans by Levi Strauss sold for a mere dollar a pair.

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