Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

47. Dry Colony

From the time it was founded in 1876 and, indeed, for the next ninety years, the metropolis of the Santa Clarita Valley was the community of Newhall.

By 1887 the town was all of two blocks long, with four saloons, a restaurant, two general stores and warehouses fronting what is now Railroad Avenue. The train depot stood at the northeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Market Street. The Southern Hotel was located at what is today the southwest corner of San Fernando Road and Market, while the large-frame Newhall School stood two blocks back from the main street (Railroad) at Ninth and Walnut. That year Ed Pardee, a muscular, barrel-shaped man, came from the Pico oil fields to open a livery stable.

It was a typical frontier village with dirt streets, boardwalks and false-front buildings. High-sided freight wagons rumbled along, pulled by twenty-mule teams. Red-and-gold Concord coaches rattled and creaked over to Ventura on their twice-weekly runs, jostling past farm wagons, buckboards and surreys. At 1:20 in the afternoon residents could expect the great chugging, diamond-stacked engine of the Southern Pacific to pull in amid clouds of steam and sparks.

Bow-legged cowboys with wide chaps, jingling spurs and Colt .45s stomped into Mike Powell's Palace Saloon for a little socializing, while vaqueros clad in wide sashes and silver-studded pantaloons cooled off at Nick Rivera's place. The Derrick Saloon — the Rendezvous today — was erected around 1878. Presided over by Joe Leighton, it hosted oil workers and dusty miners. Dick Lifton served digestible meals to farmers, bee keepers and ladies swathed in yards of fabric.

The prosperity came with the railroad, which had also effectively bypassed old Lyon's Station. Sanford and Cyrus Lyon sold out, and the property went through several owners until December 3, 1887, when it was purchased by a consortium headed by George B. Katzenstein of Sacramento, James Yarnell of Los Angeles and John St. John, the governor of Kansas.

A two-block town that could support four bars must have been thunderstruck to find that a bunch of wild-eyed Prohibitionists had acquired seven hundred acres and were planning to establish a "dry colony" in their midst.

Early in 1888, Henry Clay Needham arrived to supervise the development of the St. John subdivision. A tall, slender man with bushy eyebrows and piercing gray eyes, Needham was a native of Kentucky, born June 8, 1851 in Percival Mills in Hardin County.

Needham attended Elizabethtown College and taught school in Missouri and Kansas, where he became active in the Prohibitionist Party. He and Governor St. John co-authored the famous Kansas Dry Law, which is still on the books. There, too, he met, courted and wed Lillie Florence Taylor; the union would produce five children.

Sales at the St. John tract were not exactly brisk, so Needham opened a lumber yard and hardware store to support his growing family. He branched out into oil, farming, livestock and mining. One of his first projects was to build a Good Templars Lodge on Pine Street. Ed Pardee bought it in 1893 and moved it to Walnut and Market streets. Purchased in 1946 by Pacific Telephone Company and later used by the Santa Clarita Valley Boys Club and the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce, the structure was moved again in 1992, this time to Heritage Junction in William S. Hart Park, where it is known as the Pardee House.

To the delight of the children, the original Newhall schoolhouse burned down in 1890. A second one was erected nearby, largely through the generosity of Needham, just in time for the fall semester. The next year Needham helped found the First Presbyterian Church on a Newhall Avenue parcel that had been donated for that purpose by Margaret Jane Newhall, a devout Presbyterian and the widow of Henry Mayo Newhall.

Needham and M.W. Atwood of Pasadena developed the Happy Valley district after the turn of the century, selling ten-acre chunks for three hundred dollars apiece.

Needham had a powerful speaking voice, and his spellbinding oratory was largely responsible for implementing the Wright Act in California. In 1920 he was carried to the Prohibitionist National Convention as a candidate for president of the United States. At a crucial moment Needham fell ill with heat prostration, and the nomination went to Aaron S. Watkins.

Would Henry Clay Needham have been able to beat Warren G. Harding?

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