As the Nineteenth Century faded into the Twentieth, the 2,500 residents of the Upper Santa Clara River Valley could pause and look back with pride at their accomplishments.
Over on the Rancho Camulos, Don Reginaldo del Valle was known as "The Little One," but he packed a big political wallop in the state for twenty years. He studied law and passed the bar in 1877 at the age of twenty-three. His supporters sent him to the state Assembly in 1880. Elected state senator in 1882, he failed in a reelection bid. He ran for Congress as a Cleveland Democrat but lost by a narrow margin.
Heralded as a magnificent public speaker, few could match his ability to arouse a crowd, especially in the Mexican-American precincts. In 1888 the don became chairman of the state Democratic Central Committee.
Don Reginaldo maintained homes in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and only paid visits to Camulos. Active management was in the hands of his brother, Ulpiano.
Another political activist was Sanford Lyon, but on the other side of the fence. Lyon was a member of the Republican Central Committee in 1869 and an unsuccessful candidate for county supervisor the next year. During 1873 Lyon staked out two hundred acres below Pico Canyon, west of present-day Interstate 5, where he raised cattle. Children were taught in a bunk house on the property in 1878, prior to the 1879 construction of the first official Newhall School. Lyon died November 30, 1882.
Although not involved in the political scene, Alex Mentry, as superintendent of the Pico fields for Pacific Coast Oil Company, was highly respected and considered a community leader. Around 1890 he moved his growing family into a thirteen-room, two-story Victorian home that still dominates the canyon.
The home was completely heated and lighted by gas, a revolutionary concept in those days. Sometimes in the winter lines would freeze, forcing everyone into a tin shed out back, where they huddled around an old-fashioned, wood-burning stove. The sale of Pacific Coast to the Standard Oil Company was completed shortly after Mentry's October 4, 1900 death from an allergic reaction to a bug bite.
Another two-story Victorian — surrounded by the Magic Mountain parking lot until it was moved to Heritage Junction in 1990 — dates back to 1893. When the heirs of Henry Mayo Newhall visited their ranch they usually stayed at the Southern Hotel, but it burned down on October 10, 1888, ten years after it was built. Subsequently the eldest Newhall son, Henry Gregory, added a two-story front section onto an existing ranch house and used the structure as headquarters for the Newhall Ranch. His wife Mary and their four children were the most frequent occupants; after Henry Gregory's 1903 death the house was occasionally used by a younger brother, Walter Scott Newhall, who died in 1906. The Newhall Ranch House, as it is known, is believed to be haunted by a mysterious "Blue Lady" and other beings.
Santa Clarita residents of the late 1800s had fires, floods, droughts and other calamities to contend with, including the great Pico Canyon earthquake which struck at 11:40 a.m. on April 4, 1893.
Chimneys fell, a bridge collapsed, dishes flew from shelves, and there were even reports of cast-iron stoves being shaken to pieces. Alex Mentry said:
"Suddenly there was a peculiar swaying of the ground and an explosion which . . . I thought was a boiler. All around me dust rose from the hills . . . and earth and boulders came tumbling down. I looked across the valley and saw the same thing in Castac [sic] Hills."
Beale's Cut was becoming more of a bottleneck than an aid to transportation, especially after automobiles came upon the scene. The first car through was a 1902 Autocar, which had to back up the grade to keep gas flowing into its carburetor. The slope was so steep, in fact, that most automobiles had to be pulled up by pack mules.
The Cut was bypassed in 1910 by a two-lane road known initially as Highway 6, then Highway 14 and finally Sierra Highway. The mountains were conquered by the Newhall Tunnel, which handled traffic through a four hundred foot-long hole until it was cut away in 1938.