Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

61. The Chroniclers

Some of those who have penned pieces of the Santa Clarita Valley's colorful history have been rather colorful characters themselves.

The earliest chronicler was R. Eugene Nickel, founder of the weekly Acton Rooster in 1891, whose career is detailed in Chapter 45.

The Rooster reported local mining activity and the comings and goings of celebrities at the Acton Hotel, which was, of course, owned by Nickel. There were railroad timetables, farm reports and little tidbits concerning the landed gentry.

The editor was not above teasing his friends. Under the heading "Bees and Honey," for instance, Nickel wrote, "Mr. W.H. Wright seems to have a fondness, or we might more properly say a preference, for the female gender for his help in his apiary. The Redondo ladies are already assisting him, and he is negotiating with Miss Mary Lembke also to augment the help he now has."

After the Rooster died there was no paper until Edwin H. Brown founded The Newhall Signal on February 7, 1919. The first edition was a tabloid; page one reported the activities of General Pershing in France, and Douglas Fairbanks' filming in Newhall. The Signal appeared once a week, picking up a few features of national or international impact, but generally staying at home with such items as, "Mr. Swall journeyed to Los Angeles to resupply his general store" or "H.C. Needham broke his hip while repairing the roof of his home. . . ."

Exactly a year later the publisher died and left the paper to his widow, Blanche Brown. Advertising grew and The Signal increased to four pages of print.

In 1924 another weekly came out, called The Saugus Enterprise, which the widow Brown quickly bought up. She ran the combined papers for the next fourteen years until two Arizona newsmen, Mark and Fred Trueblood, arrived in town and purchased The Newhall Signal and Saugus Enterprise. They retained the paper's small-town flavor, reporting social events, real estate transactions and even some juicy gossip.

Fred W. Trueblood, Jr. worked his way up through the ranks and took over active management of the paper upon his father's death in 1960. Fred Jr. and his English bride, Bobbie, became community leaders and style-setters. Fred had an interest in history, especially mining, collecting and preserving many items that might have otherwise been lost.*

Trueblood retired in 1963 to pursue the mining history of the valley, still contributing articles from time to time. Ray Brooks ran the paper only four months before selling to Scott and Ruth Newhall. The former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Scott Newhall was the grandson of Edwin White Newhall and great-grandson of town founder Henry Mayo Newhall.

Scott Newhall's outrageous, above-the-masthead editorials were legendary. When he wasn't trying to put diapers on cows, he was roasting the "distant" county board of supervisors. A great newspaper war broke out when Canyon Country leader Arthur W. "Art" Evans started up a small rival paper called the Santa Clarita Sentinel. Newhall challenged Evans to a duel at high noon — ostensibly with typewriters as their weapons — under the clock tower of the Valley Federal Bank building in Newhall. Townspeople lined the street, not knowing what to expect. In the end, Evans failed to show, Newhall declared victory, and the Sentinel faded into memory.

The Morris Newspaper Corporation of Savannah, Georgia, purchased The Signal in 1978 and made it a daily. Scott and Ruth Newhall stayed on until 1988, when they left to found the thrice-weekly Santa Clarita Valley Citizen. It lasted nine months.

Finally of note is the Santa Clarita Valley's first true historian, Arthur Buckingham Perkins. "Perk," or "A.B.," hailed from Bennington, Vermont, were he was born in 1891. After mining for borax in Death Valley, editing a newspaper in Arizona and working in an assay office, Perkins landed in Newhall in 1919 at the age of 28.

He bought the local water works from H.C. Needham, became a justice of the Soledad, then helped found the Kiwanis Club and the local Masonic Lodge. Perkins interviewed old-timers, combed through official records and gathered yellowed photographs to preserve the history that he loved so well.

Perkins was instrumental in getting the Oak of the Golden Dream, Lyon's Station and Beale's Cut memorialized, and he wrote articles for The Signal and the Southern California Historical Quarterly.

Perk died in 1977, leaving a legacy behind.

    * In fact, some of Fred Trueblood Jr.'s photographs are included in the A.B. Perkins Collection.

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