The end of World War II brought a phenomenon called "urban sprawl" to Southern California. The San Fernando Valley was rapidly subdivided and paved over, and new towns seemed to pop up overnight out of bean fields and citrus groves.
While there was some growth in the Santa Clarita Valley — the population nearly doubled from four thousand in 1940 to 7,500 by the end of that decade — the area was still a bastion of small farmers, cattlemen and shopkeepers.
Hard rock miners could be found leaning against the long bar of the '49er Saloon in Acton; oil men and bee keepers came to town in Newhall; and cowboys clumped into the Saugus Cafe with six-shooters strapped to their hips.
Soon this would all be swept away in a frenzy of progress.
Three of the pioneering families of this valley serve as representatives of that vanished way of life.
George Blum was as Swiss stone cutter who emigrated to America, winding up in Chicago. There he met and married Magdalena, who hailed from the small Swiss village of Beggingen. They honeymooned in California, loved the place, and settled in Los Angeles.
In 1891 the Blums acquired a ranch in Aliso Canyon near Acton, where they raised grain and bees. George Blum worked in the mines and cut stone; he was the mason for the old Los Angeles County court house.
By 1908 the Blums could devote all their time to their two thousand-acre ranch and their six children. Apple and pear trees were set out, followed by peaches in 1912. George Sr. died in 1932, his wife in 1951.
President Benjamin Harrison signed a homestead grant awarding a sizable chunk of San Francisquito Canyon to Frank LeBrun on December 5, 1890. A typical American of mixed French, Spanish, Scottish and Irish descent, Frank married an Indian woman and supplanted his income as a mule skinner of some renown.
Just before the turn of the century, gold was discovered on his property and a complete mining operation was established. The ranch was sold in 1922 to the city of Los Angeles and became the site of the ill-fated St. Francis Dam.
The Mayhue family hailed from the Tennessee-Kentucky border and were close friends of the Needhams (see Chapter 47). William Mayhue was probably influenced by Henry Clay Needham to settle in the Newhall area, for he and his wife Pallie arrived in 1893 and went to work in the Rice Canyon oil fields.
Mrs. Mayhue ran the boarding house and tended oil wells when her husband was away on other chores. In between all of that she managed to have two daughters, Lillie (named for Mrs. Needham) and Opal. Pallie once recalled standing off a mountain lion that was stalking baby Opal as the child blithely slept under a tree.
After moving down to Ninth and Chestnut streets, William Mayhue farmed the area that is now Valencia on a lease from The Newhall Land and Farming Company. In 1906 he acquired a Railroad Avenue general store from Jim Gulley, whose tenant was Albert Swall. Mayhue raised the rent, and Swall responded by moving out and setting up shop on Spruce Street.
The move would cause Spruce (renamed San Fernando Road in the 1950s) to become Newhall's main street as others followed Swall's lead — and it all started with a dispute over the rent.
The old Gulley store at Railroad and Market was purchased in 1919 by Lloyd Houghton, who converted it into the Hap-A-Land dance hall. Houghton showed the good sense to marry Mayhue's daughter, Opal.
William Mayhue died in 1954 at the age of ninety. His death marked the end of an era.
Already a tract of homes was sprouting in Seco Canyon; William S. Hart High School was graduating scholars; and that slumbering giant, Newhall Land, was awakening from a long night of quiet dreams to hurl this valley headlong into the realities of twentieth-century living.