Historic photos surface after decades
Leon Worden · September 25, 1996
When the only complete copy of the A.B. Perkins Collection of historic Santa Clarita Valley photographs landed in my lap a few weeks ago, I about died.
Understand, the Perkins Collection has been out of circulation for decades. One afternoon around 1981, I was sitting in Jerry Reynolds' living room as he was going through the negatives. Jerry cherry-picked about a quarter of the photos, which he would publish over the next 15 years. He returned the negatives to their owner and, I believe, never saw them again.
What Jerry didn't select was about three-quarters of the 1,000 images. Few people alive today have ever seen them. The images were believed lost until Ruth Newhall found out recently that Perkins' pal Ted Lamkin had photographed and catalogued the collection long ago. Lamkin had the negatives and allowed us to make prints.
This overwhelming find will take months, if not years, to sort out. For now, we offer a tiny taste of the collection in a very special edition of the Old Town Newhall Gazette, which you will find inside today's Signal. Lamkin and Newhall deserve special thanks for their help with this issue.
Like a lot of old-time movers and shakers, Arthur B. "Perk" Perkins wore many hats. Born in 1891, he came to Newhall in 1919 to manage the fledgling Newhall Water Company, the predecessor of the Newhall County Water District. He would become a civic leader, organize (with Ted Lamkin's father, Fred) our first Fourth of July Parades, sell real estate and build many homes in our growing community before his death in 1977. I went to school with his granddaughter, Maggie Perkins.
Upon retirement, Perk made it his mission to assemble all the historical photographs of our valley he could find. He used several in 1962 when he wrote the "Story of Our Valley" in successive installments in The Signal. Indeed, without A.B. Perkins, much of our history would have scattered to the winds.
That said, some of Perkins' previously unpublished photographs will force us to rewrite pieces of our history.
If you thought San Fernando Road (Spruce Street) was always Newhall's main street, well, you're wrong. Railroad Avenue was. Spruce didn't become the main street until just before World War I, when rising rental prices along burgeoning Railroad Avenue pushed Newhall's merchants onto the next block. Can you imagine? Rising property values in downtown Newhall!
Guess where our current Old Town Newhall planners want to put a new Metrolink station? Yup. Right where the 19th-century Newhall Depot used to sit, at the northeast corner of Railroad and Market. The irony is, our modern planners didn't know that -- until right now. Now they'll also know what it should look like.
Local history buffs know children were tutored in the Mitchell family's Soledad Canyon home as early as 1869, but since it was built as a home, not a school, it isn't considered the Santa Clarita Valley's first "self-standing" schoolhouse. That distinction went to the 1885 Felton School in the pioneer oil town of Mentryville. Until now.
By most accounts, the first Newhall School was built in 1887. Others peg it at 1879. Thanks to several Perkins photos, we can now safely say the earlier date is correct.
Another "educational" find comes from Acton. We knew Acton's brick "Soledad School," now a farmhouse, opened in 1890. What we didn't know is that a small wooden school predated it on the same spot. Built in 1881, it was razed when the bricks arrived.
And by the way. Mentryville's little red schoolhouse was cream-colored.
No photos were known of the Asistencia de San Francisco Xavier, the old Spanish mission outpost that was built in 1804 and destroyed by vandals in 1937. Perkins once published a picture of the adjacent "Old Milk House," but that's all. Come to find out Perk had photos of the rubble of the Asistencia itself!
There's more, so incredibly much more.
There's turn-of-the-century California Governor Henry Gage and the Governor Gage (gold) Mine. And the inner workings of the Red Rover Mine. And the St. Francis Dam under construction. And Bowers Cave, where the Tataviam Indian artifacts were found in 1884. And train stations, post offices, even whole towns that no longer exist.
There are cowboys, Indians, gold miners, oil drillers and fruit pickers. There are fires, floods and train wrecks. There are more pictures of Mentryville than the "Friends" will know what to do with. And the photos of downtown Newhall will give our Old Town planners enough architectural suggestions to last a lifetime.
For the record, the negatives have been returned once again to their original resting place. That was a condition of their use. But you can bet I made a print of every last one before giving them back.
For extra copies of today's Gazette, stop by The Signal at 24000 Creekside Road, Valencia, or come to the "Hart of the West" celebration at Hart Park and Heritage Junction this Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5.
Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident.
His commentary appears on Wednesdays.
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