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History abounds at Heritage Junction

Site is home to Saugus Train Station, historic train engine, houses and more

Posted: July 13, 2009 10:49 p.m.
Updated: July 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The 75-ton Mogul Engine No. 1629 was built in 1900 and appeared in 1950s TV shows. It was donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and moved to the Saugus Train station in 1982.

 
If you've driven down Newhall Avenue, chances are you've seen it - a 75-ton historic train engine.

What you may not know is that it once passed through the Santa Clarita Valley while transporting passengers from Arizona to Oregon.

"The locomotive actually served along these tracks before it retired," said Pat Saletore, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

In 1957, the Southern Pacific Railroad engine was retired and sold to western actor Gene Autry, who featured the engine in TV series such as "Gunsmoke." He donated the locomotive to the Historical Society in 1982.

The Mogul Engine is just one aspect of the Heritage Junction Historic Park that keeps volunteers busy with preservation efforts and relaying its history to visitors.

Behind the engine sits the Saugus Train Station, which originally opened on Sept. 1, 1887, at the corner of San Fernando Road and Drayton Street. The Southern Pacific Railroad line that passed through Saugus took passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Santa Clarita Valley postcards, books and photographs now cover what was once the men's waiting room.

"Rowdy men - the miners, cowboys - their room would have been in this room," Saletore said during a tour of the station. "They put the ladies in the ladies' waiting room to keep them from the kind of element in here," she said.

"Women and children would wait (separately) so they're not being exposed to the spitting, swearing and scratching."

Also once located in Saugus Train Station: J.H. Tolfree's Eating Houses, where guests could feast on meals such as pheasant and mock turtle soup.

"They moved it across the street and named it The Saugus Café," Saletore said, "which means it's the oldest continuously operating restaurant in L.A. County."

Some broken remnants of dishes Tolfree's guests used were recently found inside a box in the station with a note reading, "These were under the foundation when we moved (the station)."

When Southern Pacific decided to shut down the station, the firm gave the society a "move-it-or-lose-it proposition," Saletore said.

But transporting an entire station just down the street would take some cash and a community effort.

"Literally children came in with money and dropped pennies and nickels in jars and the whole community contributed," Saletore said.

A black-and-white photo of the severed train station riding along San Fernando Road in 1980 now hangs from its walls. Visitors to the station can also look to the hallway ceiling to see where the station was split.

The relocated station also hosts a museum that takes its visitors through a timeline of Santa Clarita Valley's history.

Guests can see the stump of an oak tree that was removed from the middle of Lyons Avenue, pictures of Callahan's old west theme park in Canyon Country, or a basket made by Sinfarosa Fustero of the Tataviam Indians - the last Indians of the Castaic area.

"They didn't really have much that didn't deteriorate, so to have anything that was made by (the Tataviams) is quite amazing," Saletore said.

In addition to the station, Heritage Junction is also home to the 1960 Mitchell Adobe, 1865 Newhall Ranch House, 1879 Kingsbury House, 1890 Pardee House, 1927 Callahan Schoolhouse, 1925 Edison House and 1927 Ramona Chapel.

All buildings were moved from their various original positions in the Santa Clarita Valley for preservation, restoration and presentation to the community.

"All of our houses were really working-class people houses," Saletore said. "Our town wasn't about mansions. It was about working-people houses."

The Questers, an international organization dedicated to restoring and preserving existing historical landmarks, recently finished furnishing the "Edison House" at Heritage Junction.

In 1919 Southern California Edison Co. erected a group of cottages to house employees. The one relocated to Heritage Junction is the last surviving cottage.

In 1972, as housing became more plentiful in Santa Clarita, Edison sold the cottages to The Newhall Land and Farming Company, which then donated the cottage to the Historical Society.

Despite the junction's location next to one of the most-known parks in the SCV, William S. Hart Park, Saletore said she still doesn't think enough local residents know about the station and its rich history.

"Every time I docent, I get somebody who says, ‘I've lived here for some 20-odd years, and I didn't know you were here," she said.

Saletore said she can understand why. When people started moving to the Santa Clarita Valley in the 1980s for its schools and safe neighborhoods, people weren't concerned with the history of the valley, she said.

"As far as they were concerned, there was no history before they moved in, so they didn't bother looking," she said. "So now their kids are grown, and their heads are finally coming up, and they're kind of surprised."

The work done to preserve Heritage Junction may seem like a never-ending project, but Saletore said the valley is lucky to have it.

Heritage Junction and Saugus Train Station are open to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and special open days throughout the year. Heritage Junction can only be accessed through Hart Park.

The Santa Clarita Historical Society's Web site is www.scvhs.org.

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