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Perkins’ celebration of Newhall

History: Maggi Perkins, granddaughter of the first SCV historian A.B. Perkins, shares his passion

Posted: March 27, 2010 5:24 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Maggi Perkins, with her dog Kitsune, recently published a book on the history of Newhall. Perkins is the granddaughter of the SCV's first historian, A.B. Perkins.

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Maggi Perkins sat at her dining table, its surface smothered in dated black-and-white photographs.  

She picked up an 1875 photo of the “Lyon Station Gang,” a group of people who worked at Lyon’s Station, which opened in 1854 to serve increasing stagecoach traffic through Newhall. Amongst seven sitting adults and a child stands one lone African-American boy.

The name of the boy, Ashbridge, was scribbled on the back accompanied by no other names.

As Perkins held the photo, she could hear a voice in her head. It was not her own, but the expressive and passionate voice of Arthur B. Perkins as he explained the irony of the historical remnant.

“I could hear the intonation of his voice; the warm amusement that the person who would have been the least regarded in that time — a little black boy in the 1860s — is the only one that we have a name for,” Perkins, 48, said.  

The lone survival of the boy’s name represented the subtleties that drew her grandfather, A.B. Perkins, to history, Perkins said.

“These are the things that make it alive for us,” said Perkins, reflecting on lessons from her grandfather. “That’s what he taught me history should be — it should bring you closer to the past.”

She spent five years, off and on, compiling her grandfather’s collection of images and documents to create “Newhall,” an “Images of America” book released by Arcadia Publishing on Feb. 22. The tome is one of only a handful of historical publications of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Close to her past
Perkins was only 15 when her grandfather died. But throughout the book’s compilation, A.B. Perkins was omnipresent. The way she speaks about it, one would almost think she was there.

“In the 1930s, the town (of Newhall) was stagnating,” she said. “The oil money wasn’t really there as much and if they had bypassed the town, it probably would have died.”

Spruce Street was a designated highway at the time — but its dirt track, aging buildings and oil streaks would have led the route and town into quiet oblivion, according to “Newhall.”

But Newhall didn’t die. Instead, Spruce Street — which became San Fernando Road and now Main Street — got a makeover.

“The Kiwanis Club went into action, obtaining state and county funding to widen and pave the road,” Perkins wrote on page 114. “All but two property owners agreed to donate 20 feet of frontage to the state in order to get the job done. The county paid the holdouts, and the buildings were either moved back or cut off as needed.”

Perkins inherited historical information such as this from her grandfather’s archives. As the only biological grandchild of the town’s first historian, compiling the heaps of images and stories into an orderly, comprehensive — albeit not all-inclusive — historical piece had practically been a calling since her childhood.

“I really do have the historian head,” Perkins said. “I always planned to be a historian like my grandfather.”

Her passion has always been books. History books, that is. Give Perkins two history paperbacks and she’ll pass them back to you by the end of the day after reading them cover to cover.

“Early on, everyone in the family knew I was going to be a historian,” said Perkins, who has a master’s degree in museum studies and a bachelor’s degree in history.

Knowing that his daughter would one day follow in her grandfather’s footsteps, Richard Clarence Perkins never threw out or gave away any heirlooms. Before he died in 2005, Perkins garnered much help from her father’s memories in compiling the book.

A.B. Perkins was a New Englander who came to town in 1919. He served time as manager of the local water company, a judge in his 20s, a landlord of much of the town’s property and a real estate man.

But A.B. Perkins’ name has most prominently gone down in SCV history as the town’s first historian. He collected thousands of photographs and a plethora of historical information about the SCV’s past before his death in 1977.

Perkins reminisced over time spent in her grandfather’s office on 6th Street, which still sits in its original position and under the Perkins’ ownership.

“My parents worked full-time so I spent a lot of time in his office,” she said. “His bulletin board was covered with historical photos of the town.”

A photo on page 77 of the book brings back an amusing memory for Perkins.

“This door he used to call his escape door,” Perkins said. “Sometimes my grandmother would come by and he didn’t want to talk to her so he’d see her coming through the window, and he’d just nip out this door.”

Her grandparents had a wonderful relationship, Perkins was quick to point out, but when her grandfather sold the water company in the late 1950s, “he wanted to do what he wanted to do.”

And what he wanted to do was continue collecting photographs and stories.

SCV’s rich history
“This book tells the story of Newhall, a town that today is part of the city of Santa Clarita. Why publish a book on part of the city? Because the town came first, and in spite of obstacles and tragedies, it survived and grew, providing the roots from whence the city would grow.”

Perkins introduces her book with these words. The story of Newhall precedes its name, she writes, when the Chumash and Tataviam Indian tribe inhabited the valley’s land.

Perkins’ book takes the reader through a rich timeline of local history from the Indian tribes to the times of stagecoach and railroad to the area’s first movie theater in 1941 and beyond.

The book’s pages lay out fragments of Newhall’s history that might have easily been forgotten or never known by many current SCV residents — such as Newhall’s first dedicated gasoline station, the town’s second Catholic church at 10th and Walnut streets or King’s Stage Station, which was washed away after the St. Francis Dam collapse in 1928.

Perkins’s hope is that more SCV residents will open their eyes to the local roots that run deeper than its film history, she said. The first recorded discover of gold, the first commercial oil refinery and the disastrous St. Francis Dam break — these are just a few of SCV’s defining moments to read about in the book.

“We have seven state historical landmarks and two national — that’s more than a lot of counties,” Perkins said. “There’s stuff here that literally had world implications. Not all small towns can say that.”

Perkins moved to the Silicon Valley in the fall, leaving the family’s Wildwood Canyon Road estate in renter’s hands. But she hopes to return and live in the home — built by her own parents — again one day.

“Newhall” by Maggi Perkins can be found for sale at the SCV Historical Society, the Trading Post at William S. Hart Park and Museum, Cookbooks Plus, OutWest Marketing, other select local bookstores or online at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com. Perkins will be signing books at the city of Santa Clarita’s Cowboy Festival held at Melody Ranch on April 24-25.


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