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Mentryville offers view into the Santa Clarita Valley’s past

Boomtown beginnings

Posted: August 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Harte walks in front of the home in Newhall.

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Long before the Santa Clarita Valley had gas stations at major intersections, oil derricks stood as symbols of the state’s history of speculation.

Following the gold rush, wildcatters headed West with dreams of the next big oil strike.

And just as in the previous rush, thousands lost their lives and fortunes working the soil for black gold.

Alex Mentry, who has a small historical chunk of land named after him, missed his big chance at fortune but still wound up a part of history. Some of it still stands today.

His home can be found at the end of the trail of a five-mile trek down Pico Canyon Road.

Mentry moved to San Francisco in the 1860s, an ambitious man who left Pennsylvania for richer soil.

Eager to get in on the next big boom, Mentry cast his fortunes with California Star Oil, a burgeoning company with similar ambitions.

He followed his investment and waited. And waited.

By 1872, with the derricks still running dry up north. Mentry had had enough, sold his shares and headed south.

In 1876, Pico No. 4 gave Mentry’s old company the first successful oil strike in California at the end of Pico Canyon Road in Stevenson Ranch on land now owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and looked after by the small nonprofit Friends of Mentryville.

Mentry helped homestead the area for his old company, winding up foreman.

The well he established became the first commercially viable oil well in California.

Oil was piped from there to the first successful oil refinery in California, located in Newhall, and then shipped out by rail.

Pico No. 4 would produce until the 1990s.

All things considered, things worked out for Mentry, said Duane Harte as he relayed the history of the “company town” and its founder during a recent tour.

Aside from having the burgeoning boomtown named after him, Mentry was commissioned some plush digs by his employer.

His 4,000-square-foot, 13-room mansion is one of three buildings still standing on the property more than 120 years after it was built.

A barn and the town’s original schoolhouse stand in their original place.

A few rusted remnants of drilling efforts litter the grounds that are now gated off and looked after by a few dedicated volunteers.

The strike was followed by nearly two decades of production, staying productive almost until the 20th century.

By the 1930s, the derricks had been dry for 30 years and the one-room schoolhouse’s final graduating class was ready to move on.

The house was abandoned until some 60 years later when its last series of caretakers, the Legasse family, left following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The house was condemned and Chevron, which owned the property, donated the land rather than pay for repairs.

Now Harte, who occasionally gives tours and enjoys recalling the rich history of the plot once home to about 100 families at the turn of the last century, is one of the last friends Mentryville has.

“I fell in love with the area,” Harte said. “I just love being back here around all this history.”

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

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