Mentryville - 11/26/2011

There is a lot of information available about Mentryville (or Pico or Pico Camp). On the internet there is the The Story of Mentryville by Leon Worden. There is the Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures - Mentryville. There is Darryl Manzer's The Only Kid in Mentryville. There is Lagasses Kept Ghost Town Alive for Nearly 30 Years. And there is Bill Rundberg's Special Memories of Pico Canyon.

For visuals, there is A Visit to Mentryville program on SCVTV. There is also Patricia Westcott Kelly - Remembers Growing Up in Mentryville in the 1920's-30's.

According to Darryl Manzer (who had a lot of contact with oldtimers who came back to the town in the 1960's), Mentryville was actually more of a derogatory name for Pico. The oil workers had to go travel five miles to Newhall to get their liquor, which naturally did not make them very happy. The land was owned by the oil company (PCO then Standard). Either the oil company or Superintendent Charles A. Mentry banned liquor from the little town. If you look at any map, the town is labeled as Pico. When Bill Rundberg and his family lived there from 1948-53, it was just Pico Canyon to them.

Charles Alexander Mentry was a well-known Pennsylvanian oil driller. He came to the west in 1873 and eventually became the superintendent for the recently formed California Star Oil Works Company in 1876. He moved to Pico with his family around 1876.

There was never really any organization to the homes built here. They were scattered among the wells up and down the canyon. When people left, they often just took the whole house with them. A schoolhouse was built in 1885. The town was also heated and lighted by natural gas, a common commodity in an oil field. Up to 100 families supposedly lived here and up the canyon by 1880.

The Pico Cottage (now usually given the modern name of the Big House) was built in 1896. The Los Angeles Times of August 30, 1896, reports on its construction (see article below). The Los Angeles County survey map showing Mentryville done in June, 1891, does not show the Pico Cottage (but does show the school house). This is the earliest mention of Mentryville that I have seen. There is a photo of Mentry on the SCV History in Pictures website sitting on a porch that looks exactly like the porch of the Pico Cottage that is dated 1893, but this must be wrong. After the house was completed, it was used by all superintendents and foremans until it was severely damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The 1910 United States Census shows that Pico Canyon had a population of 121. There were 26 heads of households, so we can say there were 26 families in the canyon. There were 52 Standard Oil employees, 2 bee farm workers, and 3 hotel workers. There were 22 males and 13 females under the age of 17. There were two 82 year old Standard workers. There was one 15 year old wife. There were 26 male borders for the hotel workers to take care of. Unfortunately, Pico Canyon was not indicated on any census before, or after, the 1910 census.

On October 4, 1900, Charles Mentry died (according to his death certificate) from typhoid fever with chronic nephritis as a contributing factor.

Walton Young became the superintendent after Mentry until 1927.

By the 1920's, and even before, the boom in Pico Canyon was fading and Mentryville was starting to die. In 1927, Charles Sitzman became the superintendent until 1937. He spent much of his time roaming the hills and bringing back old oil equipment to town. He had visions of a museum. Unfortunately, this vision never became reality. As you will see in the following pictures, much of the old equipment now is just piled up like junk. I hear that more artifacts are locked up somewhere so they won't be stolen. The current owners (Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy) seem to be more interested in preserving the few remaining structures then preserving the reason the structures were there in the first place. And even these last structures need help.

The last superintendent was John Blaney. His short reign was only from 1937 to 1938. After him, there were only foremans. The Manzers lived in the Pico Cottage from 1960 - 1966. Darryl Manzer still returns occasionally and has written articles about his time there (see The Only Kid in Mentryville). The last Chevron foreman to live there was Frenchy Lagasse (who help build the little derrick in Johnson Park) and his family. They stayed there from 1967 until the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which caused extensive damage to the Pico Cottage. In 1995, Chevron sold Mentryville and their Pico Canyon land (and much more land from the other canyons) to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It is managed by the MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservancy).

A MRCA ranger and his family lived there until 2003, when floods forced them to move out. The ranger residence needed to be being renovated. See this Daily News article. As of March 2011, a MRCA employee has moved into a trailer next to the superintendent's house.

Looking north down at the "Y" intersection on Pico Canyon Road (which runs horizontally in the photo). The upper limb goes into Potrero Canyon. The lower limb goes into Mentryville. There is free parking at this point, but you will have about a 10 minute hike to Mentryville. The canyon on the north side of Pico Canyon Road just before "Y" is called Dead Horse Canyon on maps. It is fenced off and contains numerous large trash containers.

From Bill Rundberg (who lived in Pico Canyon from 1948-1953):
Re "Dead Cow Canyon", I never saw that in print, only heard it from locals, e.g. Mike Larinan. I have since seen reference to a “Dead Horse Canyon” in an article about Pico Canyon in Leon Worden’s Old Town Newhall Gazette. Potrero Canyon led to an oil lease, owned by Barnsdall when we arrived, then by Sunray. The home of the Borden family was on that lease."

Entrance to Mentryville. Turn to the left to the parking area after you pay $5 at the iron ranger behind the picture.

The Mentryville California historical landmark marker

The barn is the first structure you will pass. Frenchy Lagasse said that it was a mule barn and was constructed in 1887, about the same time construction on the Pico Cottage started (although construction didn't start on the cottage until 1896, so this date is suspect). (See A Visit to Mentryville on Scorza's Points of Interest on SCVTV).

The superintendent's house

The superintendent's house was actually known as the Pico Cottage not the "Big House". The "Big House" name was first used after the Lagasse family moved in. For some reason, that name is now used although there is no historical reason to use it. When the Manzers moved there in 1960, they rented the Pico Cottage from Standard and never heard of the "Big House." (personal communication). Bill Rundberg, who lived there before the Manzers, never heard of the Big House either (personal communication). Also, the date on the marker is incorrect. The Pico Cottage was built in 1896 (according to LA Times of August 30, 1896). The (Santa Monica) Conservancy has no plans to restore the house and has no plans to ever open it to the public (I write this in 2016).

Here is the Mentryville section of the June, 1891, Los Angeles Country survey map. It does not show the Pico Cottage. This is the earliest usage of Mentryville that I have seen.

From the Los Angeles Sunday Times of August 30, 1896. The Pacific Coast (not Pico Canyon) Oil Company owned Pico Canyon and Moore Canyon at that time. Moore Canyon is often misspelled as Moor Canyon. Today it is DeWitt Canyon.

You are not suppose to get this close to the Pico Cottage. Both gates to the road in front of the house are locked. If an MRCA ranger had seen this lady, he would have asked her to leave.

From higher up

The Felton school was named for Charles N. Felton the president of the Pacific Coast Oil Company. It was built in 1885 and closed in 1932.

The small white "Felton School" sign near the top of the roof was removed or stolen a few years ago.

Since the last picture was taken, the MRCA decided that the historic tree was not desirable anymore. It was cut down sometime in the week of 4/20/08 - 4/26/08. The base was about 3-feet in diameter. That's a lot of firewood. The MRCA says the trees are not healthy in this Signal article and here is part 2 of the article.

From higher up. Note the new (as of late 2008) trail zigzaging up Mustard Hill. I suppose the MRCA has a reason for building this trail, but it sure ruins Mustard Hill. To the left (west) of this picture is an old road that was used to get up to a water tank that was on top of the hill. If you look in the distance, you can see the road going diagonally up the hill to the water tank in this picture and this picture on the Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures website. Why the MRCA decided to chop up Mustard Hill when they could have just used the old road is a mystery to me, but that is how the MRCA operates.

To clean up the weeds on Mustard Hill behind the school house, the MRCA uses tractors

In April of 2011, the trail zig-zagging up Mustard Hill was closed. This is the start of the trail, not the end of the trail. By March of 2012, this sign had been taken down.

The Newhall High Country Trail. It is open now, but you can't go very far. There is a bench up the trail overlooking Mentryville, but soon after that you come to...

...the end of the trail. Is a barbed wire fence and three no trespassing signs really necessary? How are deer supposed to wander? Is there something really dangerous beyond here? In fact, why was the trail even built if it goes nowhere?

Ahh..our old friends at Newhall Land don't want anybody on their property

In the area to the right of the Felton school (in the background) is this pile of oil industry related, and other, artifacts.

Early oil tank wagon. According to Darryl Manzer, it did not come from Pico Canyon but from somewhere else.

Built by Pike of Los Angeles. Pike is evidently Pike Trailer Company. In 1953, it was described as "one of the oldest trailer builders in the U.S.".

The wagon is breaking down on one side

Square riveted box probably used to condense steam

Pump jack

Union Tool engine. More info on the engines here can be found on my Pico engines webpage.

Another view of the Union Tool engine

"Union Tool - Torrance, Cal" on base of engine

Closer view of pulley

Baker Iron Works pump

Close-up. "Baker Iron Works - Sole Agents - Los Angeles, Cal - Worthington - 114x70x102 - 4 1/2 x 2 3/4 x 4"

Pile of stuff with engine in the background

Looking at that engine.

Still another engine at the end of the pile of stuff (obviously the photo was taken at a different time of the year). See my Pico engines page for more info on the engines here.

Next to the engine is an incomplete set of center irons on the right

Unknown impressive 27-inch long threaded object

45-inch long cable tool bit. The far end (in this picture) of the bit is what pounds over and over into the rock at the bottom of the well. Notice the tapered threads at the closer end.

View of the "working" end

Pump adjuster. Located on the walking beam holding the polished rod. Sometime after this photo was taken in 2008, the adjuster was removed (probably stolen).

Jackline hooks

More stuff

Section of a sprocket tug rim from a calf wheel

Shack in April of 2011. This was built for a TV show (High Incident) in 1996 or 97 and should just be removed. There is nothing historic about it and is just breaking apart, creating more of a hazard then anything else.

The shack was finally removed about two months before this photo was taken on 6/8/2016. I was told that someone stepped through the wooden floor.

For the June, 1976, 100 year celebration of CSO (Pico) 4, a model of CSO 4 was built. Here it is at the base of Mustard Hill just east of the schoolhouse during the celebration. Photo may have been taken by Tom Mason.

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and was used by permission of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, Tom Mason Negatives.

This photo was taken by Barbara Morris in 2002. The little oil rig model is still there but without its top. It is not there now, so either the MRCA got rid of it or they hid it away somewhere.

This image is NOT in the public domain and was used by permission of Barbara C. Morris

On 3/14/09 there was a St. Patrick's Day run starting in Mentryville. That's why the parking lot is so crowded in this view toward the east from Tank Hill.

In 2011, the road from the school to the hairpin curve was resurfaced. So was the road over Pico creek into the parking lot.

Just out of Mentryville is this water tank and big rig (the rig is gone now). The tank is full of water and provides water to the new tank up the canyon. In the old days, this area contained homes. The hill behind this tank was named Tank Hill because there was a water tank on top with a road going up to it.

Sometime in 2013, a second tank was added. The first tank is apparently no longer used and the metal stairway to the top of the tank was dismantled.

You can still see the trace of the Tank Hill road running diagonally in this photo. See the Mentryville historical photos page for more views of the Tank Hill road

As you hike out of Mentryville you come to this gap. On both sides you can see how steep the angle of beds of the Pico anticline are. Straight ahead on the other side of the creek are the remains of the bakery. The canyon running in from the left is called Minnie-Lotta or Minna-Lotta Canyon. Thow girls used to hike up the canyon to a waterfall and the canyon was named for them.

Just before the gap, a new trail has been started up Minnie-Lotta Canyon. The goal is evidently to get near the waterfall, but as of 3/14/09 it just deadends up the canyon after about 1/2 a mile. The MRCA has put a lot of effort in constructing the trail, building at least four bridges, so maybe they have bigger plans.

Here are two of the bridges

The foundation of the bakery furness. It is located near the start of the new trail on the other (south) side of the main creek bed just past the gap. It is about a 10 foot square with one of the sides missing.

The bakery was built by Anthony Cochems in 1897 (Reynolds, 1985). In the 1910 United States Census, Anthony Cochems is listed as a baker for Standard Oil Company. Also in that 1910 census, William Cochems is listed as his 14 year old son. William would later become an oil worker for Standard and, in honor of his retirement, have the replica derrick built for him in Johnson Park.

In 2011, a new bridge was installed over Pico creek to for the trail. Here is the bridge with the foundation and a picnic bench in the background.

Mentryville with the Santa Clarita Valley in the distance. Looking toward the northeast from near the top of the so-called "Christian Hill".

This photo of Ethel Blaney with Mentryville in the background was taken in 1939. It is on the Santa Clarita History in Pictures website in the Mentryville: Cheney Family Photos section. There is an oil derrick behind Mentryville. What well is that?

Here is about the same view today (4/7/2016) with a red arrow where the well was. After taking GPS coordinates of that location and comparing them to all the wells in the area, only one well fits the bill. The Downey Oil Company No. 1 (API # 03712601) was spudded in early 1937 and abandoned in April of 1939.

Located on a hill above Mentryville, this is a boundary marker and not a grave. See Patricia Westcott Kelly's Pico Canyon Scrapbook - "A Shepherd's Grave" from 1939. The view there is similar to the view here.

Closer view of stone

Different angle showing a current boundary marker next to the stone

Mentry was awarded a patent for a "reamer for deep wells" on July 22, 1879 (No. 217740)

He also received a patent for an "expansion-reamer" on April 17, 1900 (No. 647605)

From the Los Angeles Herald of October 5, 1900

Report of Mentry's funeral from the Los Angeles Times of October 8, 1900

From the Paint, Oil and Drug Review weekly magazine of October 17, 1900