The history behind the names: SCV edition

Dan Watson/The Signal

As Santa Clarita Valley residents, we quickly become familiar with the names of the neighborhoods that make up the valley, as well as the streets that intersect them.

What many don’t realize is that we live in a city rich with history, which means that almost all of the names familiar to us have a historical context.

Here’s are some of the most interesting of those histories:

Let’s start with the more obvious ones that many of us already know. Henry Mayo Newhall and William S. Hart were very famous figures in our community.

Not only does William S. Hart have a school district named after him, but also a park, museum, little league and countless other associations.

Hart was a famous Western film actor, screenwriter, director and producer who decided to make Santa Clarita his home after some of his films were shot on a ranch in Newhall. He commissioned an architect to design a mansion, which he lived in for the remainder of his life.

When he died, he left the bulk of his estate to Los Angeles County, requiring that the mansion and property be used as a museum and public park.

Henry Mayo Newhall was a pioneer who came to California for the gold rush. He unfortunately was too late to claim any mining sites, but decided to remain in the area and quickly became a successful businessman who began investing in real estate.

His most important acquisition would be the 40,000-acre Rancho San Francisco, which covered much of the SCV at that time. He then allowed the Southern Pacific Company to lay the first railroad tracks connecting the San Francisco area with Los Angeles across his newly acquired land.

He named the train station after his birthplace of Saugus, Massachusetts, which would later become the town of Saugus, and the railroad decided to name the ranch Newhall.

Dan Watson/The Signal

After his death, many other things in the area were named after the pioneer, including Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation, Newhall Avenue, Newhall Pass, Henry Mayo Drive and Newhall Ranch Road.

Then, there are the histories that created the names we are most familiar with today.

The Santa Clarita Valley itself remained nameless for quite some time, even after Spanish explorers named the Santa Clara River after St. Clare of Assisi.

This was mainly because a mission near San Francisco, who also wanted to honor St. Clare, donned the mission, nearby river and its surroundings Santa Clara as well.

Soon, the southern valley was referred to as “little Santa Clara,” and it wasn’t until A.B. Perkins, manager of the Newhall Water Company and local historian, suggested translating it into Spanish, coining it “Santa Clarita.” Yet, the name wasn’t fully incorporated for another 40 years thereafter.

Dan Watson/The Signal

Santa Clarita isn’t our only “ita” though. Placerita Canyon was named after gold was discovered in the local streams during the first California gold rush. “Placer gold” refers to the gold mined in streams, which dubbed the name.

But once again, a larger gold strike up north years later created towns of similar name — Placerville and Placer County. This lead to the addition of the “ita,” making Placerita the smaller, less famous of the two gold towns.

Because of how many Spanish explorers “discovered” the area, there are various other Spanish-names in the SCV, including Agua Dulce.

Literally translated to mean “sweet water” in Spanish, Agua Dulce was named by the Spanish missionaries who passed through the canyon and drank from the springs in the area. In fact, it was described as “sweet” due to the arsenic-tainted water.

The same missionaries who named Agua Dulce donned the nearby canyon Soledad, which means “solitude” or “loneliness” in Spanish, because it reminded them of their hometown in Catalonia, Spain.

Valencia sign on Magic Mountan Parkway exit from 5 freeway. Dan Watson/The Signal

Speaking of Spain, the Newhall Land and Farming Co. decided to name their new development after the city in Spain because of the Mediterranean feel the orange trees gave the area.

There are also other Spanish-named areas which had a more literal meaning, including The Old Road, which was originally called exactly that in Spanish, “El Camino Viejo.”

Val Verde, or “green valley” in Spanish, was named quite literally by the very creative Spanish settlers and the name stuck.

Dan Watson/The Signal

The Spanish explorers weren’t the first settlers in our history though. In fact, the Tataviam Indians are known to have been residing in the area since 450 A.D., and the name Castaic was originally derived from the Tataviam Indian word “kashtuk,” which means “eyes.”

Since then, it was spelled a number of ways, and it wasn’t until 1915 with the opening of the Ridge Route from Castaic to Gorman that the city was officially created and dubbed “Castaic” for good.

Yet, even as recently as 2013 there have been controversies in the pronunciation of Castaic.

Dan Watson/The Signal

Like Newhall, there are also many local areas are named after those who made this valley what it is today, including Gorman.

James Gorman and his wife were both Irish immigrants who created a “way station” for travelers along the Butterfield Stage route, while Gorman’s brother, Henry, was postmaster at the first post office in the area.

Interestingly enough, the Gorman’s later sold their property to Oscar Ralphs, who founded the grocery store chain, after James Gorman was run over by his own wagon. The Ralphs’ family still owns the town today.

Although the Newhall Land and Farming Co. development of Stevenson Ranch has no name history, the names of many streets located in the area are those of famous authors.

Another famous pioneer was Atholl McBean, a businessman married to a Newhall’s granddaughter, who saved The Newhall Land and Farming Co. from financial meltdown in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

McBean later helped spearhead the plans to create Valencia and remained chairman of the board until his death.

Dan Watson/The Signal

There also Pico Canyon, which was named for Andres Pico, a Mexican general, who is credited to helping end the Mexican-American War in California by signing the Treaty of Cahuenga with John C. Fremont.

Although it wasn’t a formal treaty between the nations, the informal agreement called for the cease-fire and ended the fighting.

The interesting name histories don’t stop there as a French immigrant, Charles Alexander Mentry, created the first successful oil well in the west, Pico No. 4, which consistently produced 30 barrels of oil per day.

After that, experience oil workers from the east came to the area they began to call Mentryville. And although it remains the the birthplace of the California oil industry, the town is now deserted.

Following in the pioneer-named tradition was Wiley Canyon, which came from Henry Wiley who not only ran a stagecoach stop, but also found a way to lower wagons over the mountain pass.

Wiley created a rope and pulley system, known as a windlass, to lower stagecoach wagons into the Santa Clarita Valley from the mountain above.

Then there’s Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson, who was best known as the first leader of

Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works aircraft design and construction operation, which was the alias for their advanced development projects. Turns out they had a Skunk Works facility in what is now the Valencia Industrial Center, which explains the name.

Another of the more interesting of name histories includes how Bouquet Canyon came to be.

Francisco Chari was a French sailor who landed in California and turned cattle driver. Because he was always telling stories of his adventures at sea on his “buque,” meaning ship in Spanish, the locals donned him “El Buque.”

This lead to his land in the canyon being named “El Rancho del Buque,” which American mapmakers later changed to “Bouquet” as they didn’t know much Spanish, changing the meaning to a bunch of flowers.

Vasquez Rocks was also named for someone famous, this one being one of California’s most notorious bandits, Tiburcio Vasquez, who used the rocks to elude law enforcement.

Because Vasquez was a “likable fellow,” he was able to continue his career as an outlaw for 23 years before he was finally caught and hung for his crimes.

Editor’s note: All of the histories were provided by

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