The History Behind Santa Clarita

Santa Clarita's past doesn't always appear in history books or on websites. This is surprising because Santa Clarita's story reads something like a Hollywood script, boasting some of the state's most cherished and historic "firsts." Our community's story began with early settlers and pioneers, includes devastating natural disasters, tales of entrepreneurs who achieved great things, and continues today with achievements that make Santa Clarita one of Southern California's most respected cities.

Below are some historic highlights you might enjoy:

    • The first area settlers were the Shoshone-speaking Tataviam, who settled in the area about AD 450.

    • Santa Clarita got its name from the Portola expedition. The Spaniards arrived on horseback in August 1769 and named the wild river they saw for St. Clare (Santa Clara). The river was later called the "little" Santa Clara, and the valley accordingly took the name of Santa Clarita.

    • Henry Mayo Newhall was born in Saugus, Massachusetts in 1825. An accomplished auctioneer and businessman (real estate and railroads), Newhall purchased the Rancho San Francisco and granted a right-of-way to the Southern Pacific Company. The first tracks connecting the San Francisco area with Los Angeles were laid across his ranch. He named the station Saugus, after his birthplace and the railroad named the town site he had granted, Newhall.

    • History tells us gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, but in actuality Jose Francisco de Gracia Lopez was responsible for the state's first gold discovery, which happened in Santa Clarita on March 9, 1842 - six years before James Marshall's discovery. Legend has it Lopez' gold was clinging to the roots of wild onions, which were found beneath the "Oak of the Golden Dream," which still resides in Placerita Canyon.

    • The Sulphur Springs School District was formed in 1872 and was only the second school district in Los Angeles County.

    • In 1876 French immigrant Charles Alexander Mentry began pumping 30 barrels of oil a day from "Pico No. 4," which was the first successful oil well in the West and remains the oldest existing refinery in the world.

    • In 1887 Saugus Cafe on Railroad Avenue opened its doors. Today the restaurant is the oldest still-operating restaurant in Los Angeles County.

  • In 1928, the Santa Clarita Valley was the scene of the second worst disaster in California history when the St. Francis Dam collapsed, flooding Saugus and killing 450 people.

  • Filming in Santa Clarita began shortly after the turn of the 20 th century with a variety of Western actors filming and living in Santa Clarita, including William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Harry Carey, John Wayne, and Gene Autry. Hart's home in Newhall is now a year-round museum operated by Los Angeles County, while Autry's ranch remains one of the most filmed Western movie ranches in the industry.

  • The City of Santa Clarita incorporated December 15, 1987--the largest City ever to incorporate in the history of California. The first City of Santa Clarita City Council included: Mayor Howard "Buck" McKeon, Mayor Pro-tem Jan Heidt, and Councilmembers Dennis Koontz, Jo Anne Darcy, and Carl Boyer.


    Santa Clarita has come a long way from the early days of pioneers and gold discovery. But today, the pioneer spirit continues as we build upon our past successes and write a new story for Santa Clarita.