Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Mentry Family
Pico Canyon (Mentryville)

Born Charles Alexander Mentrier in France in 1846, "Alex" Mentry (center, seated) came to the Newhall area in in 1873 to find his fortune. Already an experienced oil driller who had punched 42 successful wells near Titusville, Pennsylvania, Mentry soon landed a job digging wells in Grapevine Canyon, at the southern end of the Santa Clarita Valley. In 1875 he formed a partnership to purchase a claim in nearby Pico Canyon, which had been explored in the late 1860s by Newhall entrepreneurs Sanford Lyon, Henry Clay Wiley and Los Angeles lawman William Jenkins. The claim had produced only moderate results, but it held great potential if only someone with sufficient technical and engineering skills would come along to work on it.

That man was Alex Mentry. Mentry deepened the old Lyon-Wiley-Jenkins hole and drilled two others in Pico Canyon. It wasn't long before a San Francisco fiancier by the name of Demetrius Scofield -- himself an old Pennsylvania oil man -- caught wind of what was going on outside the sleepy burgh of Newhall. Scofield purchased Mentry's claim in 1876 and convinced the oil driller to come under his employ.

Mentry used what may have been California's first steam-powered oil rig to drill a fourth well, which consistenly produced 30 barrels of oil per day. Mentry kept digging. Finally, on September 26, 1876, from a depth of 617 feet, a mighty geyser of oil shot through the 5 5/8-inch casing. It was the first commercially successful oil well in the western United States, and Demetrius Scofield was a rich man.

Teams of oil workers flocked to Pico Canyon, which was soon being called Mentryville. Alex Mentry married Flora May Lake of New York, who gave him three sons and a daughter. The family ultimately outgrew the cottage that Mentry built in 1889, so with his savings from his monthly salary of $300, in 1898 he built a 13-room Victorian mansion known as the "Big House" at the base of the canyon. Two short years later, in 1900, Mentry was bitten by an insect, and on October 4 he died of complications.

The individuals in this photograph, c. 1883-84, are identified in an early caption written by a Mr. Louis Hunseom (sp?) of Newhall as follows:

LEFT TO RIGHT, SEATED: Irene Mentry, Aunt May (Mrs. Alex Mentry), Arthur Mentry, Uncle Alex Mentry, Aunt Clara, Grandfather Mentry. The woman in the back row, standing, is identified as Aunt Mary. The men are unidentified.

For more information read The Story of Mentryville by Leon Worden.

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