Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Accidental Blacksmiths Of Old Newhall
They Didn't Plan To Spend Their Lives Shoeing Horses In Newhall. But 70 Years And 3 Generations Later, That's How A Trio Of Men Named Tom Frew Wrote Themselves Into The History Books.

Tom Frew II came down Bouquet Canyon in his wagon. With him were his 24-year-old wife Evangeline, their four small boys, their household goods — and an anvil and assorted hammers and tongs, the tools of his blacksmith's trade. The year was 1900.

Tom Frew II Tom still spoke with the gentle burr of his native Scotland. He had finished his apprenticeship before crossing the ocean and settling in Wisconsin, where he married 19-year-old Evangeline Lilly. They heard there was land in the West for the taking, and they decided to move westward to Montana, where they staked out a homestead. But after a frozen winter, they yearned for a warmer climate.

Westward again, first to a small town outside Sacramento, where there was no snow, but where the steamy summers brought swarms of malarial mosquitos. Their baby survived only a few months. What Evangeline wanted was a healthy climate; the Mojave desert sounded appealing.

They picked up again and moved on, this time to Lancaster. There they settled down. The babies came — Jim, then Tom III, then Duncan. Evangeline stayed with the children while Tom was gone from morning to night, shoeing horses, repairing wagons, sharpening drills for oil rigs and blades for plows.

And there was the wind, making it hard for the children to be outside. It seemed as if it would never stop blowing. Word traveled around that an ideal climate could be found not far away, in Long Beach, but the edge of the ocean where, rumor had it, the climate was calm and ideal.

So in the spring of 1900 the Frew family packed up again with their four children and their worldly goods, including an Indian metate that the children had dug out of the Antelope Valley sand.

When they came out of Bouquet Canyon into the little town of Newhall they stopped at a grocery store and sent the children in with a few cents for food for the road. The Gulleys, who owned the store, recognized the blacksmith from Antelope Valley and asked where the family was headed. "To Long Beach," one of the children answered. "Tell your Dad I want to see him," Mr. Gulley said.

He told Tom Frew that the Newhall blacksmith had just died, and that the town was in a sorry state with no blacksmith — no one to shoe the horses, repair the wagons, sharpen the farm implements.

"The blacksmith shop's for sale," he said, "for $400." Tom regretted that he didn't have the $400, because here was everything he needed — a shop with a nearby house and customers at hand. Somehow he struck a bargain and raised the money to buy the shop. This time he had come to stay.

That was Tom Frew II. Today his grandson, Thomas Frew IV, tells the story of his grandfather as he sits in his lovely hillside home only a few blocks from where Tom II bought his blacksmith's shop at the turn of the century.

The shop was right in the center of town, on what was then Spruce Street — now San Fernando Road. The house that went with it was half a block away at the corner of Spruce and Market.

The blacksmith didn't have to wait for customers, and his wife didn't tarry long between pregnancies.

More babies came. The first was delivered by the local midwife, but then the next was a difficult delivery, and she resolved to go down to the hospital in San Fernando for the next three. The third child born in Lancaster had been a girl, but she died at 3, so when Evangeline junior came along in 1906 there was rejoicing because, at last, there was a girl joining the five boys. Her nephew Tom tells of her entrance into the world:

"When Aunt Vangie's mother was bringing her home from the hospital, somehow the train conductor forgot that he was supposed to stop at the Newhall station, which was a flag stop. It was 1 o'clock in the morning. Perhaps the conductor was dozing. Anyhow, the train went right past the station. Grandfather, who was waiting at the station, saw it steam by and decided that mother and baby had missed the train or that she had been kept another day. He had no car, no telephone. He simply planned to be back at the station the next night.

"Well, Grandmother recognized where she was and asked the conductor to stop. They finally stopped the train halfway between Newhall and Saugus. She had a suitcase and a two-week-old baby, but they stopped and put her out. So she walked, with suitcase and baby — it must have been a couple of miles. Little Evangeline did not arrive in style."

Evangeline's children referred to those trips to the hospital as "Mother's vacations" because those travels to produce another baby were generally the only vacations she had. Tom II and Evangeline had eleven children altogether, eight of whom lived to be adults; three of them died before they were five years old.

In 1913 Tom II bought a pie-shaped wedge of 23 acres stretching up the hill next to the property of movie star William S. Hart, which Hart willed to the county and thus later became Hart Park.

Tom set his boys to planting eucalyptus trees — to give them something to do, he later explained — along the ridge near what would later, he hoped, become the site of the family home. One of the eucalyptus trees survives today. The white stucco "family home" was finally built by Tom III — after all the children had left home.

Thomas III was born in 1896, so he was about four years old when they came to Newhall. He, like the rest of his family, went to Newhall elementary school. There was no high school here then. He later spent a year or two at a business college in Los Angeles. He was 21 when he volunteered for the World War I Army, because, he said, he was sick and tired of being a blacksmith and shoeing horses.

He filled out the Army's routine questionnaire about his past occupation, and they immediately sent him to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the artillery base. At that time all the artillery pieces were horse-drawn, so he spent the war shoeing horses.

He came home from the war vowing that he would never become a horseshoer or blacksmith. He arrived in Newhall, however, to find his father sick and saying, "I need help in the shop." There were four other brothers, but Tom III had arrived at the critical moment, and only he became the blacksmith, and he hated it.

Tom III became engaged to one of the daughters of the Reynolds family of Placerita Canyon. Mr. Reynolds so admired the house which Tom built next to the Hart property that he asked if he could use the blueprints. He had the same house constructed by the same builders, except that he said, "I don't need a lot of closets."

The house was built without closets, as Tom IV learned to his discomfort when he lived in the house in later years. Tom III and the Reynolds girl never did marry. She died of tuberculosis, a major killer in the early years of this century.

Some friends of the Reynolds family decided to find a girl for Tom III, who during the boom years of the 1920s was prospering. They introduced Tom to Clara "Patsy" Hofer, a young woman from Kansas who had come West to study at the Biola Bible Institute in Los Angeles. The institute was across from Pershing Square in the center of downtown Los Angeles, and she commuted by streetcar from Hollywood.

Tom III took to riding his motorcycle to Hollywood to pursue the courtship, and in 1927, when Tom was 30 and Patsy was 28, they were married. Tom IV was born on Thanksgiving Day, 1928.

Tom IV remembers that one day, when he was about four years old, his father called him to the shop and said, "There's someone here I want you to meet. Shake hands with Johnson Crepo."

Tom describes the meeting:

"He was about six feet four or five and must have weighed between 250 and 300 pounds. He was huge, huge man, and he was black. He worked at the Lily of the Valley dairy in Bouquet Canyon. So I shook hands with Johnson Crepo, and then looked at my hand. And Johnson said, 'Honey, it doesn't rub off.'

"There were virtually no black people in this valley; the only blacks I had ever seen were in the National Geographic magazine. I was used to my father coming home from the shop with hands that were always coal-black, and he was always saying, 'Wait till I wash my hands.' So my four-year-old mind concluded that Johnson Crepo's black would wash off."

"The shop was a very dirty place to work. It was built of wood, with a wooden floor and a shingled roof. And someone was always absent-mindedly laying a piece of hot iron on the floor, and they'd have to quickly dip a bucket into the big container they used for quenching and put the fire out.

"There was a ladder kept leaning against the outside of the building, with a bucket beside it to extinguish the flames on the roof. Of course there were always sparks flying around the forge. Fires were a constant part of our lives."

As Tom IV grew up, there were two markets in town and one clothing store: Newhall Mercantile. They carried only work clothes, and to buy Sunday clothes the boys' mother took them to downtown Los Angeles.

"We would drive down San Fernando Road to Lankershim, Lankershim to Riverside, Riverside to Glendale Avenue, Glendale Avenue over to Alvarado, and down Alvarado to Bullock's or May Company or Desmond's or one of those stores.

"It was a big deal when we got to go to Los Angeles. Every time we went I would say, 'I want to go on Angel's Flight.' And each time came the same answer, 'Oh, we're too busy today. We'll do it next time.' And in later years it was torn down, and a couple of years ago it was rebuilt. Finally, just two months ago I rode on Angel's Flight for the first time. I took the Metrolink from Newhall, then the subway over there, and at last rode Angel's Flight."

Tom IV became the second generation to attend Newhall elementary school. When he finished the eighth grade he and his classmates were sent to San Fernando High School, because in 1943 there was still no high school in Newhall.

The local people had voted for bonds to finance the school, but World War II was on, and neither labor nor materials were available for school building. It was a time when soldiers were camping in tents and drilling on the grounds of the elementary school. So Tom IV, like his predecessors, was shipped down to San Fernando for his high school years.

"We couldn't participate in school activities," he says, "because it took us an hour on the bus each way. We would stop at every telephone pole to pick up kids or let them off. We were known as 'the bus kids,' which was definitely a negative."

Tom's brother, younger by three years, came along in time to enter the second class at Hart High School.

With extracurricular activities closed to them because of their distance from high school, there was very little for Newhall teen-agers to do, except work on the farms or in the family businesses. Tom and his brother wanted no part of blacksmithing, but no other pursuits were available.

As younger boys they had been active in the Boy Scouts. Tom lacked only one badge to become an Eagle Scout; he never attained that rank because there was no pool where he could be instructed in lifesaving.

"We didn't have much in the way of planned entertainment, so we entertained ourselves by building imaginary forts and castles and generally being creative in a way that today's children, with their sophisticated toys and television, don't have a chance to be," Tom says. "I was careful to teach my own boys to use their imaginations. I brought home big refrigerator boxes and we would construct houses or castles."

After graduating from San Fernando High, Tom IV went on to Ventura Junior College, then to UCLA. At the end of his first year at UCLA he was drafted for the Korean War. He spent 18 months at Camp Roberts, north of San Luis Obispo, and then six months in Korea's capital of Seoul.

On returning from the war he planned to study cinematography, where his ambitions lay. But history repeated itself. His father was ill and said, "I need your help in the shop." So, still inwardly protesting, he became a blacksmith again.

Tom III died in 1966, and Tom IV was told by his mother, "You can't close the shop. It's been in the family for seventy years."

Undaunted, Tom got his Bachelor of Arts in Cinema from a technical college in Hollywood, and in 1970 went to Europe to work on a film. His mother was now gone; his brother was a school teacher, and Newhall had turned from a village into a burgeoning suburb. A blacksmith shop was no longer a community necessity, so in 1970 he closed it for all time.

Tom, like his father before him, grew up one block from the center of town, in a house on Walnut street between Eighth and Market streets. Then, after he was married, he moved "one whole block to Newhall Avenue," where he lived for ten years while planning his present house, where he has now spent nearly half his life.

"My sons were 2 and 4 when we moved into this house. They are now 35 and 37."

During that ten years of planning, he carefully collected pictures from every Sunset, House Beautiful, and House and Garden that he found attractive.

"I started laying the pictures out on the floor one day, and I realized that everything I had selected featured wood."

The house he finally built is just a few winding, hilly blocks from where his father and grandfather had their shop and raised their families. Its tall, irregular rooms feature heavy beams and warm wood colors.

It has been the site of Tom's wildly creative parties: the Hollywood Premier in the Roaring Twenties party, the Circus party, the Medieval party — the last with Tom as King Arthur and the house massively camouflaged into the likeness of a medieval castle.

"The house itself — this house — that I finally picked out was designed by a group of students at San Diego State. They got together a group of 20 women and told them to put down everything they wanted in a house — and here it is," Tom explains.

Not dreamed of by the students at San Diego State or by the 20 women consultants is the essence of Tom Frew's home.

Out on the patio, gracefully twisting trees pierce eaves and balcony and cast their shade on the oak metate and anvil that Tom II brought down Bouquet Canyon.

Not borrowed from Sunset or San Diego are the spectacular iron chandeliers, the candelabrum fashioned from a dozen massive blacksmith's tongs, or the complex iron sunburst over the fireplace — all testifying to the creative imagination of an artist who was dragged into the blacksmith's trade in a little town called Newhall.

©1996 SCVTV | Old Town Newhall USA

See Also:
Spruce Street, 8th to Market, West Side

Read: The Accidental Blacksmiths of Old Newhall.
Sam Smith Blacksmith 1888

Thomas M. Frew II

Shop & Home ~1910

Back of Blacksmith Shop 1920s

Blacksmith Shop 1936

July 4 Parade 1950

July 4 Parade 1953

Tom Frew IV 2003

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