Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Description of Petroleum Activity in Pico, Towsley, Wiley, Rice Canyons.

Webmaster's note.

Historian Stan Walker writes:

In June of 1866, Samuel F. Peckham visited Pico Spring, the Hughes claim (which would be on today's PCO Hill in Pico Canyon), the Moore claim (in DeWitt Canyon), Towsley Spring, Wiley Spring, and the Rice claim. Here is what he had to say.

The following excerpt is from pages 67-68 of Geology, Volume II, The Coast Ranges, Appendix, Geological Survey of California, John Wilson & Son, University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1882: Appendix F, Examination of the Bituminous Substances occurring in Southern California, Part I, Geological and Historical (June 1866), pp. 49-73, S.F. Peckham.

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Crossing a low divide from the San Francisco Ranch, we enter the San Fernando Mining District. The first property east of this ranch is Pico Spring. This spring yields the most valuable petroleum of any natural outflow yet discovered in Southern California. Only a basin has been excavated, to receive the oil as it flows from crevices in the rock. Seventeen hundred and fifty gallons had been sent away from April 9 to June 18, and a considerable quantity, say one hundred gallons, remained on hand. This would give an average yield of from twenty to twenty-five gallons per day. I consider this to be the most favorable locality for an artesian boring in Southern California. The anticlinal crest of the oil-bearing shales is here exposed in a deep cañon, the crest being overlaid with unbroken bands of sandstone and conglomerate, which effectually prevent rain-water from reaching the bituminous strata. The oil yielded here at the surface is from 26° to 28° Baumé.

Next east of the Pico Spring is the Hewes [sic; Hughes] Claim, upon which a spring-pole well is located, from eight hundred to one thousand feet above Pico Spring. More perseverance, industry, and energy, than sound judgment, are evinced in the selection of this point for boring. The well is one hundred and sixty-five feet in depth. Operations are suspended at present on account of a drill-bit that is stuck fast at the bottom. Petroleum rises in this well for forty feet, and one or two barrels have been taken out of a specific gravity of 26° Baumé. The indications of bituminous strata upon this property are not easily accessible, but I consider that they offer far greater inducements for development by tunneling than by boring. The oil-bearing rocks may be penetrated by a tunnel two hundred feet in length far below the point now reached by boring. I was told that the proprietors intended to sink this well with a spring-pole to a depth of one thousand feet; a project which the experience of many has proved to be utterly impracticable. The anticlinal crest of sandstone and conglomerates is here broken through so as to expose the crest of the shale for a few yards in width. The well is located upon this anticlinal.

The Moore Claim next east embraces to cañons opening into the Pico Cañon. In the west cañon a very extensive outflow of light maltha occurs. The anticlinal of solid rock is here broken through for about one hundred yards in width, leaving the shale exposed in quite steep declivities. A horizontal tunnel thirty feet in length yielded an increased flow of light maltha. I think deep boring would yield at this point oil of better quality, though perhaps not in so large quantity as tunnels. In the east cañon of this claim, three wells have been put down, with a very imperfect spring-pole apparatus, to a depth of fifty, fifty, and forty-five feet. Two of them, I was told, reached petroleum, probably very dense. I consider this claim capable of yielding a large amount of material by proper methods of development.

East of the Moore Claim is the Tousley [sic; Towsley] Spring, in a cañon nearly parallel with the Pico Cañon. Mr. Rushmore, who superintends the work now going on there, informed me that the well upon his property was yielding three and one half barrels per day of very light maltha. This well is one hundred and sixty-six feet in depth. The quality of the maltha has improved from a very viscid maltha of a specific gravity of 16° Baumé, to a light maltha of a specific gravity of 20° Baumé. There is also a tunnel upon this property forty feet in length; the yield is a very dense maltha which is not gathered.

In the next cañon east are the Wylie [sic; Wiley] Springs. A well upon this property has been sunk to a depth of one hundred and seventy-seven feet. It passed through sandstone interstratified with thin layers of shale, and yields a very small quantity of petroleum of a density of 28° Baumé. At the time of my visit (June 18) this tunnel was being pushed forward, and three others were just commenced. The Wylie Springs and Tousley Claim are being operated by the same parties, under the title of the Wylie Springs Oil Company. Operations were commenced last August, since which time the property has produced two hundred and sixty barrels of petroleum and light maltha.

East of the Wylie Spring is the Rice Claim, upon which is an outcrop of maltha. A well has been sunk upon this property to a depth of sixty feet, and is now idle in consequence of a bit having been lost in it.

The labor that has been expended upon these properties amounts to little more than prospective operations. The great distance from shipping points, from fifty to sixty miles, and the density of the oils thus far produced, have been great obstacles to overcome in the development of this region. The desire universally expressed by those engaged in the development of these new properties is that a refinery should be located in the immediate neighborhood of the springs. A refinery located at the head-waters of the Santa Clara River would prove a valuable enterprise in itself, and at the same time furnish the greatest stimulus to the development of this entire section. I consider that this section, properly developed, is capable of furnishing an amount of oil nearly equal to that of the San Buenaventura District, and of superior quality.

Form the San Fernando Pass to the Dañada de Brea, twenty-five miles from Los Angeles, various outcrops of asphaltum and maltha occur in the low foot-hills of the San Gabriel Mountains; running along the northern boundary of the San Fernando plain, and north of los Angeles and Anaheim.

I have been unable to learn that any outflows between those two points have been developed in any manner.

Courtesy of Stan Walker.


Description of Petroleum Activity in Pico, Towsley, Wiley, Rice Canyons, 1866


1885: Incl. Pico, Newhall Refinery




1890: The Pico Field




1927 (Nos. 1-4)

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