This bell was placed on permanent loan with the City of Santa Clarita in 1998 by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society for placement in the bell tower of the city's
Jan Heidt Newhall Metrolink Station — which was then in the planning stages — so that the bell could be seen and appreciated by the greatest number of local residents. And so it was.
At the time, it was believed that the bell was the original bell that hung above the Saugus School in 1908 (because a plaque on the bell stand said it came from the Saugus School), and further that the Saugus Union School District had donated it outright in 1978 to the SCV Historical Society (because there was nothing to indicate an alternate disposition).
In recent years, new information has been "rediscovered," calling both of those facts into question.
On the matter of ownership, the following entry appears in the minutes of the Saugus Union School District Governing Board for Aug. 2, 1978:
On motion of Mrs. Lund, second of Mr. White, and a unanimous vote, authorization was given to place the Saugus School bell in the custodial care of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, to be housed at the restored Mentryville School site in Pico Canyon in Newhall until such time as a possible permanent location should be found.
The Historical Society subsequently "found" a permanent location in the Newhall Metrolink tower.
As of today, we don't know whether the bell ever went to Mentryville. The Felton School had been restored two years earlier and had no bell tower after 1893. The heavy bell sat on the floor of the Historical Society's Saugus Train Station Museum for many years before it was loaned to the city.
There are several theories about the true identity of the bell.
There are unconfirmed reports that the original bell was removed from the schoolhouse before, or at the time of, the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928. There is an indication in news items that hoodlums sometimes climbed to the roof of the schoolhouse and toyed with the bell, possibly absconding with it at least once. Over the years, "old timers" have said they remember the original bell being removed to a ranch in the area.
What is known with certainty is that the reconstruction of the Saugus School was completed in 1938 and a bell was displayed in front of the school (the new building had no bell tower) along with this plaque memorializing Saugus Community Club members who perished in the dam disaster. The plaque had been displayed at the Saugus Community Club House (23027 Drayton St.) and was donated to the Saugus School by the new clubhouse property owner (whose daughter attended the school) after the club closed in 1946.
Local historian Cathy Martin remembers (2014) that there were two bells at the school when she was a student there. A large bell sat on a "three-tiered cement platform" in the circular drive in front of the school and had a brass plaque indicating it was dedicated to children killed in the St. Francis Dam disaster. Another, smaller bell "hung in a small tower in the front of the school next to the teachers' lounge and the office." She says this one was "part of the school building. If you parked out front of the school on San Fernando Road and walked up the walkway to the school office, it was on the right, and across the small hallway was the teacher lounge. Above was a small bell in a peak of the roofline. ... It was up really high" (Martin 2014 PC).
The prevailing theory is that the bell that was placed in front of the 1938 school building was not there previously; rather, it came either from the Bee School or the San Francisquito School, both of which were destroyed in the dam disaster (and which were governed by their own, separate school districts). Most of the student body of both schools perished in the disaster (13 of 15 in the Bee District and 12 of 13 in the San Francisquito District. The Saugus District lost 10 of 18).
At the time that the "transference" of the bell from the Saugus Union School District to the SCV Historical Society was proposed in 1978, there was question as to its identity.
The following is recorded in the minutes of the SCV Historical Society Board of Directors meeting of April 4, 1978:
Betty Pember reported on the Saugus school bell and bell plaque. It is undetermined whether the historic bell was at the school in San Francisquito Canyon or whether
it was the bell from the original Saugus school, used before the present school was built. Don Ray said he would attempt to research the history of the bell. It was
decided to defer action until the place for the bell had been resolved.
Don Ray, a journalist and St. Francis Dam historian, believes the bell originated with one of the destroyed schools in San Francisquito Canyon.
He organized the St. Francis Dam Memorial Banquet for survivors on the 50th anniversary
of the disaster, March 12, 1978, at which time the bell and the plaque from the Saugus Community Club were to be "rededicated."
A newspaper article (source unknown) announcing the Memorial Banquet reports the following, based on information from Don Ray:
A bronze bell, all that was left of the one-room schoolhouse
in San Francisquito Canyon, was to be rededicated as a memorial
to the children who died in the midnight flood.
The Santa Paula Daily Chronicle reports March 13, 1978, in a story by Elaine Fulton, also based on information from Don Ray:
The Saugus School District accepted a bell that had been used at the school destroyed by the flood,
and that was later at the Saugus Elementary School that was closed because of industrial fumes.
The Saugus Community Club plaque was displayed at the Memorial Banquet, but the bell was not. "Wherever the bell was at that time," Don Ray remembers (2014), "it would have been very difficult for them to cart it into the banquet room."
The banquet was held at the Ranch House Inn in Valencia. "I remember that the Historical Society in March of 1978 had intended to have the bell's handover ceremony up at the
dam site, but the roads flooded out that year and they asked to have their ceremonies at the reunion that Bill Thomas and I had organized [for survivors] at the Ranch House Inn" (Ray 2014, PC).
St. Francis Dam researcher Ann Stansell summarizes the prevailing theory as follows (Stansell 2014):
A bell from Bee School, a one-room schoolhouse destroyed in San Francisquito
Canyon during the flood, currently hangs in the tower of the Newhall Metrolink Station at
24300 Railroad Ave. The bell was originally dedicated to six Bee School
students. For many years the bell sat on a pedestal in front of Saugus Elementary School. A
plaque with names of children lost in the flood is said to have been displayed with the bell. It is possible this plaque was actually the Saugus Community Club memorial. In
1978 the bell was donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, at the 50th
anniversary Survivors Reunion. The bell was donated with the intention of placing it at the
Mentryville schoolhouse, though this never took place. The bell was displayed at the Saugus
Train Depot Museum until 1998, when it was loaned by the historical society to the city of
[Santa Clarita] for the Metrolink station tower.
Now, in 2014-2015, we're once again actively trying to prove or disprove the identity of the bell.
The information below was written in 1998 and has been tweaked in the intervening years. If we ever figure it out once and for all, we'll rewrite this whole thing.
[Photo Above] August 19, 1998 —
The Saugus School bell is inspected at SCV Historical Society headquarters by (from left) City of Santa Clarita engineering technician Bonnie Joseph and SCVHS directors Pat Saletore and Tom Frew IV, prior to its move to the Newhall Metrolink station bell tower.
The bell from the tower of the Saugus School was stored by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society after the school closed in 1978. The Society placed the bell on permanent loan to the city of Santa Clarita for use in the tower of the Jan Heidt Metrolink Station in downtown Newhall, where it hangs today. The Newhall Metrolink station opened March 18, 2000 — ironically (by coincidence rather than by design) — exactly where the original Newhall train station was located after 1878.
The Saugus School bell was fabricated by the C.S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, Ohio. It is made of cast iron, weighs approximately 400 pounds and measures 30 inches in diameter at the base (overall measurements are 24 by 36 inches, including housing and a wheel that once fit a rope to ring the bell).
Saugus Elementary School opened in 1910 on a section of Charles and Anita Kellogg's farm, located in the "triangle" between present-day Magic Mountain Parkway, Bouquet Canyon Road and Valencia Boulevard. Three Saugus businessmen (Saugus Cafe co-owner Martin Wood, Saugus grocer Ore Bercaw and someone named Osborn) contributed $100 each for the construction of the wooden, New England-style building. Unlike other Saugus buildings that faced east (toward Bouquet Canyon Road), the original schoolhouse faced south. Margaret O'Connell was the first teacher.
On Nov. 12, 1908, the Saugus School District was formed from sections of the Newhall School District (est. 1879) and Castaic School District (1889).
The school construction project was put to bid a year later, on or about Oct. 15, 1909. After initial construction, the little 26x50-foot, one-story wooden schoolhouse was added onto as the school population grew — which it did, thanks in part to a 1911 state law whereby school districts were no longer funded based on area population, but by the number of kids who actually attended class. Now, school officials had a real incentive to get them there.
Tragedy struck on the night of March 12-13, 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed and sent 12.5 billion gallons of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. Half of the student body and some school staff members — estimates range from 17 to 22 souls — perished. (The schoolhouse survived; it wasn't in the floodpath.)
By 1935 the school district was in need of more money so it asked voters for an extra $1,500 per year. They said no, 7 votes to 6.
Unphased, the school board put together a plan for a new, modern school to replace the antiquated schoolhouse. This time, on Nov. 14, 1935, voters said yes to a $22,000 construction bond measure. Coupled with a $17,181 grant from the New Deal-era Works Project Administration in early 1936, the district spent $34,913 on a brand-new Saugus School.
Two years later, on Oct. 28, 1938, the district reorganized as the Clifton Union School District, swallowing up all or parts of neighboring districts. On Feb 27, 1940, it changed its name to Saugus Union School District.
District boundaries were adjusted again in 1951 and a portion was transferred to the Sulphur Springs Union School District in Canyon Country.
The Saugus District built its second school in 1960 and gave it the same name as the housing development in Seco Canyon where it was located: "Santa Clarita." Then came Jerome Snyder School, which was temporary, followed by Honby in 1963. (Honby School was transferred in 1991 to the Sulphur Springs District and renamed Canyon Springs.) From there, campus contsruction moved at a fever pace.
But the original Saugus School site's days as a learning facility were numbered. It closed after the 1977-78 school year because the population of Saugus had shifted north of Bouquet Junction and the location was no longer practical as a school site. Additionally, old timers remember the foul air that wafted over the campus from the Keysor-Century Records plant across the street, raising health concerns.
Purchased in 1978 by a private developer, the buildings were remodeled and expanded into the aptly named Saugus Schoolhouse Emporium, a shopping center. By order of the school board on Aug. 2, 1978, its bell (whose authenticity as the original 1908 bell has been questioned) was placed in the "custodial care" of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society with the intent that it be placed in the Felton School at Mentryville "until such time as a possible permanent location should be found." In 2000 the Historical Society placed it on permanent loan to the city of Santa Clarita for the bell tower of the Newhall Metrolink Station, where it hangs today.
Saugus — 1910 (closed 1978)
Santa Clarita — 1960
Jerome Snyder — 1962 (temporary)
Honby — 1963 (transferred to Sulphur Springs in 1991 and renamed Canyon Springs)
Bouquet — 1966 (served as the district office from 1966-93)
Cedarcreek — 1966
Skyblue Mesa — 1966
Rosedell — 1967
Emblem — 1968
Rio Vista — 1969
Highlands — 1970
Valley View — 1972 (transferred to Sulphur Springs in 1982)
Seco Canyon — 1987 (temporary, closed 1990)
Bouquet Canyon — 1989 (modular)
James Foster — 1989
Charles Helmers — 1990
(SUSD Office in Valencia — 1993)
Mountainview — 1996
Plum Canyon — 1998
North Park — 1999
Bridgeport — 2002
Tesoro del Valle — 2005
West Creek Academy — 2010
1. Minutes of SUSD Governing Board Meeting of Aug. 2, 1978, regarding the Saugus School bell: "On motion of Mrs. Lund, second of Mr. White, and a unanimous vote, authorization was given to place the Saugus School bell in the custodial care of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, to be housed at the restored Mentryville School site in Pico Canyon in Newhall until such time as a possible permanent location should be found."