The town of Newhall was established in the summer of 1876 as a little flag stop along the
brand-new Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Named for
local land owner Henry Mayo Newhall, the town originally sat near the modern-day
intersection of Magic Mountain Parkway and San Fernando Road.
It was a time of drought, so in January, 1878, the whole town picked up and moved two miles south — train depot and
all — to be closer to indigenous water sources. (The Saugus train station was erected
a decade later where the Newhall depot originally stood.) Like most of the small frontier
towns that dotted the dusty expanses of the Old West, early downtown Newhall was little
more than a cluster of saloons, livery stables and general stores, with a large Victorian hotel
to serve passing travelers.
Fueled in part by the 1876 discovery of vast oil resources in the area, families began to move
into the regions surrounding Newhall. In 1878, fifty-three school-age children lived in or near
Newhall. Teacher Kate A. Kaystile tutored six of them — one fewer than the number
officially needed to form a school district — in the corner of Addi Lyon’s bunkhouse on the
Sanford Lyon Ranch, where wooden boards from the beds were retooled into desks. Used
for one year, the makeshift "school" was located near old Highway 99, about half-
way between downtown Newhall and the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville — roughly
where the Valencia Marketplace stands today.
In the following year, the town fathers decided to construct a self-standing schoolhouse at
the northeast corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets, two blocks back from Newhall’s Main
Street (aka Railroad Avenue). This first "official" school was a two-story wooden
building with a belfry centered above the doorway. Thirty-nine year old Judge John F.
Powell, who would serve for nearly four decades as justice of the Soledad Judicial District, financed
the staggering $3,500 construction cost.
Even with the new structure, no more than thirteen children attended school at any one
time. Daily attendance averaged just seven children. More children probably showed up for
the sandlot baseball games in the open fields surrounding the school than showed up for
their lessons! Nonetheless, the school was busy, even on weekends. Sunday school classes
were held on the second floor during the 1880s, as the local First Presbyterian Church didn’t
come along until 1891. Catholic services were also held in the schoolhouse at least as early as 1883.
The Newhall School District was governed by a board of trustees as it is today. Back then,
the board was composed primarily of local businessmen such as George Campton, Newhall’s
first general merchant, who was re-elected several times.
Fire would prove the nemesis of the Newhall School District in the early years. It struck for
the first time in 1890, burning the original Newhall School to the ground. A residence at 719
Spruce Street (now known as San Fernando Road) was used temporarily until a new
schoolhouse could be erected near the site of the last, at Ninth and Walnut. This time it was
Henry Clay Needham, a local entrepreneur who would go on to seek the United States
presidency on the Prohibition ticket in 1920, who provided most of the funding.
Newhall School housed sixty first-through-ninth graders during the 1890s. In 1892 a second
classroom was added to the two-story structure, which sported a bell tower at its right front
corner. Children who wished to pursue their studies beyond the ninth grade could do so
after 1896, when San Fernando High School was built. After 1899, ninth graders joined their
underclassmen at San Fernando High, as the ninth grade was discontinued in Newhall.
In 1914 the second Newhall schoolhouse suffered the same fate as the first, burning to the
ground. A new structure was erected near the northwest corner of Newhall Avenue and
Lyons (then known as Tenth Street or Pico Road). This schoolhouse was larger: a three-
room, two story building with a double-wide front door that opened out onto the street.
By the end of World War I, older children no longer had to travel by horseback or bicycle
to San Fernando. Now they could ride in a converted automobile that Newhall merchant
S.D. Dill used as a school bus until 1932, when he purchased a new bus.
The school site at Lyons and Newhall didn’t lend itself to expansion, and when a permanent
home with "growing room" was secured at the corner of Eleventh and Walnut
Streets in 1928, the former schoolhouse was split in half and converted into private homes.
The new Eleventh Street site became a community gathering place, particularly on the
Fourth of July, much as the earliest Newhall school sites had been.
The original "Newhall Park" was not the current Newhall Park, but rather a large
open area adjoining the school to the north. It was the venue for town get-togethers on
Independence Day, when people came from miles around to participate in greased pole and
greased pig contests; played baseball until dusk; listened to patriotic speeches; collected for
old-timers reunions; and posed for panoramic post-parade photographs. But it was not to last.
Eventually the park space gave way to housing.
Fire ravaged Newhall School for the third time in fifty years on Valentines Day, 1939. All
but a few rooms in the north wing were destroyed. This time, however, the school would not
be relocated. Construction began immediately to replace the burned-out buildings.
The school reopened on May 10, 1940. The nation was just emerging from the Great
Depression, and with new federal programs at its disposal that had not existed prior to the
New Deal, the school board applied to the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to build
a school auditorium.
WPA workers finished the job in September, 1941. The auditorium held 460 chairs on sloped
flooring, an orchestra pit, and an upstairs projection room with a film vault. Again Newhall
School would become a community gathering place, as patrons assembled in the auditorium
for movies, plays and special events.
By this time Newhall School was again housing the ninth grade, but not for much longer.
On January 13, 1945, the California State Board of Education approved the petitions of five
Santa Clarita Valley school districts — Newhall, Saugus, Castaic, Mint Canyon and Sulphur
Springs — to form the "Santa Clarita Union High School District." Two weeks later,
on January 29th, local residents 1,184-7 to create Santa Clarita Union High School District.
On March 9 they elected its first five-member board, and on June 2 they voted 432-2 to pass a $300,000 bond measure
to build the valley’s first high school on a 27-acre
parcel on Newhall Avenue, just down the street from Newhall School.
The name "Santa Clarita," or "Little St. Clare," had been suggested
for the new school and district by town historian A.B. Perkins. It was a diminutive form of
"Santa Clara," the name Portolá diarist Father Juan Crespí had
given the valley’s river in 1769. However, the name was so unpopular that in the spring of 1946 it was changed
to honor the young district’s chief benefactor, the aging silent film cowboy and Newhall resident
William S. Hart.
The first Hart District school board was composed of school board members from each of
the elementary districts. Tom Frew III and S.S. Donaldson represented the Newhall district.
Donaldson was a sitting Newhall school board member, while Frew had already retired from
a lengthy tenure on the Newhall board which included several years as president.
Newhall School’s ninth grade class of 1945-46 became the first Hart High School
in 1946-47 and went on to become Hart’s first graduating class, the famous
"’49ers." Newhall’s seventh and eighth grades moved over in 1948 as Hart became
a junior and senior high school, which it remained until the 1961 opening of nearby Placerita
In the ensuing years the area grew as never before. Additions were made to Newhall School
in 1946, 1950, 1954 and 1958. Peachland Avenue became the site of the elementary district’s
second campus in 1959, followed by Wiley Canyon School in 1966.
When the New Town of Valencia moved off of the drawing board and into reality in the late
1960s, additional schools were needed. Old Orchard opened in the 1969-70 school year,
followed by Meadows in 1976, Valencia Valley in 1988 and Stevenson Ranch in 1995.
Much has changed since the days when the fledgling Newhall School District had to struggle
to get the requisite seven children together for classes. In 1997-98, the seven campuses
of the Newhall School District will serve a student population of almost 6,000
kindergarten-through-sixth graders. The schools consistently win awards for academic excellence, ranking among
the top ten percent of all public schools in California.