Until Edward Fitzgerald Beale came along, there was no good way to cross the mountains separating the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. Most travelers used old Indian trails. Stagecoaches and wagons were raised and lowered using ropes and pulleys.
Then in 1862, under Beale's direction, U.S. soldiers swinging picks and shovels dug a 90-foot-deep, 240-foot-long gash in the mountains. It was only 13 feet across, but it was enough. The traffic began to flow, opening the Valley to parts north.
The cut was primitive and steep, but it had one modern innovation--a tollbooth. A single rider on horseback paid 25 cents, stagecoaches paid $2, and sheep were 3 cents a head. The first automobile to cross the mountains used the cut in 1902, backing up the grade to keep the gasoline flowing to the engine.
Beale's Cut was used until 1910, when the 434-foot-long Newhall Tunnel was dug about a quarter-mile west of the cut. The earth around the tunnel was eventually cut away as well, creating the path for today's Sierra Highway. Beale's Cut, still intact, is a short hike east of Sierra Highway, about two miles southwest of San Fernando Road.
Beale was a government surveyor and a frontier courier who distinguished himself for daring behind enemy lines in the Mexican War. He had a varied career--even serving as U.S. minister to Austria in 1876--and died at the age of 71 in his hometown of Washington, D.C., in 1893.
In his strangest exploit, Beale persuaded the Department of War to try using camels as pack animals in the Southwest in the 1860s.
But the experiment was short-lived. The camels didn't like it here.