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Back to the Boom

Mentryville Harvest Festival gives visitors the story of a once-prosperous oil town.

October 06, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The tiny village of Mentryville--the scene of an early oil boom in the American West--will spring to life Saturday for the annual Mentryville Fall Harvest Festival, featuring food, entertainment and cowboy rope tricks.

Because the people flocking to Mentryville in Newhall will be family types rather than frontiersmen of the Old West, the purpose of the whiskey jugs on hand will be to make music, courtesy of the Lawbreakers Jug Band.

An old-fashioned western barbecue will be served, a barbershop quartet will perform, and there will be trick ropers and cowboy poetry competitions.

For visitors with more modern tastes, there will be popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs and a display of horseless carriages, otherwise known as classic cars.

This year, a new feature will be the "Haunted Schoolhouse" for kids.

The event is a fund-raiser organized by Friends of Mentryville, a group dedicated to the restoration of historic buildings in the one-block-square village.

After a three-mile drive through tracts of newly built houses on Pico Canyon Road west of the Golden State Freeway, visitors will suddenly find themselves in the 1870s, when French immigrant Charles Alexander Mentrier drilled what is believed to be the first commercially successful oil well in the West on land purchased from the Andres Pico family.

The well produced oil until 1990, when it was finally capped.

It was the first of dozens of wells drilled in the area by workers from Pennsylvania, where America's first oil wells had been drilled a few years earlier, said Sandy O'Kelly-Ramirez, president of Friends of Mentryville.

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The town of Mentryville sprang up (bearing the Anglicized version of its founder's name) surrounded by a forest of derricks and miles of pipeline connected to a mechanical pumping marvel called a "jack plant."

But the place was also graced with gas-lighted tennis courts and croquet fields.

For more than 100 years, the Mentryville area produced oil and became an important sector of the California oil fields, which stretched from Long Beach to Bakersfield.

A special tabletop display on the history of Mentryville was assembled by Friends member Will Richards, who worked in the local fields until his retirement in 1995.

It will give visitors an idea of how the place looked in the days of the pioneers.

BE THERE

Mentryville Fall Festival, Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Mentryville State Historical Village, 27201 W. Pico Canyon Road, Newhall. Suggested contribution $1 to help restore historic structures. Call (661) 255-2695 or go to www.scvleon.com/mentryville.

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