The Newhall Pass in Los Angeles County, California has previously been called Fremont Pass, San Fernando Pass, and for about 20 or so years, “Beale’s Cut”. The pass separates the Santa Susana Mountains from the San Gabriel Mountains.
Newhall Pass was initially named ‘Fremont Pass’ for General John C. Frémont, who was thought to have passed through it in 1847 on his way to sign the Treaty of Cahuenga, but he actually went slightly east of the pass on the El Camino Viejo. Although the pass was originally discovered in August 1769 by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà, it eventually was named for Henry Newhall, a significant businessman in the area during the 19th century.
In 1853, a Los Angeles businessman, Henry Clay Wiley installed a windlass atop the Fremont Pass to speed and ease the ascent and descent of the steep Santa Clara Divide. He also built a tavern, hotel and stable nearby. In 1854, Wiley sold out to Sanford and Cyrus Lyon and it began to be called Lyons Station. At the same time Phineas Banning obtained the business of supplying Fort Tejon.
The steep pass was made easier to cross with a deep slot-like road cut by Charles H. Brindley, Andrés Pico, and James R. Vineyard, to whom the State of California awarded a twenty-year contract to maintain the turnpike and collect tolls. Thus, the “San Fernando Mountain,” the most daunting obstacle along the Fort Tejon Road, the main inland route from Los Angeles to the north, was cut through. Butterfield Overland Mail, a stagecoach that operated mail between St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco began using it directly.
In 1861, a landowner and surveyor named Edward Beale was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the federal Surveyor General of California and Nevada. Beale challenged General Pico’s loyalty to the new president and in 1863, Beale was awarded the right to collect the toll in the pass. Beale maintained rights to the cut for the next twenty years and so it became known as “Beale’s Cut.”
Beale’s Cut was eventually deepened to 90 feet. It lasted as a transportation passage in the neighborhood of present-day Newhall Pass until construction of the Newhall Tunnel was completed in 1910.
Water and Power Museum
(scroll down for Beale’s Cut)
Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society on Beale’s Cut
Edward Fitzgerald Beale was born Feb. 4, 1822 in the District of Columbia. His father George, a paymaster in the Navy, had earned a Congressional Medal for Valor in the War of 1812. His mother, Emily, was the daughter of Commodore Thomas Truxtun. Ned was a student at Georgetown College when, at the solicitation of his widowed mother, President Andrew Jackson appointed him to the Naval School. Beale graduated in 1842.
Midshipman E.F. Beale, 1837
After a promotion to acting sailing master, he sailed for California in October 1845 on the frigate “Congress” under Commodore Robert Stockton. But 20 days later Stockton sent Beale back to Washington with important dispatches. After a long and roundabout voyage, he reached Washington in March 1846. Promoted to the grade of master, he sailed for Panama and then overtook the “Congress” at Callo, Peru, in May 1846.
Hostilities with Mexico had already begun when the vessel reached Monterey on July 20. After reaching San Diego, Stockton dispatched Beale to serve with the land forces. He and a small body of men under Lt. Archibald Gillespie joined Gen. Stephen Kearny’s column just before the disastrous battle of San Pasqual (Dec. 6, 1846). After the Mexican Army surrounded the small American force and threatened to destroy it, Beale and two other men (his Delaware Indian servant and Kit Carson) crept through the Mexican lines and made their way to San Diego for reinforcements. Their actions saved Kearny’s soldiers. Two months later (Feb. 9, 1847), although Beale still suffered from the effects his adventure, Stockton again sent him east with dispatches. Beale reached Washington about June 1. In October he appeared as a defense witness for John Fremont at the “Pathfinder’s” court martial.
Within the next two years, Beale made six more journeys across the country. On the second of these (July-September 1848), he crossed Mexico in disguise to bring the federal government proof of California’s gold. After the fourth journey he married Pennsylvania Representative Samuel Edwards’ daughter, Mary, on June 27, 1849. After making lieutenant on Aug. 3, 1850, Beale resigned from the Navy in May 1851.
He returned to California as a manager for W.H. Aspinwall and Commodore Stockton, who had acquired large properties in America’s newest territory. On March 3, 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Beale Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada. Congress appropriated $250,000 to improve native conditions in Beale’s district. With a party of 13 others he left Washington for California on May 6, 1853. Beale’s party crossed southern Colorado and southern Utah assessing the feasibility of the route for a transcontinental railroad. He reached Los Angeles on Aug. 22. Beale retained his position as superintendent until 1856. California Governor John Bigler also appointed him brigadier general in the state militia to give him additional authority to negotiate peace treaties between the Native Americans and the U.S. Army.
In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Beale to survey a wagon road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico to the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and California. The survey also incorporated an experiment first proposed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis four years earlier. To satisfy part of his transportation needs, Beale took 25 camels, imported from Tunis, as pack animals during this expedition and on another in 1858 through 1859. Beale felt the camels performed well. But they scared horses and mules, so the Army declined to continue the experiment. After Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, the president appointed Beale Surveyor General of California and Nevada. Beale asked Lincoln for a Union Army command, but the president convinced him he could better serve the country by remaining as surveyor general and helping keep California in the Union.
After the Civil War, Beale retired to Rancho Tejon, part of 270,000 acres he had acquired near present-day Bakersfield, California. In 1870 he bought the Decatur House in Washington, D.C. After that he divided his time between his two homes. In 1876 President Ulysses Grant appointed Beale as Minister to Austria-Hungary, a post he held for a year. Grant also suggested Beale as Navy Secretary during President Chester Arthur’s administration, but Arthur preferred someone else. Beale died at Decatur House on April 22, 1893.
Beale’s Cut appeared in many silent western movies. The location became a favorite of movie producers like John Ford and D. W. Griffith. In Ford’s 1923 film Three Jumps Ahead American film actor Tom Mix is filmed jumping over the pass. John Ford used the location in at least four films over a twenty-year period beginning as early as 1917.
Beale’s Cut in 2003
Still in existence today, it is no longer passable by automobiles. Sometime in the late 20th century it suffered a partial collapse, and now is about 30 feet (9.1 m) deep. It is visible from the Sierra Highway about one mile north from the intersection of The Old Road and Sierra Highway, just after the first bridge under SR 14. It lies between Sierra Highway and the new freeway, about a quarter mile to the northeast of a stone marker. Beale’s Cut is difficult to find today because it is fenced off and not close enough to the Sierra Highway to be easily seen.
Go to Beale’s Cut now!
Newhall Tunnel ca. 1918
Newhall Pass is named after businessman Henry Newhall, whose land holdings formed the basis of the city of Santa Clarita. Newhall came to California from Saugus, Massachusetts during the California Gold Rush in 1850. Over time he purchased a number of properties in the state, the most significant being the 46,460-acre (188 km2) Rancho San Francisco in northern Los Angeles County. Within this territory, he granted a right-of-way to Southern Pacific through what is now Newhall Pass, and he also sold them a portion of the land, upon which the company built a town they named after him: Newhall. The first station built on the line he named for his hometown, Saugus. After his death in 1882 his family incorporated the Newhall Land and Farming Company.
Newhall Pass remains a main traffic route, as the Newhall Pass interchange of Interstate 5 (Golden State Freeway) and State Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway), as well as Sierra Highway, Foothill Boulevard, and San Fernando Road travel through the pass. The Sierra Highway crossing was once the Newhall Tunnel, built by Los Angeles County in 1910 to replace Beale’s Cut.
San Fernando Tunnel
San Fernando Tunnel c.1900
Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line and the Union Pacific Railroad (formerly Southern Pacific Railroad) goes through the pass via the San Fernando Tunnel. The 6,940-foot-long railroad tunnel (2,115.3 m) took a year and a half to complete. Over 1,500 mostly Chinese laborers took part in the tunnel construction, which began at the south end of the mountain on March 22, 1875. Many of them had prior experience working on Southern Pacific’s tunnels in the Tehachapi Pass. Due to the sandstone composition of the mountain that was saturated with water and oil, frequent cave-ins occurred and the bore had to be constantly shored up by timbers during excavation.
The initial location for the north end of the tunnel was near Lyons Station Stagecoach Stop, which was abandoned due to frequent cave-ins caused by oil soaked rock. The north end was moved a little further west towards the present town of Newhall, California. The north end of the tunnel excavation commenced in June 1875. Water was a constant problem during construction and pumps were utilized to keep the tunnel from flooding. Workers digging from both the north and south ends of the tunnel came face to face on July 14, 1876. The bores from each end were only a half inch out of line with dimensions of 22 feet (6.7 m) high, 16.5 feet (5.0 m) wide at the bottom and over 18 feet (5.5 m) at the shoulders. Track was laid in place during the tunnel dig and was used to remove dirt and rock by horse pulled cars. The first train passed through the tunnel on August 12, 1876. On September 4th Charles Crocker notified Southern Pacific that the track had been completed on the route between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
More Detail on the Cut:
It must have been sometime in the year 1862 that E.F. Beale, Surveyor-General of California and Nevada, took over the franchise given to Messrs. Brinley, Pico and Vineyard to put in the new San Fernando Road. General Beale, as he was often called, could see from his large holdings bordering the Fort Tejon Pass, the new development coming into the country around him.
To the north, the great Tulare Valley stretching endlessly below the Cañada de las Uvas was awakening with settlers. That year a man by the name of Colonel Baker14
together with one Harvey Brown, had purchased the franchise granted to the Montgomery brothers. It called for the reclaiming of 400,000 acres of the great valley, soggy and rush-covered near the Kern river, from the Canada as far north as Fresno.15
It foretold the future settlement of the desolate land.
The following year Beale was to hear that Colonel Baker with his family had come down from Visalia and had himself settled on Kern Island with the new, roaring channels of the Kern river watering the land about him. He had planted an alfalfa field, a green oasis in the hot desolate valley, and emigrants, tired and worn, driving in over steep mountain roads, had been told that if they could only hold out until they reached Baker’s field,16
rest for themselves and fodder for their horses would be given them generously.
General Beale could look towards the mountains on the south of his vast ranchos and visualize over them, the small town of Los Angeles with its growing trains of freight wagons for the mining country, and its increasing ships sailing up the coast from around the Horn, loaded with eastern goods for the merchants.
The new road over San Fernando Hill and its monetary return in toll for every sort of beast or vehicle taking it, must have seemed a good investment to General Beale. Perhaps the wreck of the old road in the torrential downpour of rain that winter of ’61 and ’62 proved the new road might be too costly a venture for the original holders of the right. Whatever the reasons, there was General Beale, a man of wealth and the former head of the expedition that had surveyed the Great Wagon Road, taking over the re-building of the wagon road across the San Fernando Mountain.
1863, April 4. Los Angeles Star.
“San Fernando Road.
“In compliance with the franchise granted by the last Legislature for the construction of a turnpike road over the San Fernando Mountain, a good deal of work has been done by the present holder of the right, Mr. E. F. Beale. The terms of the law have been complied with, but the Board of Supervisors were not willing to ratify the franchise as the work done was not sufficient in their opinion to afford the required facilities for travel.
“In consequence another agreement has been made between the Board and Mr. Beale, by which the latter binds himself to further grade the road from a point ninety feet from the Northwestern extremity of the present cut to a point fifteen feet deep at the angle of the southeastern extremity of the same cut. This additional work will involve an outlay, it is stated, of from $16,000 to $18,000. The Board appointed commissioners to assess toll for same, which will last twenty years. The commissioners are Messrs. W.J.17
B. Sanford, J.J. Gibbons, Francis Mellus and W.A. Tucker.
“The following is their recommendation: Team of 12 animals, $2; team of 10 animals, $2; team of 8 animals, $1.75; team of 6 animals, $1.50; team of 4 animals, $1.25; team of 2 animals, $1; 1 animal, 50 cents; loose animals or cattle ten cents each; horse and man, 25 cents; sheep, 3 cents; pack animals, 25 cents.”
After that Board meeting in March, General Beale must have realized the Supervisors were demanding a much lower grade over the mountain than he himself had considered necessary. He was faced with the problem of tackling the steep road again. The cut through the rock that had first been made in 1854 and then lowered in 1858 for the Butterfield Stage Route,18
had evidently been deepened by Beale but not enough to suit the Board. The road in the cut, between the towering shoulders of sandstone was still to be deepened further and its grade lowered fifteen feet at the south entrance to the cut.
The cost of the additional work was high, between sixteen and eighteen thousand dollars, showing how difficult the job was that still had to be done. But Beale had signed the contract and his metal must have been up. The town fathers were evidently going to hold out for the kind of road they themselves had in mind. After all the years of bitter reviling the Pass had received, this time, the road leading to it and over the top, was to be without reproach from the whip-cracking stage drivers, or the teamsters of heavy wagon trains, or the cattlemen herding their thousand of more crowding cattle through the mountain. The faithful Board of Supervisors seem to have settled on that.
As General Beale again worked vigorously to deepen the cut on the San Fernando Hill, three men who had been closely identified with the road, passed out of the picture.
1864, March 5. Los Angeles Star.
“The improvement made is one of great importance to the county. A large amount of money has been expended by Mr. Beale in cutting down the hill.”
This then is the deep cut through the towering sides of sandstone on the old San Fernando Pass.37
General Beale and those who had worked on the cut before him, had nothing for their workmen but the crudest implements, the pick and shovel. It was with these that Beale laboriously and stubbornly had his men carry out the final orders of the Board of Supervisors. It took him almost two years to accomplish the job, but for over eighty years, straight as a die, those great walls of the Cut have stood a monument in themselves to pioneer road building.
There is no better proof that the new turn-pike road was received with gratitude by the citizens of Los Angeles, than the fact the Star newspaper was silent about its grade. There was no further mention of the road that year, after the announcement in its March 5th issue of the completion of the work on San Fernando hill; no vituperation concerning the Pass, no hair-raising tales to blacken it.
There was the small adobe toll house near the foot of the south grade on the west bank of the creek bed.38
There was O.P. Robbins, the collector of tolls, who lived in it, ready to lift the wooden pole39
across the road as the herds of cattle or sheep pushed by and the stages and freight wagons came slowly lumbering up the grade or down it from the other side of the mountain.
The pull up to the top was still hard and the turns still quite sharp; the ruts from the heavy wagons were deep. The mud from the winter rains sloshed high to the hubs of the great iron-rimmed wheels. But there were no hair-raising deep gulches to fear on the side of a steep, cement-walled road. There was a short, heavy pull into the deep cut itself, but the road between the high, narrow walls of sandstone was level. The San Fernando Pass was a tough but no longer a dangerous grade.
Traffic over the new road was heavy. The mines were booming in the mountains along the Kern river, and the Owens river mines over the Sierras. More settlers were entering the desolate Tulare Valley. Emigrants were stopping at Baker’s field and not going on. A small settlement was beginning to appear around it.
In 1863 because of trouble with the Indians in the Owens Valley, a thousand or more of them, men, women and children had been moved under the protection of the Second California Volunteer Cavalry, to the Sebastian Reserve. Fort Tejon was re-established for them and a large Indian camp was made below the adobe buildings of the Fort.40
But by 1864 most of them had been removed and early in September Fort Tejon was again abandoned for the last time.41
General Beale had resigned from his position as General-Surveyor of California and Nevada, at the close of the Civil War that year of 1864.42
The Indian Reservation had been given up as a government project in 1862,43
and General Beale now returned to his Ranchos Tejon.”44
From his own vast acres of grazing land,45
dotted here and there with great oaks that bordered the Cañada de las Uvas, he could watch the increasing traffic go through. Coming or going, it would all drive over the new turnpike road on the San Fernando Pass and the return in toll from his investment and his hard work was beginning to come in.
General Edward Beale’s Washington DC home: https://www.whitehousehistory.org/the-historic-decatur-house
Take me to Beale’s Cut now!