Mentryville: the French oil boomtown

2 minutes read

Mentryville is not like any other ghost town in California. It was the city of the First, and an oil boomtown founded by French immigrant Alex Mentry. Here is its history.

A pinch of history

  • Mentryville was one of the first oil towns in California
  • It was the first commercial successfully oil well in the West
  • Pico Number 4 ran from 1876 to 1990, the longest oil well-running in the world
  • Alex Mentry installed onsite the first oil pipeline in California [5 miles pipelines from Pico Canyon to Newhall]

The beginnings

Charles Alexander Mentrier, alias Alex Mentry. was born in France in 1846 and immigrated to Titusville (Pennsylvania, USA) seven years later.

Alex Mentry was an experienced oil driller when he moved to California in 1873 [he successfully oil drill 42 wells in Pennsylvania]. He bought claims nearby Pico Canyon [Andres Pico was the commander of the Mexican army, see the Mexican American War and the Treaty of Cahuenga] and started digging.

The first three wells’ yields were modest. He decided then to sell his claim to Demetrius G. Scofield and became superintendent of the site. The success of Scofield’s company started three months after the sale with the well No. 4.

Oil well

Did you Know?

Mentry’s father anglicized their last name from French Mentrier to Mentry.
One of the oil well is located 0.5 mile from Mentryville

Did you Know?

The oil well is called Pico N 4 as it was the four well Mr. Mentry drilled in the Pico Canyon.

The Heydays

The town extended with the oil rush. Soon, redwood cabins were erected, Mentry’s 13-rooms mansion was built (also known as the “Big House”), a school and community hall were constructed. However, no bars were allowed in town.

By the 1880s, more than 100 families lived here and experimented oil drillers relocated from Pennsylvania.

Mentryville’s school

Did you Know?

The production ranged from 300 to 500 gallons per day.
Mentry’s mansion
The Big House

Did you Know?

Mentry earned up to $300 per month, skilled drillers were paid up to $112 per month ($4.0/day), and unskilled workers received $60 per month ($2.5/day).
The barn

The decline

Mentryville didn’t survive the death of his founder in 1900. Workers abandoned the black gold city.

However, the oil field produced until it capped in 1990.  It became a ghost town, and the recent natural disasters (the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the brush fire in 2003, and the flooding in 2004) didn’t spare it.

Did you Know?

In 1906, Standard Oil, the predecessor of Chevron, bought Scofield’s company.

Mentryville today

In 1995, Chevron donated 850 acres of Pico Canyon to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Today, only the Mentry’s mansion, the school, and the barn remained from the city.

Mentry’s Mansion
Mentryville’s school

The canyon offers trails for hikers and runners, rug vegetation, and a glimpse into California’s black gold history.

Mentryville and Pico Canyon served as a backdrop for many movies [The Color Purple from Steven Spielberg in 1985], TV shows [The X-Files with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson} and commercials.

The structure below was specially built for “Return to Green Acres,” a 1980 television movie. The production created a faux living room behind the wooden wall, so it appeared real while filming the house.

Interested in California History? Sounds like a must-see?

*COVD-19 update as of January 2021*

  1. Please wear a mask and practice a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself and others
  2. Please check L.A County’s health and safety protocols before your visit and walk


Article based on my visit in January 2021

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share with a Californian lover.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s