The Mystery of Goss Canyon’s Name
Nearly all of our canyons on the both the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains have family names attached to them. Pickens Canyon, named for Theodore Pickens who homesteaded there in 1871. Hall-Beckley Canyon, named for Thomas Hall who purchased the land in 1874. Dunsmore Canyon for James Dunsmore, and Shields Canyon for “General” Shields. These names are all covered in a fascinating book by Jo Anne Sadler “Crescenta Valley Pioneers & Their Legacies,” their “legacies” being the place names we use every day but take for granted.
One canyon, Mullally Canyon, has an interesting naming story. As we know, the thick forests that once filled our canyons were logged out in the 1880s and ’90s, the wood being burned as fuel for brick kilns in Los Angeles. The brick manufacturers didn’t generally harvest the trees, but contracted with others to supply the fuel. Joseph Mullally of the Mullally Brick Company contracted with Chester and Arthur Blain for timber from Pickens Canyon. In the 1890s the Blain brothers employed Chinese laborers to fell the native Big Cone Douglas Firs, many four-to-five feet in diameter. The logs were cut into four-foot lengths and loaded onto a tramway that snaked down the canyon over several trestles to Briggs Terrace. There they were loaded onto wagons for the trip to Mullally’s brick kilns in L.A. The Blain brothers named one of the side canyons coming off Pickens after their contract holder, Mr. Mullally. (It was Mullally Canyon that caused the big flood at the top of Ocean View a few years ago.)
But there are a few canyons we’ve never been able to find info on; for instance, Cooks Canyon at the top of Boston Avenue. Cook may have been a squatter who settled there for a short time, or an early woodcutter who concentrated on that canyon, cutting firewood for a growing Los Angeles. We just don’t know. So recently when the Rosemont Preserve in Goss Canyon was established at the top of Rosemont, the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley was asked, “Who was Goss?” Again we didn’t know. The early owners of the land were the Bathey family, so the naming might have occurred before they arrived in 1883.
It was just recently discovered that Thomas Goss was also a brick manufacturer in old L.A. As a matter of fact, he was the largest brick manufacturer with Mullally being second. At one point in 1883, Mullally and Goss were even in a partnership. Suddenly the naming of Goss Canyon comes into sharp focus. It’s fairly safe to assume that Goss Canyon, like Mullally Canyon, was named for the brick manufacturer who paid to harvest the timber from that canyon.
So who was Thomas Goss? Born in England in 1836, his family emigrated to the Midwest when he was 12. He was a ’49er and, unlike most others, made a fortune in the mines. In the 1870s he moved to San Diego and established a brick business, but soon moved it to the faster-growing Los Angeles, where he became wealthy. He became involved in city politics, serving on the city council, the parks commission, and as police commissioner, and he was heavily involved in the Republican Party. He was one of the best-known men in the city when he retired in 1900. He died a year later in his sleep, leaving a large fortune and much property to his wife as they were childless. Interestingly, when his wife died in 1915, the relatives set to squabbling over the inheritance. Mrs. Goss left a will that parceled out her wealth to many of both her and her husband’s relatives including nieces, nephews and cousins, and the rest to the L.A. orphanage. Four daughters of John Goss, Thomas’s brother, tried to break the will to take the entire amount.
I enjoy hearing the stories behind our place names – Crescenta, Verdugo, Tujunga, Montrose. Some are mysterious – lost in history. But they all have an interesting story. Here’s one that was a mystery that we now can count as solved.