Negrohead Mountain might get new name

LOS ANGELES — They were just paying tribute to their friendly black neighbor 120 years or so ago when they first slapped the label on the imposing mountain near the southwestern edge of Agoura.

But the 2,031-foot mountain at the western end of Los Angeles County that maps now call Negrohead Mountain could get a new name that more accurately honors its intended beneficiary.

Authorities today will take the first step toward directly honoring the Santa Monica Mountains’ first black settler by renaming the rugged volcanic peak that rises between the Ventura Freeway and the Pacific coast “Ballard Mountain.”

The current name used by the U.S. Geological Survey is a refinement of the slur that early Agoura pioneers tossed around when referring to John Ballard — a well-known blacksmith and teamster who put down roots on 320 acres near what is now the community of Seminole Hot Springs.

Ballard was a former Kentucky slave who won his freedom and came to Los Angeles in 1859. In the emerging city, he had a successful delivery service and quickly became a landowner. Soon, he was active in civic affairs and was a founder of Los Angeles’ first African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In the 1880s, the arrival of the railroad triggered a land boom in Los Angeles, boosting property values and bringing the city class structure and the beginnings of segregation.

Ballard packed up his family and moved them about 50 miles west to the snug valley in the middle of the Santa Monica range. He settled first on 160 acres — space that eventually doubled in size when one of his seven children, daughter Alice, claimed an adjoining plot.

Besides raising livestock and crops, Ballard collected firewood in the mountains and sold it in Los Angeles. He also did blacksmithing and other chores on Russell Ranch, a sprawling cattle spread at what is now nearby Westlake Village.

“I’m certain that some people back then thought they were honoring him by using that name, as strange as it seems,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

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