McCormick Family Story
The McCormicks, Hudsons and Yorks, all prominent Napa Valley pioneers, made many contributions to the history of St. Helena. The John McCormick Ranch on Spring Mountain is well known and was featured at a past Museum for a Day. This year a different branch of the McCormick Family tree is featured.
Many of the McCormicks were born in St. Helena, and found their final rest in the St. Helena Cemetery where there are several different family plots.
My grandfather Rodney McCormick, son of William Newton McCormick and Nancy Jane York, was born on the 4th of July 1871 in St. Helena. Rod’s maternal grandparents John York and Lucinda (Hudson) York arrived in the Napa Valley in 1845 with the Grigsby Wagon Train. A California historic marker is at the site of their cabin in Calistoga.
John and Lucinda York had 11 children: William (Dean), David and unnamed twin who died at birth on the journey west, Henry, John, Nancy Jane, Petus (Peter), Charles, Caswell, Frank and Nellie.
Rodney wrote many stories about his pioneer grandfather John York. The York/Hudson rich history includes chapters such as ranching, the Bear Flag Rebellion, significant land purchases in St. Helena, including some related to Dr. Bale, the construction of the Bale Mill, White Sulphur Springs, and the Gold Rush. Rod wrote stories of grizzly bears, mountain lions and of the realities of pioneer life in the Napa Valley he heard at his grandfather’s knee.
Rod’s father William Newton McCormick was the son of Napa Valley pioneers William J. and Margaret M. (Terrell) McCormick. Rodney’s siblings were Dr. Charles Edwin (C.E.), John William, Henry Mixer, Lloyd Chester, Carrie Jeanett, Nellie Napa, and Anna Margaret.
Rodney attended school in St. Helena and went on to have several different occupations including a drayage business; he was manager at Burke’s Sanitarium and manager of Witter Springs. He became involved in real estate in San Francisco, Sacramento and then Napa, a business his sons continued. He also was involved in gold mining at the Golden Center Mine in Grass Valley and other sites, and served as postmaster of Napa, appointed by FDR.
Rodney McCormick and his wife Emma (O’Hara) McCormick had sons Rodney Burbank, Edwin Wayne and Philip Newton, and daughters Lael Elizabeth (Thomas), Margery Jane, and daughter Muriel L. (Mary) who died as an infant. Emma died in 1930. Rodney died in 1952.
My parents, (Edwin) Wayne and Margaret (Madsen) McCormick had a deep interest in and connection to Napa Valley history. My mother was a librarian and preserved much family history, as did my aunt Margery McCormick. Items to be shown at the Museum for a Day range from oil paintings of the Napa Valley by Emma (O’Hara) McCormick to historic photographs and other antiques.
In 1902 Rodney and Emma (O’Hara) McCormick’s first born son was named Rodney Burbank McCormick, after Luther Burbank. A small silver baby cup was inscribed “To Rodney Burbank McCormick from Luther Burbank.” It will be on display at St. Helena Historical Society Museum for a Day.
In researching material for the Museum for a Day, I found the answer about how they knew Luther Burbank. In an old scrapbook, it says “Dad and Mother were close friends of Luther Burbank at this time around 1899, and exchanged many friendly visits. Burbank was a frequent visitor to Burke’s Sanitarium. Burbank made several trips to Witter Springs, and furnished shrubs, flowers and trees for the gardens as a gift, while Dad was managing Witter Springs. Several of the plants, trees and flowers presented by Burbank were new creations and had not yet been introduced to the public. Burbank simply requested that no signs or slips be given away or mention made of their being new creations.”
A 1909 copy of a book by Burbank, “The Training of the Human Plant,” was inscribed by Burbank, “To Mr. and Mrs. Rodney McCormick with the friendship and admiration of Luther Burbank, Santa Rosa, Cal., Dec. 20th, 1914.”
Rodney Burbank McCormick died in 1960 after living in group care homes.
— Notes from Elizabeth (Betty) McCormick Malmgren