James C. McKay Drove a Cadillac

Like many researchers, I suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome. This is the compulsion to follow any bright, shiny object (BSO) that comes into view, instead of finishing the project you should be working on. I first heard about BSOs from my friend Rosie Cevasco earlier this year (who read about it online on the GeneaBloggers website). A lot has been written about this syndrome, usually within the context of business owners and entrepreneurs and tech lovers chasing after each new BSO that pops up.

The Lowary Building on Mt. Rose Street
Image courtesy of the author
For me, the syndrome recently manifested itself like this: I was researching the Lowary Building on the southeast corner of Mt. Rose and Lander streets when Karalea Clough (masterful Nevada Historical Society library hostess) handed me a copy of a quaint, hand-drawn map showing many of the early Reno tracts south of California Avenue, between "Virginia Road" and the Arlington Avenue area. The map was donated to the NHS in 1922 by an "O'Brien" and someone at the NHS wrote "1900 ca" in the lower right corner, which is too early of a guess since most of these additions and tracts were surveyed in the 1907/1908 time frame. The "O'Brien's Southbrae Addition," located in the center of the map was surveyed and recorded with the Washoe County Recorder's Office in May 1908. Just south of the O'Brien Southbrae Addition is another chunk of land titled "J. F. O'Brien" right above the words "beautiful knoll."

The O'Brien Map from NHS
Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society

This tract area appeared to include the Lowary Building block which I was already researching. Hmmm, a bright, shiny object. I'll check out this O'Brien guy. Off I went. I quickly found that J. F. O'Brien was not the J. P. O'Brien of the funeral home folks who had an undertaking business at 220 W. 2nd Street for some time. So J. P O'Brien wasn't a BSO, but the history of that business at 220 W. 2nd Street fit into the research I had done on the history of Roff Way. But, let's get back to James F. O'Brien of the quaint-neighborhood-map fame. Some more research revealed my J. F. O'Brien (we get possessive with our research subjects) had been an owner of the Goldfield News before moving to Reno. My grandparents and great-grandparents spent time in Goldfield during its heyday. Hmmm, this is a bright, shiny object. Did my family know this O'Brien guy during this interesting period? You see how this works.

But, I really was interested in this little map, so I studied it further. I noticed it showed the lots along Arlington Avenue developed by "Senator Newlands." Although not well defined on this map, this tract would someday include a house on Gordon Avenue which notorious sportsman Henry Orlando (Tex) Hall lived in from 1929 until his death in 1936 (minus the six months he spent behind bars after being convicted of harboring Baby Face Nelson). Hmmm. But, back to the map, I realized within the Newlands kingdom, there would also be built the handsome house on the southeast corner of Gordon and California avenues, where Tex's boss, the really-notorious gangster William Graham lived for decades. Tex and Bill lived on the same street. Hmmm. This is a bright, shiny object. I wonder if Tex and Bill ever carpooled to the Bank Club downtown in the '30s? Now I'm realizing that where you find William Graham, you're bound to find James McKay, so one day I Googled McKay and came across a wonderful document that listed all the registered cars in Nevada in 1919. How fun is that? This bright, shiny object has nothing to do with any of my research, but I'm intrigued. How about a quick look-see. The document was a Google-scanned "Appendix to Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the Thirtieth Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada, 1921, Volume II." George Brodigan, who was the Secretary of State at the time, compiled these quarterly lists of registered automobiles in the state. According to Brodigan, "There were registered and licenses issued for 9,304 automobiles and trucks, 124 motorcycles, and 65 dealers for 1919; and 10,464 automobiles and trucks, 140 motorcycles, and 75 dealers for 1920."

Title page from the Appendix to the Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the Thirtieth Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada 1921

Now I'm not a car person, but I was totally amazed at the number of different car brands on the roads of Nevada in 1919. I looked at the 10-page list for registered automobiles from April 1 to June 30, 1919, and did a quick tally of page one to see what folks back then liked to drive (or could afford to drive). (This is how the automobile brand names are listed, so if some are inaccurate, that's how it is.) Out of the 154 cars listed, Ford was listed most often with 69 entries, followed by Chevrolet (11), Dodge (11), Studebaker (9), Buick (9), Oldsmobile (6), Overland (6), Maxwell (5), Mitchell (3), Oakland (3), Reo (3), Hudson (2), Hupmobile (2), Grant (2), Briscoe (1), Nash (1), Willys-Knight (1), Duplex (1), Chalmers (1), International (1), Kissel (1), Vic (1), Federal (1), Case (1), Chandler (1), Essex (1), and Saxon (1). There's no telling how old any of these cars were when they were registered, or if some of them were on their last leg, or maybe not even being manufactured any longer, but the variety was wonderful. The other nine pages of this report listed some other automobile brands too: Cadillac, G.M.C., Peerless, Desmond, Republic, Pan Motor Co., Haynes, Regal, Cole 8, White, Jeffrey, Parry, Paige, Indian, Nelson, King, Metz, Cunningham, Packard, Mack, Pullman, Dorris, Duryea, Riker, Flanders, Stearns-Knight, Apperson, Lozier and Regal. There may be more on other pages.

1919 Cadillac Victoria Coupe

Remember, these cars were registered all over the state. Mrs. George Townsend of Goldfield drove a Cadillac, license plate number 38235; F. J. DeLongchamps of Reno drove a Chevrolet, license plate number 37029; and what of the "bright, shiny object" which drew me to this obscure bit of automobile history? Well, in 1919 James C. McKay registered his Cadillac in Tonopah and received license plate number 43570.

So from researching the Lowary Building, to studying O'Brien's quaint map of south Reno, to wondering if my family schmoozed with Goldfield News owner J. F. O'Brien, to speculating on the commuting arrangement between two gangsters who lived on Gordon Avenue, to studying the many car brands one could find on our state roads in 1919, it's clear that following bright, shiny objects, can be detrimental to "critical-project" completion.

[I would like to thank Google for scanning so many historically-important public domain documents, and thank you Karalea for sharing the O'Brien map with me. You know what they say about paybacks. Now I must get back to the Lowary Building research I started long, long ago.]

  • Rosie Cevasco

    Fun and enjoyable post, Kim, despite being a distraction from your "real" research. Just because we're easily distracted by BSOs, doesn't mean we have ADD. By the way, can I borrow some of your Ritalin? I'm out.

  • Kim Henrick

    Thanks Rosie, for the nice compliment. About the Ritalin, I left my bottle on your kitchen counter...

  • Debbie Hinman

    The Lowary Building! In researching my El Reno walking tour, I came across Nellie Lowary and her little grocery store as well as the building on the end with the wonderful window which was Nellie's Beauty Haven. Before the Coffee Shop people bought it, after being an exotic rug store it once again became a beauty shop. In fact HRPS' President Carol Coleman used to get her hair done there. But I digress (does that make Carol a BSO?). I was very impressed with Nellie, that a woman of that era had that wonderful building erected (I assume so, as the cornerstone bears her name) so began looking her up. I found lots of mentions of Nellie in the newspapers, almost always accompanied by mentions of Howard Maue. I think he also had a hand in their business. So here's another BSO for you, Kim--what was the relationship between Nellie and Howard? Business partners? Relatives? Were they married but Nellie kept her maiden name? Were they living in sin (in the 1940s, this might have been a bit shocking but they seemed to be accepted by Reno society)? As an interesting side note, Howard was a Freedomite (a movement to keep a large portion of southwest Reno from being annexed to the City of Reno, instead establishing a separate town of Freedom). So go chase Howard Maue, your newest BSO!

  • Dennis Diullo

    Found this while doing some research as to where Tex lived on Gordon Street. While doing the research I was talking on the phone with Bill Pe***e a contributor to "Roots of Reno". Bill was a nephew of June Abelman, who was married to Nick Abelman. Nick was a partner with George Wingfield who brought Graham and McKay to Reno from Tonopah.

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