Mackay's Mackay

We've often heard the question, "What's in a name? If the name happens to be Mackay, and you happen to live in the town that bears the name, then you might well wonder its origin.

If you look up the name most encyclopedias of today, you'll likely to find but one reference to any one family with that name; that of John William Mackay (1831--1902), American financier, and son Clarence H. Mackay (1874--1938), business man and inventor. Born abroad, with minimal schooling in the East before heading to California and the gold fields, John was successful enough to invest in a number on mining interests in Nevada. The famous "Comstock Lode" was one of many that made him a "Bonanza King" and extremely wealthy. In the late 1880's, his interests led to major investments in the communication industry, and was a founder of the company that laid telegraph cables under the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. Upon the death of his father, Clarence would succeed him as head of their many business interests.

So that's the connection between this world renown man and his family and a small inconspicuous mining town in the central mountains of Idaho? For in 1900 when Mackay came to be, Idaho was still a frontier area having gained statehood a mere decade earlier. As the story goes, among the many mining interests of the Mackay family in the late 1800's was the Empire mine and White Knob Copper Co. of the Lost River valley near Houston. In 1896 while in Philadelphia, Clarence Mackay approached his friend and well known mining engineer Wayne Darlington with a proposition. Being one of the principal owners of he White Knob Copper Co., Clarence convinced Darlington to come to Idaho and manage the enterprise. Rising to the challenge, Mr. Darlington moved his family to the valley in 1897 eventually settling near the mouth of Antelope Creek and what is now the area named for him. Now it was apparent that the Oregon Short Line railroad would soon be pushing into the central mountains with its Salmon branch to service the mining industry. Learning of its proposed route, and at the request of his company, Darlington laid out a town at the end of the tracks. He named the new village "Mackay", in honor of his friend Clarence Mackay and his family, and in gratefulness for introducing him to this area, a place he came to love.

And so the name "Mackay" came to be, the new town incorporated in October 1901. Rather ironically too, for it would probably have been more fittingly named "Darlington" for it was he, more than any other one person, that was responsible for its beginnings. Infact it is highly unlikely that either John Mackay, or his son Clarence, ever visited the Mackay area, or even the state of Idaho for that matter. The Mackay namesakes have, of course, passed on; John in 1902 and Clarence in 1938. Clarence's daughter Ellin would marry famous song writer Irving Berlin, and his wife became a famous opera singer of the concert stage. The extended family can be very proud of their famous ancestors and their accomplishments, and who knows? There may be some that even point with pride to Mackay; that town in Idaho that bears their family name.

References: Mackay Miner; 1914 June 4; 1926 Jan. 13; Snake River Echoes, Vol.13 No. 3

March 15,1999


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