In 1879, William James McDonald was born at Prosser Creek, California located close to where the creek flows into the Truckee River. His father James was involved in the ice harvesting industry from about 1865 until his death in 1899. The ice was used to refrigerate train cars hauling perishable produce, to supply San Francisco hotels and other establishments, and was shipped to Virginia City, Nevada to cool the silver mines.
Will had hotel experience as his father was the superintendent and stockholder of the Boca Mill and Ice Company and manager of the Boca Hotel that was located not far from Prosser Creek. At the same time, James managed the Prosser Creek ice houses. All accounts of him say that he was a much admired, hardworking, friendly man.
Will attended St. Mary’s College. At that time, the college had been moved from San Francisco to Oakland, California. In 1897, he received a Commercial Degree which was a 2-year course in business.
Will met his wife Emily Rixon through his father’s ice harvesting connection with her father. They married in 1901 and in 1904, they bought a share of the Gilroy Hot Springs from George Benjamin Roop whose father George William Roop started the GHS in 1866 .
Emily and Will had two sons. William Elmer, born 1903 and Edward (Ted) Alva, born 1904. The boys lived in San Francisco with Emily’s parents during their school years and spent summers and holidays at the “Springs”.
Emily was a tall, stately lady and was called “The Duchess” by many. Will was a jovial host to all who stayed there and “provided a great table” for his guests. He was not just the hotel’s proprietor, but a friend to many who came back year after year. His Boca/Truckee friends would make the trip down to spend time with him and enjoy the resort’s amenities. He had the most guests at one time numbering 500 and had to turn many away.
Many entertainments were provided for the pleasure of guests at the resort.
Besides soaking in the mineral water, guests could entertain themselves by hiking to the Flagpole to sign the register, playing cards and games such as Faro in the social hall, shuffleboard outside near the Lick House, swimming in the “Tank” that Will had installed in 1917, and horseback riding just to name a few. There was the hunting of deer and duck for the guests as there was plenty of game for the hunters’ pleasure. Coyote creek provided trout for the anglers’ sport. Rowboats and swimming were also available in Coyote Creek.
The Fourth of July was celebrated in a spectacular way. The Hotel was decorated with flags and the guests were provided with hats and small flags. Foot races and other entertainments were provided, including fireworks.
Will and his sister Elizabeth Maggard bought the rest of GHS from George B Roop in the early 20s. George, Maude, and daughter Florence lived in Los Angeles, but returned often to vacation at the resort. Their signatures are in the Flagpole register that was saved from all those years ago. The two men and their families were good friends.
Will was always making improvements during his tenure at GHS. He “supplemented an acetylene lighting system with a gasoline system, renovated the grounds, and both removed and replaced some of the older cottages, leaving a total of fifteen. (Pamphlet ca. 1913)” “Structures include one concrete cistern from about 1913, one redwood water tank from about 1913 and a concrete mineral pool with dressing rooms built in 1917.”
Besides stories and poems about GHS, Will left a wonderful collection of photographs, and he took most of the photos seen on GHS postcards. Some of you may have seen the one with Ted and Elmer dressed in Native American costumes and posed down at Coyote Creek. I’m sure that they considered themselves great warriors. Thinking that the teepee was authentic, I was surprised to find out that it was purchased at Sears & Roebuck in 1910. I imagine that their costumes were purchased there, also. The baskets were authentic and I assume that the kettle hanging over the fire pit was appropriated from the GHS kitchen. Many postcards of the scene were made, but not many were available for sale to guests and visitors. Emily’s mother disapproved of selling postcards with the boys’ picture as she thought that they were being exploited. Being the good son-in-law, Will pulled them off sale. As a result, our family has many.
In 1925, at the age of 46, Will died of a heart attack at GHS. Heart problems were prevalent in his McDonald family. Our dad, Ted had done pre-law at UC Berkeley, but couldn’t afford Boalt Hall so he got his degree at Hasting’s College of Law in San Francisco. After his father died and while he was attending law school, he managed the affairs of GHS and made many trips back and forth from San Francisco. He was a very responsible almost 21-year old at the time of his father’s death.
After Will died, Emily, Will’s sister Elizabeth, and her husband Harry Maggard tried to make a go of the resort. Gradually, people ceased to come and they had to default on their payment to George B Roop who foreclosed and took back the resort.
When Emily McDonald left GHS, George B Roop became the acting Postmaster in 1932 until 1934. When George B Roop’s daughter Florence came of age, she was unsuccessful in reviving the resort and in 1938, Kyuzaburo Sakata purchased the resort from her. I think that Emily must have had a friendship with Mr. Sakata, as we have brochures from Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs and a lovely Japanese watercolor signed T.B.Takata that I believe was given to her by Mr. Sakata.
Emily survived her husband by 34 years. She passed away in 1959 in San Francisco at the age of 80. She was known to my brother Bill and to me as “Donnie” because she didn’t want to be called “grandma”. We were her only grandchildren and she doted on us. She had a great sense of humor and was a lot of fun. Bill and I often lament the fact that we never knew our grandfather Will. In some way, we feel that we do know him because of the great record of photos, writings, and documents that were passed on to us.
With Emily at his side, William James McDonald gave his short life to making Gilroy Hot Springs a place where friends and guests could come to soak in the waters, eat well, partake of many entertainments, or to just relax in the resort’s bucolic surroundings.
Sue McDonald Lundblade – Granddaughter of Emily and William James McDonald
The following site offers an excellent and detailed timeline of GHS history and includes descriptions and locations of each cabin and other structures.
Emily and sons – Ted sitting up on back of bench & Elmer seated
Guests/Friends at Flagpole – Will and Emily seating on ground (far right)
At Amusement Hall – guests playing Faro. Will McDonald standing (far left) He loved to set the stage for a fun photo
Will McDonald hauling the firewood that he chopped.
Construction of the “Tank” – McDonald sons, Elmer and Ted (seated)
McDonalds (left to right) Ted , Will, Elmer
4th of July – Back row, Emily McDonald (tall lady in the middle) Her sister Anne Rixon (far right striped dress) Seated in the middle on chairs unknown man and Will McDonald.(furthest right)
Front row – Seated from left to right – Elmer McDonald, Ted McDonald, unknown girl, Bob Armstrong (close family friend)
GHS dining room set for the next meal. Looking closely, mounted deer heads can be seen hanging on the walls
Scene in front of the Hotel – (Left to right) Tall man standing with his arms folded near doorway is Will’s brother George McDonald, In the group of 4 ladies on far right is Emily McDonald the tallest. Will McDonald with his arms folded is standing below her. Lady on horse is Will McDonald’s sister Liz McDonald.
Roofing a new cabin up behind the Lick House – (Left to right) Elmer McDonald, Ted McDonald, unknown man.