In the development of the flourishing and delightful little city of Benicia there were few men of large vision,
public spirited, enterprising and energetic, whose names ever will be associated with that development and whose
memories ever thus will be kept green here. Among these farsighted community builders there were few who in that
generation exerted a wider and more helpful personal influence in the promotion of progressive movements than did
the late Thomas McKay, one of the foremost of the pioneers of the town at a time when it was beginning to enter
upon what may be regarded as its period of modern development and who not only built up a fine business there and
became a large property owner, but who also as a town trustee and as a member of the local board of education rendered
a distinguished service in behalf of the social and civic interests of the city.
The late Thomas McKay was a Canadian by birth, born at Pictou, seat of the county of that name in the maritime
province of Nova Scotia, and was there reared. As a young man, in the early '60s, accompanied by Alexander
Chisholm, another energetic young man from Pictou and who afterward became his brother in law, he came to California,
the pair of young adventurers coming around by way of the Isthmus. and located at Benicia. Trained as a tanner
in his home place, Thomas McKay set up a tannery on his arrival in Benicia, setting up in business in a small shed
of a building, and in the following year was joined in this enterprise by his pal, Alexander Chisholm, a partnership
being effected under the firm name of McKay & Chisholm, a mutually agreeable arrangement that was maintained
for many years thereafter or until the retirement of Mr. Chisholm, on account of failing health, in the late '90s.
This tannery established by Mr. McKay was the first enterprise of that sort in Benicia and under the capable management
of the partners was developed until it became the largest tannery in the state in its time.
This firm of McKay & Chisholm will ever be kept in remembrance here as among the most energetic promoters of
the general civic and industrial interests of the community and there is no doubt their labors in this behalf did
very much toward starting the town out along the lines of progressive development. Both Mr. McKay and Mr. Chisholm
were among the founders of the Benicia Water Company and were otherwise helpful in community works. Mr. McKay also
rendered effective public service as a member for some time of the board of trustees of the town at a time when
public spirited and progressive men were needed on that board and he also proved his worth as a public servitor
for some time as a member of the school board, rendering in that capacity a very real service in behalf of the
developing school system. He was an active member of the Masonic fraternity and in other ways took his part in
the general social and fraternal movements of the town. In addition to his tannery, which was the basis of his
fortune, he developed other interests and became a large property owner, one of the most substantial and dependable
citizens of Solano county. Mr. McKay died in 1922, and at his passing left a good memory in the community of which
he had for sixty years been so vital and so helpful a part.
In 1878 Thomas McKay was united in marriage to Miss Louisa Harris, who also was born at Pictou, in Nova Scotia,
and who survived him about six months, her death occurring in 1923. To that union were born three children, two
sons, Thomas Sumner McKay, now deceased, and George McKay, now a president of Benicia ; and a daughter, Mrs. Mabel
Palmer, now a resident of Santa Cruz. Mr. McKay also is survived by a sister, Mrs. Christy Chisholm, widow of the
late Alexander Chisholm, concerning whom further and fitting mention is made elsewhere
in this work. Mrs. Chisholm continues to make her home at Benicia, where she has resided for many years.
History of Solano County, California
BY: Marguerite Hune
Napa County, California
BY: Harry Lawrence Gunn
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Solano County, CA
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