From Hollywood Co. Wicklow, to Los Angeles California

Or the incredible journey or Mathew Guirke (1826-1901)...

There could hardly be a more intriguing story than that of Hollywood’s most famous émigré, Mathew Guirke (or McGuirk). Details have always been scarce, but essentially it relates how a blacksmith from Hollywood emigrated to the US in the 1800s and settled in an area to the northwest of the city of Los Angeles in California. He is said to have named his property (which may have included a race track for horses) after the village he left behind in the Wicklow hills, and years later when the area began to be engulfed by the film industry, it retained the name – Hollywood. The first documented use of the name Hollywood was in 1887, when an entrepreneur called Henry Henderson Wilcox submitted a proposal to build a new town on the site. However, as might be expected, there are many conflicting accounts of how the name came to be used at that time. So, is there any evidence to suggest that Mathew Guirke had a hand to play in it?
Jim Guirke (1919-2003), a grandnephew of Mathew Guirke. Jim was Hollywood’s sub-Post Master and shopkeeper for over 60 years until his death in 2003. His shop has since closed but it is reopened each year for the duration of the Hollywood Fair.
First, let us consider Mathew’s background in Hollywood, Co. Wicklow. His father John Guirke had married Anne Burke on 15th March 1822. It is possible that John was originally from Baltiboys, but moved to Hollywood after he married Anne. The Tithe Applotment Books indicate that he was renting a plot of land in Rathattin in 1833 (now owned by Hollywood GAA). By the time of the Griffith Valuation of 1852, he was renting three additional plots of land in Dragoonhill as well as a house in Knockroe (later Hollywood Post Office). John’s son, Timothy Guirke, had also started to rent a house and land in the southern portion of Dragoonhill (now owned by Harry Farrington) by 1852.
John Guirke and Anne Burke had at least three sons and three daughters:
  • Timothy married Theresa Hayde in 1849 and raised 7 children in Dragoonhill. However, Theresa must have died soon after her last child was born in 1859, as Timothy married Sarah Higgins of Donard in 1861. Around twenty years later Timothy emigrated to the US with Sarah and the 8 children he had from this second marriage. They were living in New Jersey at the time of the 1900 Census. His two sons were both working as blacksmiths at that time.
  • James (died 1912) married Mary Doyle of Newtown in 1867 and raised one son and one daughter in the family home in Knockroe. Their son John Guirke (also a blacksmith) married Julia Lawler of Scalp in 1917 and had 6 children – the eldest being Jim Guirke who ran Hollywood Post Office and shop until his death in 2003.
  • Mathew (born 22-2-1826)
  • Catherine married Andrew Lynam in 1865 and raised a family in Co. Wexford. Andrew was a policeman from Co. Laois.
  • Frances (baptised 11-10-1832)
  • Mary (baptised 30-2-1835)
 According to later census records, Mathew emigrated to the US in 1850 – possibly arriving in New York on 15th July of that year aboard a ship called Ellen. On 8th March 1851 he was in Charleston in South Carolina, where he placed a notice in the Boston Globe, seeking information on the whereabouts of his uncle Timothy Guirke from Hollywood, Co. Wicklow. According to the notice, Timothy was a blacksmith by trade, but had been working as a carpenter in partnership with a certain John McEntee in New Orleans in 1850. Although it is quite possible that Mathew did eventually find his uncle, I have never been able to find any trace of this Timothy Guirke in the US censuses. Fortunately, Mathew has left a more obvious trail to follow.
However, the next fifteen years of Mathew’s life are a mystery, and the trail does not begin until 1865. In the meantime he had travelled from Charleston to California – probably attracted by stories of the Gold Rush which had begun there in 1848. It is likely that he made the journey by ship, crossing the isthmus at Panama or southern Mexico, as these were the most popular routes to California at the time. It is quite possible that he disembarked at Los Angeles and made his way to the area that would be later known as Hollywood, but no records seem to exist which could prove or disprove this. It is known that there was one cabin in the Hollywood area in the early 1850s, and that a small agricultural community had developed there by the 1870s.
Guirke’s old shop doing business at the Hollywood Fair
We pick up Mathew’s trail again in 1865 in the Californian town of Sonora, some five hundred kilometres to the north of Los Angeles. It had been a boom town in the early days of the Gold Rush, but by the 1860’s most of the gold that was removable using traditional mining methods had already been extracted, and miners soon began to drift away, attracted by news of fresh discoveries elsewhere. Mathew left Sonora in 1865, heading north across the plains to Placerville and then east to arrive in Virginia City in Nevada in November of that year. From there he continued north up the Humboldt River and the Boise Basin in Idaho, before finally reaching the town of Helena, in the newly-founded Territory of Montana. At the time of the 1870 Census, he was lodging in the house of another Irishman in Helena – interestingly, Mathew’s occupation was listed as ‘Real Estate Agent’.
The following year, Mathew left Helena and headed southeast, passing through the town of Bozeman and into an area which now forms part of the Yellowstone National Park. This was wild and inhospitable country, which had been explored by an expedition for the first time only two years previously. Bands of Blackfeet and Shosone roamed the area, and the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where General Custer’s 7th Cavalry was destroyed five years later in 1876, was only 150 km away to the east.  In August 1871 Mathew established ‘McGuirk’s Medicinal Springs’ at a remote 160 acre site close to where the Boiling River empties into the Gardiner River. With the help of three other men he had completed a house, barn and stables by March 1872. The house was built with squared timbers measuring 16 inches by 24 inches. Split rock was used for the chimney and split cedar covered the roof. Bathing pools were built in the hot spring formations, and he also built irrigation ditches and roads. It is said that he was the first person to bring a wheeled vehicle into the area, although he had to dismantle the ox-cart to get it through Yankee Jim Canyon. The springs soon gained a reputation, particularly among sufferers of rheumatism, for the healing powers of its water.
Local historian Johnny Glennon is interviewed by Danish national TV about Mathew Guirke.
Mathew tried to submit a claim to his new holdings on 9th March 1872, only to find that his land fell within the boundaries of the new Yellowstone National Park which had been created only nine days previously. He applied for a lease in 1873 but was refused. Within a very short space of time, the park’s natural wonders had started to attract large numbers of sightseers, and the park authorities received numerous proposals from entrepreneurs who wished to provide tourist facilities. Interestingly, one of these proposals concerned the construction of a racecourse with a viewing stand. However, the government was determined to preserve and protect the area and would not tolerate any unauthorised development within the park. The director of the National Park, Nathaniel P. Langford, made the trip to McGuirk’s Medicinal Springs to personally supervise Mathew’s eviction the following year. The buildings were used for government housing for a few years before being demolished in 1889. Meanwhile, Mathew returned to the nearby town of Bozeman where, at the time of the 1880 Census, he was lodging in the house of a New Yorker – this time his occupation was given as ‘horse-breeder’.
Ryan Tubridy finding out for himself about Hollywood from Harry Farrington and Martin Byrne.
Mathew moved to Los Angeles around 1891 and petitioned Congress for compensation for the loss of his buildings and business. He claimed that he had spent $4,000 on the project. Finally, in March 1899 he was awarded $1,000 for the improvements he had made at the springs. However, by this time his health was deteriorating, as he was suffering from chronic bronchitis. At the time of the 1900 Census, Mathew was staying in a lodging house at 306 Clay Street in Los Angeles, California. On this occasion, his occupation was given as ‘blacksmith’. It was also recorded that he hadn’t been employed for 12 months, but given his age and the fact that he had been awarded $1,000 exactly one year previously, this is hardly surprising. Mathew died at the lodging house on Clay Street on 13th October 1901 at the age of 75. According to his death cert, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and old age were the chief causes of his death. It also lists his occupation as ‘retired horseman’. He is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
So, did Mathew Guirke really give the name Hollywood to California? This was the question that I set out to answer, but I failed to prove it either way. Instead, I found a handful of dates and details which give us a tantalising glimpse of the extraordinary life he led. It is not difficult to imagine this adventurous and resourceful entrepreneur setting up business just outside Los Angeles in the 1850s, only to be lured further north by the prospect of gold. A few facts and a bit of imagination – his story has the makings of a Hollywood epic…. ‘Mathew Guirke – the man who founded Hollywood’ [based on a true story].

© Brendan Corrigan 2013
Author of this article Brendan Corrigan is a Maths teacher in an international school in Milan

The following information has been taken from the register of the Society of Montana Pioneers, which was published in 1899. It contained biographical sketches of over 1,800 pioneers who had lived in the Territory/State since 1864.
Mathew McGuirk, son of John and Ann (Burk) McGuirk;
Born at Hollywood, County of Wicklow, Ireland, February 22nd 1826.
Came to the United States.
Place of departure for Montana: Sonora, California
Route travelled: across the plains via Placerville, California ; Virginia City, Nevada ; up the Humboldt River and the Boise Basin, Idaho
Arrived at Virginia City in November 1865
Occupation: blacksmith and miner
Residence: Bozeman
Present address: Los Angeles, California
Us Map
Map of western United States showing the locations which Mathew Guirke is known to have lived or passed through: (1) Sonora, (2) Placerville, (3) Virginia City, (4) Helena, (5) Bozeman, (6) Yellowstone National Park, (7) Los Angeles.

Mathew McGuirk's death certificate


Howard Henry said...

I visited Yellowstone National Park during my hearst castle tours. It is a beautiful and most visited park of the USA as well as of the world. It attracts millions of visitors for its lakes, waterfalls, attractive valleys and wildlife. It is also known as the first national park of the world. It is spread on 3,468.4 square miles. It also homes to canyons, rivers and mountain ranges.

albertontario said...

Great blog It is a beautiful and most visited park of the USA as well as of the world. It attracts millions of visitors for its lakes, waterfalls, attractive valleys and wildlife......

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