Discovery unveils pieces of history

Lauren Giese

A pair of men stood perched upon their ladders, tearing off worn siding from an antiquated home, a typical picture of what the day would hold for them.

While going about their work, one man noticed something unique about the structure of the home’s insulation. Past the layer of dust and dirt he found that the home was lined with words, photographs and illustrations.

Ever so carefully the man lifted the delicate material out from the thick of dirt and paint. A wrinkled, tattered full page of newspaper read in miniscule print at the top of the page: “The Tacoma Tribune, Friday, November 3, 1916.”

He squinted, took a closer look past the fragmented pieces, and found a history into the city of Tacoma, Washington from over 100 years ago. What he found profoundly surprised him.

Collecting as many pieces of the timeworn pages that he could, he loaded the newspaper pieces into his truck and made his way out to visit a woman who could bring him greater clarity to what he had seen.

“I thought these words might have meaning to you,” the man told her.

With tears swelling in her eyes of eighty-two years, Anne trembled as she reached towards the pieces of history.

“I can’t believe you actually found them,” she said. Her fragile fingers brushed the papers with delicacy.

“Sit down and let me tell you the story of the McCormack Brothers,” Anne said.

James McCormack was born in Longford, Ireland in March of 1862, where he was raised alongside his seven brothers. At the age of 17, McCormack traveled to Lisburn County in Northern Ireland where he carried out an apprenticeship.

There, he worked for five years under George Durkin and Sons in the department of dry goods, which was a form of textile and clothing creation.

After his time of training was complete, James joined alongside his close friend, John Munn, who was also educated in the department of dry goods, in an expedition to bring their talents with them to America. Their first stop would be New York City.

McCormack’s sister had also immigrated to New York, and encouraged him in the opportunities that the city could provide.

Eager and hopeful, McCormack and Munn traveled to America aboard the steamer Baltic, arriving in 1884.

It was not long until the men were integrated into American society, and McCormack began to apply his talents into a new position at Crawford and Simpson, a well-established department store located on the bustling Sixth Avenue of New York City.

Though well-pleased with his new job, one thing seemed even more alluring to McCormak at the time. His sister’s best friend, Ms. Elizabeth White, whom he was acquainted with through their mutual involvement in the local St. George’s Episcopal Church, was the apple of his eye.

In his own words, “Elizabeth White was one of the finest young ladies that ever stepped on the sidewalks of New York.”

Subsequently, he added that she was also one of the best dressed, which he would know quite well through his experience.

“She took my heart away,” McCormack said.

White seemed to think quite highly of McCormack as well, as the pair were married on January 6, 1886 in St. George’s Episcopal Church, where they had become acquainted to each other.

The loveswept couple left for their honeymoon in Saratoga, New York directly following the wedding, and soon after became inclined to move westward. They traveled by train first to Spokane, Washington, then Ellensburg before they finally landed in Tacoma.

It was there that James and Elizabeth McCormack settled and created a life of their own. The couple had four children and built their first home, which proved to be a modest dwelling.

James McCormack recalled that it was “a happy place, where love, ambition and hope ruled.”

It was not long, however, after their arrival into the city that James was hit with a grand idea.

Alongside his wife, his brothers Tom and Robert McCormack joined in James’ vision to turn a dream into a reality.

Through ambition and grit, the family started up one of the first department stores in Tacoma, and it was given the name “The McCormack Brothers.”


The McCormack Brothers department store grew quickly and gained quite a bit of attention in the city. They sold everything from suits to coats, dresses, button-up shirts, shoes and more.

In fact, crowds were described in a Daily Ledger ad as being the “greatest in the history of Tacoma’s home-owned and operated popular department stores.”

In addition to being president of the McCormack Brothers, James McCormack was highly involved with the Freemasons of Washington and served as the grandmaster of the grand lodge of the state.

James McCormack also served as both a trustee and president of the board and contributed his knowledge of business to the Masonry to help make the enterprise financially successful.

Elizabeth McCormack was elected into the position of grand matron of the chapter and served during the first World War. She also worked for the Daughters of the Nile where she was given the highest office in the organization and promoted child welfare work in Tacoma.

Later in his life, James McCormack went on to lay the foundations for the capitol building in Olympia and was listed in the 1927 “Who’s Who in Tacoma” as one of the most upstanding citizens.

The McCormack Brothers, however, had no way of preparing for the sweeping storm of the Great Depression. Once it had hit the city, the family could no longer maintain their business.

The McCormack Brothers did however enjoy a successful run, and the family contributed to the city through their business as well as involvement within the community.

“These newspaper advertisements for the McCormack Brothers take me back to my childhood and to my grandfather, James,” Anne said.

Anne looked into my eyes, “Lauren, you had better keep these safe. He was your great, great grandfather after all.”

To this day, the McCormack home is honored as a historical building in the city at 705 North Fifth Street, Tacoma, WA.