San Diego history in Old Town’s McCoy House.

The McCoy House Museum, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy.
The McCoy House Museum, in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy.

While there are many small museums and historical attractions that visitors can enjoy in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the McCoy House Museum is the best place to see an extensive series of interpretive displays that describe the complete history of early San Diego.

The McCoy House, standing on the north end of Old Town, is a reconstruction of a home built in 1869 for Sheriff James McCoy and his family. James McCoy, who lived from 1821 to 1895, like many early San Diego residents was an ambitious man, working diverse jobs, filling many roles. At the age of 21 he sailed from Ireland to America seeking opportunity. He became a soldier, then a stagehand, then San Diego county assessor, then county sheriff in 1861. He acquired substantial real estate holdings and finally won election to the state senate in 1871.

The interpretive displays in the McCoy House Museum provide a good look back at San Diego’s formative years. They detail the life of the Native American Kumeyaay who’ve lived in the region for thousands of years, the first Spanish explorers, the establishment of the Spanish mission, the Mexican period and the subsequent American period.

If you’d like to read the displays, click my photographs to enlarge them.

This blog post covers the first floor of the museum. I’ll cover the second floor exhibits in a later post. After heading up some stairs, one can find information about the more prominent residents of Old Town, plus the town’s later history as it competed with New Town, which eventually rose to become downtown San Diego as we know it today.

Anyone who is a history buff must visit the McCoy House Museum. You’ll be transported back in time and see how life was exciting, difficult, and altogether different many, many years ago in San Diego.

Sign lists important dates concerning the McCoy House. Today it's a museum containing exhibits that depict the fascinating history of Old Town San Diego.
Sign lists important dates concerning the McCoy House. Today it’s a museum containing exhibits that explain the fascinating history of Old Town San Diego.
Just inside the front door, this might have resembled the parlor of the original McCoy House, occupied by an upper middle class family in San Diego's Old Town.
Just inside the front door, this might have resembled the parlor of the original McCoy House, occupied by an upper middle class family in San Diego’s Old Town.
Framed photo on one wall from the San Diego Historical Society shows the original McCoy House.
Framed photo on one wall from the San Diego Historical Society shows the original McCoy House.
Interpretive exhibits inside the McCoy House Museum begin with the Spanish period of San Diego, from 1769 to 1821.
Interpretive exhibits inside the McCoy House Museum begin with the Spanish period of San Diego, from 1769 to 1821.
Quotes from the journeys of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sebastian Vizcaino and Gaspar de Portola.
Quotes from the journeys of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sebastian Vizcaino and Gaspar de Portola.
A string of missions was created by Spain in California to secure its claim to new territory. The first mission, in San Diego, was on Presidio Hill near the native Kumeyaay village of Cosoy.
A string of missions was created by Spain in California to secure its claim to new territory. The first mission, in San Diego, was originally established on Presidio Hill near the native Kumeyaay village of Cosoy.
An artistic representation of life among the Kumeyaay people. They often visited the nearby coast to hunt and gather food.
An artistic representation of life among the Kumeyaay people. They often visited the nearby coast to hunt and gather food.
For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived along the coast and interior valleys of what is now San Diego County. They moved with the seasons to take advantage of available resources.
For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived along the coast and interior valleys of what is now San Diego County. They moved with the seasons to take advantage of available resources.
The Kumeyaay built dome-shaped houses from oak, willow or sycamore branches. The simple structures were called ee-wahs.
The Kumeyaay built dome-shaped houses from oak, willow or sycamore branches. The simple structures were called ee-wahs.
The Kumeyaay saw the physical and spiritual world as one and the same.
The Kumeyaay saw the physical and spiritual world as one and the same.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum shows artifacts associated with the Kumeyaay, including a bark skirt, arrows, rabbit stick, child's sandals, gourd rattle and war club.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum shows artifacts associated with the Kumeyaay, including a bark skirt, arrows, rabbit stick, child’s sandals, gourd rattle and war club.
The Kumeyaay revolted against the Spanish missionaries in 1775, a year after the San Diego mission was relocated inland very close to a large Kumeyaay village.
The Kumeyaay revolted against the Spanish missionaries in 1775, a year after the San Diego mission was relocated inland very close to a large Kumeyaay village.
Once baptized, converted Kumeyaay followed a strict life. Mission bells signaled the day's activities, including the singing of hymns, Mass, meals and work assignments.
Once baptized, converted Kumeyaay followed a strict life. Mission bells signaled the day’s activities, including the singing of hymns, Mass, meals and work assignments.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 after a decade of bloodshed. Changes included a decline in support for the presidio and freedom from Spain's trade regulations.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 after a decade of bloodshed. Changes included a decline in support for the presidio and freedom from Spain’s trade regulations.
After the breakup of the Spanish missions, the era of the great ranchos began. Californios were often racially mixed descendants of soldier-settler families.
After the breakup of the Spanish missions, the era of the great ranchos began. Californios were often racially mixed descendants of soldier-settler families.
Vaqueros were the original cowboys. They worked on the extensive ranches and handled the large herds of stock.
Vaqueros were the original cowboys. They worked on the extensive ranches and handled the large herds of stock.
A fanciful picture of life on a rancho, with vaqueros at work and children at play.
A fanciful picture of life on a rancho, with vaqueros at work and children at play.
The Californios loved to celebrate feast days, weddings and religious festivals.
The Californios loved to celebrate feast days, weddings and religious festivals.
Cattle by the thousands roamed San Diego's hills. Their dried hides were used in trade and were sometimes referred to as California banknotes.
Cattle by the thousands roamed San Diego’s hills. Their dried hides were used in trade and were sometimes referred to as California banknotes.
Illustration of loading cow hides onto a carreta. Hides were gathered by ships along the coast to be transported around Cape Horn to the eastern United States.
Illustration of loading cow hides onto a carreta. Hides were gathered by ships along the coast to be transported around Cape Horn to the eastern United States.
Exhibit inside the McCoy House Museum recreates the small shop of a Boston trader. The brig Pilgrim of Two Years Before the Mast brought people aboard to buy wares and finished goods that weren't available in San Diego.
Exhibit inside the McCoy House Museum recreates the small shop of a Boston trader. The brig Pilgrim of Two Years Before the Mast brought people aboard to buy wares and finished goods that weren’t available in San Diego.
Illustrations of cow hides being cured. This activity took place at La Playa, a point on San Diego Bay near Ballast Point in Point Loma.
Illustrations of cow hides being cured. This activity took place at La Playa, a point on San Diego Bay near Ballast Point in Point Loma.
Diagram of the brig Pilgrim, made famous in Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s classic Two Years Before the Mast. Dana collected cattle hides up and down the California coast.
Diagram of the brig Pilgrim, made famous in Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s classic Two Years Before the Mast. As an ordinary seaman, Dana collected cattle hides up and down the California coast.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum details local history during the Mexican–American War from 1846 to 1848.
Exhibit in the McCoy House Museum details local history during the Mexican–American War from 1846 to 1848.
During the war, U.S. occupation of San Diego divided the loyalty of the Californios. The two sides fought briefly at the Battle of San Pasqual.
During the war, U.S. occupation of San Diego divided the loyalty of the Californios. The two sides fought briefly at the Battle of San Pasqual.
Around the time of the Gold Rush, San Diego saw an influx of emigrants from all over, including New England, the American South, Mexico, South America, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany.
Around the time of the Gold Rush, San Diego saw an influx of emigrants from all over, including New England, the American South, Mexico, South America, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany.
Old Town tales include the construction of the first jail in 1850. The walls were so poorly made, the first prisoner, Roy Bean, easily dug himself out, then celebrated at a nearby saloon!
Old Town tales include the construction of the first jail in 1850. The walls were so poorly made, the first prisoner, Roy Bean, easily dug himself out, then celebrated at a nearby saloon!
Grog shops became popular gathering places. They were a social hub of San Diego life, providing customers with news and provisions.
Grog shops became popular gathering places. They were a social hub of San Diego life, providing customers with news and provisions.
A recreated Old Town grog shop can be found inside the McCoy House Museum.
A recreated Old Town grog shop can be found inside the McCoy House Museum.
After the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Diego became more developed. A courthouse and newspaper were established. Transportation included clipper ships, stage lines and steamships.
After the California Gold Rush of 1849, San Diego became more developed. A courthouse and newspaper were established. Transportation included clipper ships, stage lines and steamships.
Poster advertises a new clipper ship route. A very quick trip may be relied upon!
Poster advertises a new clipper ship route. A very quick trip may be relied upon!
Between 1865 and 1872, Old Town San Diego continued to grow. The first public school opened, and the town welcomed its first theatrical company in the Whaley house.
Between 1865 and 1872, Old Town San Diego continued to grow. The first public school opened, and the town welcomed its first theatrical company in the Whaley house.
The first overland coach to San Diego began service in 1854. Additional stage lines came into existence, allowing for the delivery of mail, express packages and passengers.
The first overland coach to San Diego began service in 1854. Additional stage lines came into existence, allowing for the delivery of mail, express packages and passengers.
Visitors to the McCoy House Museum can step into a replica stage stop and see what life was like in Old Town during San Diego's early history.
Visitors to the McCoy House Museum can step into a replica stage stop and see what life was like in Old Town during San Diego’s rugged early history.

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

7 thoughts on “San Diego history in Old Town’s McCoy House.”

  1. Richard, this is wonderful. Loved all the photos. As “smarttoughmom” said, it’s a wonderful documentary. Even though my husband and I travelled to San Diego, we didn’t spend too much time there. We were with a tour, and spent only a couple of days in the area and did the usual touristy visits that were pre-scheduled. Thanks much!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally agree. Since I started blogging, I’ve been exposed to so much more in the world. People, countries, artists, writers, history, politics, governments, humor, science, medicine – so much more.

        Liked by 1 person

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