Alexander County

Biography - Daniel E. Kelly

DANIEL E. KELLY, a retired builder and contractor of Cairo, Illinois, is one of the many sons of Erin who have begun life with an exceeding great handicap, but who, in spite of adverse circumstances that would have crushed and defeated less determined men, have advanced step by step in the activities of life until they have found themselves firmly established upon the topmost round of the ladder.

Such a man is Daniel E. Kelly, and in the city of Cairo he is regarded by all as a bright and shining example of the winning power of pluck, perseverance and diplomacy a combination hard indeed to beat wherever it is found, but which renders an Irishman well nigh invincible.

Daniel Kelly was born in the village of Castletown, Bearhaven, county Cork, Ireland, May 11, 1835. His parents were in good circumstances, and the death of his mother when he was a child of two years and the father passing away the following year left little Daniel in an orphaned state before he was old enough to realize the misfortune that had fallen to his lot. The father on his deathbed gave the child into the care and keeping of his maternal grandparents, who welcomed him gladly for his mother's sake. When they had done with life Daniel was passed on to the care of an uncle on his mother's side, with whom he remained until he reached the age of seventeen years. While with his uncle the lad had few enough advantages, their circumstances being such as to preclude any but the simplest privileges. He attended the parish school when he might and made himself generally useful about the family home at all times, until when he reached the age of seventeen years an uncle residing in New Haven, Connecticut, sent for the boy to come to him. Daniel was overjoyed at the prospect of getting away from the little seaport town where he had been mewed up for so long, as it seemed to him. and hailed with delight the idea of seeing America. He sailed from Liverpool on the steamer Jacoba Westervelt and was at sea from May 11th to June 27th, a significant fact in view of the present day facilities for a speedy passage across the big pond and when he met his uncle in New York he had but a few stray shillings in his pocket, but such a store of good cheer and sturdy ambition in his generous heart that life looked a very delightful thing indeed to him. His uncle, immediately recognizing the boy's lack of schooling, succeeded in keeping him in school for a year, when he found work in a woolen factory. He worked there for a few months, until he had an opportunity to go with a carpenter as his apprentice. That idea appealed strongly to him, and he went to work with the carpenter, but before he had learned his trade the carpenter left the country, leaving Daniel upon his own resources.

It was at this juncture that he left the home of his uncle, Cornelius 'Sullivan, and went on a visit to another uncle in Easton, Pennsylvania, where his sister, Mrs. Patrick Moran, also resided. He found it pleasant to be with one of his own immediate family again, and he decided to seek whatever employment he might find there and remain in Easton, for a time at least. He found work assisting a mason in work on the bridge piers across the Delaware river. He went on to Providence, Rhode Island, in the spring of that year to pay a visit to an aunt there, and incidentally to see a bit more of the Eastern country. His stay there, however, was short, owing to the fact that labor conditions were unsettled and unfavorable at the time, and he moved on to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where he again worked at the carpenter's trade for two years, by which time he had grown to be considered a very efficient workman, and a most dependable one. It was about this time that illness seized him, and he went back to Easton, Pennsylvania, where he might be with his sister again. His health and strength renewed after a few months, he decided to make a start for the West, and he got as far as Steubenville, Ohio, where he followed his trade until the year 1857. Prom there he went on to Chicago, reaching the city on March 4th, the day of the inauguration of President James A. Buchanan. In 1859 he went to Bloomington, where he worked at his trade until the year 1863, and it was then he first came to Cairo, Illinois, the city which has known him from then until the present day. His first permanent employment in Cairo was in the capacity of a mechanic in the employ of the United States Government at the ship yards, where he served under Captain Pinick, chief in command at the port, and under the supervision of the well-remembered Romeo Friganza, who was in charge of the construction work going on in the yards. Although not an enlisted man, he took the oath of allegiance, and remained in the employ of the Government throughout the war of 61-65. After the close of the war he was honorably dismissed from the service, and it was then he took up the business of building on his own responsibility. His first work of importance was the building of the home of Sheriff Morgan, which place is now the residence of Hon. W. B. Warner. Among many fine examples of the craftsman's art are, notably, the Buder Building at Eighth and Washington streets, the two Oehler houses on Washington street, the Howe residence on Walnut street and the colored school building on Thirty-fourth street, and many others, all of which serve to closely identify Mr. Kelly with the successful builders of the early construction period of the city, and establish him as an able exponent of the master builders craft.

Mr. Kelly continued his activities in his chosen work until his sons reached man's estate, when they, with their father's help, successfully launched and conducted a planing mill business in Cairo. The Senior Kelly then retired from the contracting business, in which he had realized such splendid success, and entered the planing mill as superintendent of the factory and general adviser to his sons. There he remained until the advancing years made it necessary for him to suspend his activities, in part at least, and since his retirement he has lived quietly among his children, giving a part of his time to the conducting of his personal affairs, and enjoying a season of well-earned rest.

In the year 1862 Mr. Kelly married Miss Helen Kennedy, of Galesburg, Illinois. She was a native of county Tipperary, Ireland, and in every way calculated to be a proper helpmeet for the husband of her choice. In 1906 Mrs. Kelly departed this life at the family home in Cairo. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly were the happy parents of four children: Edward, Daniel M., Mortimer F. and F. B., the three oldest sons comprising the firm of Kelly Brothers Company of Cairo, and F. B. is now a resident of Louisiana, engaged in the lumber business.

Mr. Kelly is a staunch Republican and a protectionist always. In his capacity of a member of the city council of Cairo for years he served the city with enthusiasm and intelligence. Many of the improved conditions of the city may be traced directly to the untiring labors of Daniel E. Kelly while he served on the Board of Aldermen, and his ambition to see Cairo one of the most modern cities in Southern Illinois has resulted in greater benefit to that city than any other one influence that might be named. His civic pride is one of his strongest inherent traits, and which, coupled with his willingness to serve, his generosity and marked executive ability, have combined to make him a factor in the upbuilding of the city of his adoption that cannot possibly be overestimated.

Although fast approaching the four score mark, Mr. Kelly still presents the aspect of a man of middle age. A man of splendid bearing, hale and hearty, the spark of youth still flashing in his typical Irish eye, Mr. Kelly is a splendid example of the upright, honorable and altogether successful man of business.

Extracted 15 Jan 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 History of Southern Illinois, Volume 2, pages 701-703.


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