Martin Kelly, My Family’s First Business Owner?

Martin Kelly, My Family’s First Business Owner?

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Much of what my Grandma Shellabarger told me about her family turned out to be myth or exaggeration. She got one thing right.  One of her ancestors owned boarding houses in San Francisco.  That ancestor was my Great Great Great Grandfather, Martin Kelly.

Martin was born sometime around 1820 in County Roscommon, Ireland.  I’m not sure when he came to America, whether he was a child or an adult, single or married.  I pick him up in New Hampshire in 1849.  He is married to Catherine Dolan and they’d just had their first child, Margaret, that year.

In 1850, they lived in Manchester, Hillsboro County, NH.  Dwelling #695 was shared by three families.

By 1852, they had moved to Boston, Suffolk County, MA.  Their daughter, Catherine, was born there in April of that year.  A son, Michael, was born in Roxbury, Suffolk County, MA the following year.

I think the Kelly’s were nomadic because by 1856, they had made their way across the United States to California.  The birth of their son, John, marks their beginnings in San Francisco, in 1856.

Between 1859 and 1874, Martin and Catherine had five more children:  Mary, Winifred, Mathew, Ellen, and Josephine.  Of their 9 children, 2 would die before adulthood:  Ellen and Josephine.  John died at the age of 30 of Phthitis.

Martin decided to become a US Citizen after he moved to San Francisco.  On the 17th of October 1858, he received citizenship before the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, much to my chagrin.  Oh, I am happy that he became a citizen.  I just wish he had done it in Massachusetts.  All the naturalization records were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco.

Martin set up a business as a horse trader in those early years in San Francisco.  From 1861 to 1869, his home and business were on Jessie Street.

The 1860 census shows that Martin’s personal estate was valued at $500.  By 1870, it was valued at $1600.  This may be because in 1862, Martin expanded his business to include boarding and lodging.

By 1879, Martin was also operating a saloon on Minna Street.  His son, Michael, was the bar tender.  Catherine, his wife, was taking care of the cleaning and cooking.  No doubt the rest of the family on various duties to keep the boarding house and saloon going.

Sometime around 1880, his wife, Catherine, passed away.  Martin disappears for awhile.  He isn’t in the 1880 census and doesn’t appear in city directories.

Martin reappears in 1885.  He moved to a lonely stretch out on Mission Road on the outskirts of San Francisco.  This is road that travelers pass through to get into the city.   He operated at least two boarding houses on Mission Road:  The Six Mile House and the Seven Mile House.  His daughter and her husband ran the Five Mile House at Mission Road and Silver Avenue.  It’s been noted that the family owned the Eight Mile House, though I have not confirmed this.

These “mile” houses were very important to travelers.  Unlike today, there were no rest stops or gas stations.  Horse and carriages had to stop along the road before getting to San Francisco.  The mile houses served as markers.  If they stopped at the Six Mile House, they knew they were six miles from the city center.  That was probably an insurmountable distant back in the 1880s!

In 1890, Martin Kelly was a registered voter.  In the 1890 Great Register of Voters, he is listed as a saloon keeper on Nagle/County Line.  Later records still show him as the owner of the Six and Seven Miles Houses.  I suspect as the cities became more populated, lines were drawn and redrawn, putting places in different counties at different times.

Because of the distance from city life, crime on Mission Road was abundant.  I found many articles noting robberies and murders occuring out on Mission Road, some occuring at or near my Great Great Great Grandfather’s establishments.  It wasn’t exactly the place you’d want to raise your kids.

Martin operated the boarding houses until his untimely death at about the age of 75.  It was a particularly windy day in San Francisco (like many days in the city!).  Martin heard alot of commotion outside the boarding house.  He went outside to see what was going on.

As the story goes, he saw a carriage with the horses running out of control–spooked by the wind.  He ran out to stop them but ended up being trampled by the horse.  He didn’t survive the ordeal.

My tree is full of  laborers, plantation employees, and domestic workers.  Martin Kelly just may have been the first person in my family tree to own a business.  He most certainly won’t be the last.

One thought on “Martin Kelly, My Family’s First Business Owner?

  1. What an exciting series of jobs your great-great-great-grandfather held! So sorry to hear of his sad death due to that accident. Mission Road sounds like it was a dangerous place back then.


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