The Kelly Family


James Henry Kelly

James Henry Kelly was born just outside of South Bend, Indiana on April 2, 1862 to Francis and Ellen Kelly. He was welcomed into the world by his parents, and a half brother, Patrick Kelly (Patrick's mother, Mary Nealon, died when Patrick was born, and Francis had remarried by 1862). James and his family lived in the South Bend area until 1869, when they moved to Benton County, Iowa. In 1863, Francis Murphy of Keystone, Iowa, had deeded 1280 acres of land to Notre Dame university as payment for the education of his two sons. In 1866, the university sent a priest and a small group of parishioners out to Keystone to claim this land and found a church. It is believed that the Kelly family followed this lead in 1869 when they moved to the Keystone area. The Kelly's farmed near Keystone for nearly 10 years, and then in 1880 they moved to Cherokee County, Iowa, near the town of Aurelia. In 1883, James' father Francis died of a broken neck after falling off of a hay rack when a team of horses was spooked. James and Patrick continued to farm in Cherokee for two more seasons, moving up to Lyon County, Iowa in 1885.

James and Patrick began their homesteads in 1885 outside of what is now the town of Alvord. On November 15, 1887 James married Maria Donahue at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Rock Valley, Iowa. Though James' mother, Ellen, died in 1890, the family tradition carried on via the four children of James and Maria -- Nira Blanche Kelly, born September 12, 1888; William Everett Kelly, born March 24, 1890; Francis Earl Kelly, born June 24, 1894; and Ralph Edward Kelly, born August 17, 1896. James continued to farm his land in Lyon county with his boys until his retirement. His wife, Maria, died in 1917, and James remained on the farm until his death on December 1, 1952. He is buried in the family plot at Sacred Heart cemetery. James Henry was a popular fellow in the Alvord area, and was always remembered for his terrific sense of humor and easygoing manner. He loved very much to spend time with his grandchildren and sit on the lawn in his green rocking chair while reading the paper. The family farm, now nearly 115 years old is still in the Kelly family, and is currently farmed by James Henry Kelly's grandson, James A. Kelly.

This is a picture of the house mentioned in the above biography. This is the 16' x 22' x 11' high house that the boys built when they moved to Lyon County in 1885. Pictured are left to right: James Henry Kelly, Ellen Kelly (his mothe), Maria Kelly, (his wife), Chris Barron, Charlotte Donahue Barron. Ellen, the elderly woman in the chair, died in late 1890, so this picture was taken sometime between 1885 and 1890.

Pat Kelly


The Pat Kelly home in Rock Rapids. Pat retired there in 1919 after he quit farming. The house was passed down to his daughters, and was finally sold in 1989. This picture was taken at the auction in 1989 when the house and property were sold.



The Patrick Kelly Family. Back row: Charles Kelly, John Kelly, Joe Kelly, Mae Kelly. Middle row: Agnes Kelly, Jane (Barron) Kelly, Lucille Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Clarence Kelly. Front row: Florence Kelly. This picture was taken between 1905 and 1910.



Jim Kelly and Pat Kelly



James Kelly, 80, Humorist

"75 Club" Member...Has Philosophy of Rogers

Jim Kelly, 80, is typical in many ways of the late Will Rogers as he reminisces about the "good old days" and his 57 years of work and good times on the home place two miles east of Alvord. Kelly is a jolly fellow and his infectious laugh and cheerful philosophy is an antidote during these trying times. He has his favorite chair near the window in the dining room where he sits, smokes the pipe, views his well-kept acres and admires the picture of Will Rogers which hangs by his side.

Humorist Himself

Because the humorist is a favorite of his, the early settler is able to quote many of his sayings. However, Kelly's original comments compare favorably with those of Rogers. Kelly was born April 2, 1862 in St. Joseph county, Indiana, near South Bend. His parents were Frank and Ellen Kelly. He had only one brother, Pat, who died about 5 years ago. About the time of the Chicago fire, 1871, the Kelly's came to Benton county and then later moved to Cherokee where the family home was established on a farm.

Break Prairie in 1884

Pat and Jim came to Lyon county in the fall of 1884, "back setting" the prairie which they had purchased from the Close Bros., who were then the big land dealers in this section of the country. Then the next spring, they returned from Cherokee to their new farm to make it their permanent home. Jim lived with Pat and his wife for several years until he was married to Mary Donohue November 15, 1887, in Rock Valley. After his marriage, Kelly improved the place where he now lives with farm buildings. This farm is a mile south of Pat's place.

Early Land Deals

In telling of the land deals, the old timer explained that the Close Bros. purchased land from the railroad and in many instances they put up farm buildings, rented it for several years, and then sold it to the tenant. In many instances, they simply sold the bare land which at that time was selling for $10 an acre. However, in three years' time the sale price increased to $30. When discussing taxes, Kelly recalls that his early tax receipts, which he still holds, show that he paid $30 a year for the 160-acre farm while now it is approximately a dollar an acre. "But then," he chuckled, "we got nothin' for your taxes -- no bridges, no schools, and no roads."

Bridge Incident

Of course, he continued, the land dealers would brag about there being four bridges between Doon and Lester. However, the real facts of that were that there was only one bridge and that was on the move most of the time -- just ahead of the bridge inspector. To improve the farm, the lumber was hauled from Rock Valley, on which trips it was necessary to ford Mud Creek. If they took grain to Rock Rapids they could plan on getting stuck in the sloughs many times and unload the reload the wagon before they arrived at the grist mill.

Church in Courthouse

Kelly is a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Alvord and recalls their coming to Rock Rapids to attend services held in the courthouse before a church was built. Father Dullard was the priest at the time. In his youth, our "75 club" member was adept at foot racing and his first try at the 200-yard dash he beat Jim Cavanaugh at Hull. He also participated in the 100-yard dash, which was his specialty, at the Larchwood fairs and won in 10 seconds.

Recalls Big Blizzard

The blizzard of '88 is still vivid in the memory of the Alvord pioneer. However, he stated, if we had radios or telephones, people in this section would not have been caught unawares. He said that the blizzard had hit the Dakotas earlier in the day and got here about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The present farm owned by Kelly was purchased originally from John McAlphan and the grove which this man planted still stands. The old-timer explained that if a farmer set out a grove, a $100 reduction was made on the valuation of his land.

School Director

For a time there was no nearby school, however, after the one a half a mile away was built, Kelly served his time as the director. "The main business in being a school director in those days," he remarked, "was to get rid of the job." He is proud of the fact that the Lyon county courthouse is the only one in the state of Iowa to have been built without the levying of bonds. His brother Pat was instrumental in getting the new office building. Mr. Kelly retired from active farming 15 years ago but continues to live on the place with his sons and a daughter, Evert, Frank and Blanche. His wife died over 20 years ago. He has one other son, Ralph Kelly, whose two children are a pride and joy to their grandfather.

"--Gain, Nothing to Lose"

In telling of building his farm and the story of his life, Mr. Kelly said he had not moved to any other place or home since coming to this country. "I had everything to gain and nothing to lose." "Yes," he added, and laughed, "I probably will be making only one more move."

Source: Rock Rapids Reporter January 21, 1943


Provided by Dave Kelly --

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