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History Book

In the 1930s, a federal program during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appointed people to conduct oral history interviews across the country.

In Paynesville, Clarence Chisholm conducted over 100 interviews with local citizens. These selections from those interviews were printed throughout 2000 in The Paynesville Press.

Copies of the interviews were provided by the Paynesville Area Historical Society.


Voices of the Past - Dennis Kelly

Dennis F. Kelly was born in Frankfort, Ill. on Nov. 2, 1855. He is the son of John and Mary (Noonan) Kelly.

John Kelly was born in Gallaway, Ireland. He went to England when he was a young man and obtained work from a man who was a breeder of blooded stock. John had decided he would like to go across to America when his employer sent the next shipment of stock there. He accompanied the shipment to America and remained here. He worked on the railroads and on a canal in New York state for a time, he then left for Ohio where he was employed to build stone fences. These fences are still standing today. Later, John moved to Wills County, Ill. He farmed there for ten years before going further west.

John married Mary Noonan and they had ten of their own children; William, Edward, Dennis F., Paul, Henry, Thomas, Ann, Mary, Joseph, and Marquerite.

When Dennis Kelly was nine years old, his parents held an auction sale and were about to go to Minnesota when they received word of the Indian trouble there. This made them decide to spend the winter in Indiana. On April 27, 1865, the family started west for Minnesota. They made this trip in a covered wagon drawn by two horses. While passing through Chicago they were delayed for two days because of the immense crowds of people that were there to watch the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln. One days' travels out of Chicago, another caravan pulled up alongside them. Mary (Noonan) Kelly was emptying the hot water from the teakettle when John Stoffers, of the other caravan, yelled to her to save it. They wanted it so they could make coffee.

The new party consisted of J.Q. Andrews and family, his brother Eliza, John Stoffers, and Jim Fuller. After hearing that the Kelly caravan was headed to Minnesota, the new caravan asked the Kellys to come with them to Burbank Township, where they had their claims. The two parties headed off to Minnesota, and after reaching Cold Spring, Minn., one of John Kelly's horses went lame.

The Kelly family remained in Cold Spring, while the rest of the group continued their journey on to Burbank Township. When the horse was able to travel again, the Kellys headed to Paynesville. Here, they made camp.

A young boy by the name of Homer Phipps was coming down the road cracking a whip and stopped to talk to the Kellys. While they were talking, Mary saw another man walking their way. She told the other people in camp that if she were at home in Illinois she would swear that the man coming towards them was True Blaisdell. It turned out that True Blaisdell was the man that Mary saw coming. Once True found out that the Kelly family was in town, he ran as fast as he could to tell his brother, William.

William Blaisdell and his wife came to greet the Kellys and invited them to be their guests that night at their hotel.

They spent that night in the hotel, and the following morning William took John out to see the countryside. While traveling about, John found a spot that would be suitable for their home. The Kellys had their home built in Section 30, Paynesville Township. When building the house, the soldiers stationed in Paynesville went out to the farm and helped build. The house was almost completely built in one day with the exception of windows and doors.

Hugh Blakely, a carpenter, made the doors and windows and also helped build the barn. While burning brush around the yard one day for a garden, the barn caught fire. The horses, harnesses, and machinery were in the barn at the time. The horses were rescued, and soon after traded off.

John took the horses to St. Cloud where he traded one horse for a team of oxen and fifteen dollars cash with the Burbank company, and the other horse was brought back to Paynesville and sold to a neighbor. With the money he received from the sale of the horses, John hired someone to plow twenty acres of land.

The first fall that John lived in Stearns County, he cut hay for Daniel Chisholm in the meadows west of Paynesville. After this work, a hole had to be dug in the riverbed for the oxen to get water.

The first school was held in the spring of 1867, at the home of Robert Blakely. Dennis went to school there, his teacher was Alzina Blakely, wife of Robert and sister to John Brown. The school term was only three months long and had a cost of sixteen dollars a month, which was paid to the teacher. A schoolhouse, district No. 52, was built in Stearns County in 1878. The first school board was made up of the following members: D.S. Twitchel, Director; Jacob Staples, treasurer; and Hugh Blakely, clerk. Others were John Blakely and John Torgason. The second teacher of this school was Ellen L. Siver, the third was Mary Blakely.

When Dennis was 22 years old, he went into the Dakota territory. Here he took a claim at Arvilla in 1877. At this time his brother William and Willia's wife Anna (Tucker) Kelly ran the hotel at Arvilla. It was here that Dennis met Catherine Tucker, who later became his wife on Nov. 13, 1882.

Catherine Tucker was the daughter of Hugh and Catherine (Sweney) Tucker, who were born in Ireland. They came to America and settled in Newburg, New York. They lived here several years and then went to Whitewater, Wis., and later to Melrose, Wis.

Dennis and Catherine (Tucker) Kelly made their home at Arvilla for a while and then they moved to Stearns County, Minn. They rented a farm in Paynesville Township and later moved to Spicer where they remained until 1892. From Spicer they moved to Burbank Township and lived there until 1896. Dennis then bought his father's homestead in Paynesville Township. Dennis and Catherine (Tucker) Kelly lived on this farm until the fall of 1927, when they moved to Paynesville. They are still making this area their home.

Dennis and Catherine had six children:
John B. was born on Sept. 24, 1884, in the Paynesville Township. He married Grace Van Vorst in April 1908, at Stanley, North Dakota. John and Grace had four children: Bernard, Philip, Francis, and John, who has passed away.

Hugh F. Kelly was born May 9, 1886, in the Paynesville Township. He passed away on Feb. 14, 1920, and was laid to rest in the Paynesville Catholic Cemetery.

Catherine Kelly was born on Feb. 11, 1888, in Green Lake Township. She married Wendell Jebb of Union Grove Aug. 31, 1910. They have one son, Clement. Catherine (Kelly) Jebb passed away Sept. 16, 1927.

Edward, (deceased) born May 2, 1892, in Burbank, Kandiyohi County. Margaret Kelly, was born Nov. 1, 1894, in Burbank. She married Otto Nelson of New London, Minn. on May 3, 1920. They have three children: Dean, Keith, and Floyd.

Ethel V. Kelly is the youngest daughter of Dennis and Catherine. She was born October 9, 1899, in Paynesville Township. She married Harvey Wahl. They have three daughters: Evelyn, Shirley and Judy.

Dennis Kelly's parents John and Mary Kelly are both buried in the Paynesville Catholic Cemetery. John died Nov. 2, 1900, and Mary passed away Aug. 2, 1896.

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