I posted this photo last Sunday for Mother’s Day because it features two special moms in my family (my great-grandma and grandma). I am sharing it again today because of what is behind them: the house.
This photo hung on the wall above my grandma’s kitchen table for years. Grandma would often glance at the picture and smile while we chatted, played cards, or had something to eat. The photo sparked Grandma’s memory, and a family story or tidbit from her past, relatable to the current activity or conversation, would follow. Regardless of what the memory was, Grandma would always have this to say in conclusion: “You know, your grandpa’s family moved into that house several years after this photo was taken, and that is where he grew up.” Grandma loved making that connection.
Recently my mom and I came across a folder in our Clontarf archive labeled 300 Cashel Street, the address of the house in the photo. The folder includes notes, hand-drawn house plans, photographs, and copies of property deeds. Nearly twenty years ago, we began looking into our Clontarf, Minnesota roots with the ultimate goal of writing a book. We love to research and have done tons of it throughout those years but have not yet written the book. There are many explanations (excuses?) for this, but the scale of the project is somewhat overwhelming.
So, we decided to start small. We will use the house on Cashel Street to tell part of the story. We are not sure what this project will look like, but we are motivated to take the excellent research we have done out of the archive and shine a light on it. What can this little house on Cashel Street tell us about early twentieth-century life in a Minnesota railroad community? Stay tuned to find out!
In the 1970s or 1980s, my mom embroidered the saying, “Mother is another name for love,” and placed it in a green-painted frame as a Mother’s Day gift for her mom. I can see it hanging on grandma’s wall, and I remember when I was young, considering the idea that my mom could possibly love her mom as much as I loved both of them.
I have shared this photo several times, but it is my favorite for Mother’s Day.
My great-grandmother Mary Foley McMahon is with her seven children outside of their Clontarf, Minnesota, home. My grandma(Agnes) is standing on the chair before her mother.
“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” — Abraham Lincoln
I thought I would share a few pages from the family album featuring Fran, my first cousin once removed (she and my mom are first cousins). Am I choosing today to share these photos for any particular reason? Perhaps, but Fran doesn’t like to make a fuss, and neither will I.
Fran’s mom was Mary McMahon Fuchs, the eldest sister of my grandma Agnes McMahon Regan. Agnes, her parents, and five siblings moved to Minneapolis in the mid-1920s, while Mary stayed behind in Benson to work and help their Aunt Maggie. That’s where Fran was born, in the house her mom and dad shared with Aunt Maggie. Fran was the second of five girls in the family.
In the 1930s, Agnes regularly visited Mary and her growing family. Often she and a friend would don traveling clothes (jodhpurs, jackets, and tall boots) and hitch a ride from the city, making their way 140 miles west on Highway 12 to Benson. Although eight years separated the sisters, Agnes always said that she and Mary were best pals, and these visits were happy times (look – even Aunt Maggie is smiling in the pic below).
Fran thought the world of her Aunt Ag, and I know the feeling was mutual.
When Fran graduated from Benson High School, she moved to Minneapolis to work. She lived with Agnes and her family for a couple of years. The whole gang would drive out to Benson on the weekends. I don’t have any photos of Fran from that time, so this one will have to do; Fran and her sister around Mary’s table in Benson, a bit later.
The years go by, and so much in life changes and becomes almost unrecognizable, yet family can always connect us – to one another and the past. In Fran, and my mom, I see the women I knew – Grandma and Aunt Mary – and all those I never knew, those who came before any of us.
I think the world of Fran. I hope she has a lovely day!
I am getting old. I’m not saying this because I am over fifty and my hair is gray, but because I said this to friends last weekend when we were planning a night out:
“Let’s go somewhere quiet…so we can chat.”
Turns out my friends had the same idea and the four of us spent a lovely Saturday evening gathered around Ace’s dining room table, catching up, laughing, and snacking on chips and guacamole, chocolate-covered pretzels, and brownies. The evening was low-key and comfortable and felt old-fashioned (the Hamm’s may have added to the nostalgia).
My mom often reminisces about the regular family dinners, get-togethers, and card parties of her youth. Often hosted by her parents, John and Agnes (McMahon) Regan at their South Minneapolis home, the evenings and Sunday afternoons were sometimes held at McMahon and Regan cousins’ homes peppered throughout the city.
Here are a few snapshots of my Irish American family around the table. The common denominator of these photos is the McMahon family – three generations of descendants of Francis and Catherine (McAndrew) McMahon. Once the McMahons moved to Minneapolis from the Clontarf area in western Minnesota, they branched out making matches with those of non-Irish heritage. Names like Fuchs, Freitag, Nelson, Oien, and Bebus joined the McMahon family tree. My grandma Agnes was the only of her siblings to marry fellow Irish American (and Clontarf native) John Regan.
My grandma Agnes McMahon Regan is on the right, resting her head in her hand, next to my grandpa John Regan. The others are identified only as, “Foley girls – Aunt Bid and Uncle Tim’s.” Aunt Bid was Bridget McMahon. Mom says this is most likely is at Aunt Bid’s kitchen table. Maybe the others are Kit, Cecilia, or Loretta Foley?
Rose McMahon is on the left, with her sister Mary McMahon and husband Will Herr. Could this be at Mary and Will’s fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in Bristol, South Dakota? Written on the back is, “Eileen and John Regan may be at next table.” Mom can help me out with this.
From left: Fran Fuchs Lainsbury, Dody Fuchs Abbott, and their mother, Mary McMahon Fuchs at the table in the Foley house in Benson. That’s my Aunt Mary (actually a great aunt, but always just Aunt Mary to us). I think Aunt Mary looks so cute here. I only remember her when she was twenty years older.
Some members of the McMahon family gathered at the wedding of Mary Fuchs (possibly). From the bottom left: Frank, John, Aunt Rose McMahon, Ella (John’s wife), Benie Oien, Rose “Dodo” McMahon Oien. I bet Frank’s wife Bertha took the photo unless Frank had a penchant for handbags (“Frank, hold my purse for a minute while I take a picture.”) I wonder where John and Agnes are sitting? And who is that guy standing on the left, behind the table, like he is in the picture?
Does anyone else wish we could step into old snapshots like these and stay for a moment, just long enough to catch Bertha asking the table for a smile and to hear John laughing? And maybe even long enough to pull Dodo aside and ask her why old Aunt Rose is sitting between John and Ella.
Note: Mom told me that the guy at the left behind the table is her cousin Jim Nelson. So, if this was a modern photo, he would have squeezed himself in somewhere to be part of the shot! Also, mom thinks this may have been Dodo and Bernie’s wedding (that would explain Bernie’s natty ensemble.
It was never the couch; never the sofa. For Grandma, it was always the Davenport.
That Grandma called the multiperson upholstered seating apparatus the davenport had nothing to do with her Irish heritage, but everything to do with regional and generational influences. I am sure that many members of the Greatest Generation in the Midwest used the term, but Grandma was the only person I ever heard call it a davenport, so I have forever associated the word exclusively with Grandma, and thus, cozy comfort and love.
“Come on in and sit yourself down on the davenport.” was the invitation equivalent to Grandma’s hand smoothing the hair from my tear-soaked face or a boiled dinner she made with enough potatoes for an army. Grandma’s davenport was like a warm hug.
Here’s my grandma in the 1960s, sitting on the davenport. I am not sure it is her davenport – Mom will let us know. That lamp does not quite look like Grandma’s style.
Here’s a davenport full of family. Eileen Regan, Margaret McMahon Nelson, John Regan, and Agnes McMahon Regan at the Regan house on Tenth Avenue in South Minneapolis in the late 1950s.
One more group of Irish Americans on the Davenport, although “Cousins on the Couch” has a better ring. Tom McMahon, Carol and Betty McMahon, and Eileen Regan in 1962.
I have observed a few other prominent settings in my collection of family photographs, namely the dinner table, the sidewalk, and next to a car. Stay tuned…
UPDATES per Mom (2/22/2023):
Photo #1 of Grandma was taken at the Roth family home. The Roths were members of Holy Name parish and they belonged to the parish book club, as did Agnes and John Regan.
Photo #2 correction made – sitting next to Eileen is her aunt Margaret, not Rose.
Mom thinks Photo #3 was her high school graduation party. She remembers the dress she was wearing: yellow with eyelet trim at the neck and sleeves. I didn’t ask, but I assume Grandma made it!
When we moved my grandma from her apartment, there were dresser drawers full of neat little bundles of fabric, remnants from decades of sewing projects. Tucked into one of the drawers was an embroidery hoop holding a once-taut piece of muslin. Work had begun on the piece but was interrupted.
Mom could tell by the signature brown stitches that this was Minnie’s handiwork. Was it abandoned when she had to go to the hospital in October of 1945, where she would pass away? It is likely that is why my grandma would hold onto an unfinished embroidery project for nearly sixty years. That’s why Mom and I have kept it for twenty more years. I can picture Minnie smoothing the fabric and tightening the hoop, threading the needle, and eventually slipping the needle through the cotton and setting the work down for the last time.
This is an embroidery pattern that was also floating around in Grandma’s things:
Now, I am off to bake a spice cake. For me, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves combine to create an olfactory time machine. In a couple of hours I will be enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee and a slice of spice cake with Minnie.
My great-aunt Dodo was born on this day, December 28th, in 1908. I’ve mentioned her many times, often speculating about the origins of her nickname.
I love this photo of Rose Ann McMahon, aka Dodo. She is often laughing and smiling broadly in the early photographs. As she aged, her smile narrowed, but she always seemed up for a joke and a laugh.
Unrelated to jokes and laughs, I came across this while looking at my archive;
I can’t really picture Dodo as a receptionist, or a switchboard operator. But, she would have been looking for a new line of work in 1946. She worked at the New Brighton ammunition factory during World War II (an actual Rosie the Riveter!)
Today I have enjoyed taking time to reminisce about Dodo (breakfasts at Embers with the coupons), and recall my grandma’s stories (my favorite is the nieces’ Communion dresses). As always, it seems strange that it could be so long ago.
I need some help from my mom on this one. I know that is my great-grandpa Tom McMahon on the right, with his daughter Agnes (my grandma) standing in front of him. Who are the rest? Could they be Tom’s brother Frank (left), his wife Agnes McGraw McMahon and their children? Their oldest, Richard, was the same age as my grandma. That could be him in the cap by his dad. Three girls followed him in age: Florence, Eileen, and Gertrude, but I can’t quite tell.
And then there is the lady next to Tom. Could it be his sister Kate? She may have still been in Clontarf.
Subtract about seventeen years from the gentleman standing on the left above and do you get the one standing on the left below?
I believe this one is from the 1930s. My grandma on the left with her sister Rose and Eileen McMahon, possibly one of the little ones in the first photo.
One more, just because I noticed how my grandma was holding two fingers on her right hand with her left hand and it reminded me of this cute photo.
Mom – please set me straight on dates, identifications, etc.
The Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota plans to demolish the recently deconsecrated St. Malachy Church building, but not before they auction off “St. Malachy’s Memorabilia.”
Memorabilia makes me think of my brother’s Don Mattingly baseball cards or a jersey worn by Joe Mauer. Remember how people bought sets of the iconic blue plastic seats from the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome when it was taken down? They put them in their “man caves,” ice houses, and basements all over Minnesota. Will the St. Malachy’s church pews have the same appeal? Maybe, but the word memorabilia seems to cheapen what the pews and stained glass windows of St. Malachy’s represent.
Years ago when my mother, Eileen, and I began looking into family history in the Clontarf area, she had copies made of pages from the St. Malachy’s account books. Pages were chosen because they pertained to our families – the Regans, the Foleys, and the McMahons – as well as known neighbors and associates. The copies by no means represent the full fiscal picture of the building of St. Malachy’s, but they clearly shows how the people of Clontarf paid for the building, a building whose elements will be auctioned off as memorabilia and will soon be demolished by the Diocese of New Ulm.
The following narrative is the first installment on the building of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, based on the original financial records.
FUNDRAISING AND THE BUILDING OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH
By 1896, it was clear to most that the parish of St. Malachy’s had outgrown the original building constructed in 1878. Children of the original settlers were marrying and starting families of their own as new residents joined the community and the town grew. The financial record books indicate that raising money for the new St. Malachy Church was every bit a community effort – “all hands on deck!”
March 17, 1896 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT
The parishioners of St. Malachy’s assembled an event to raise money for the new church building while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. With attractions that included a watch drawing, Pidgeon target shooting, a cigar and candy stand, play performance, dinner, and fireworks, the fundraiser would certainly have been popular with the wider community.
Margaret Duggan of Tara Township and Mary Purcell of Clontarf donated the watch and the drawing raised $256.50, over half of the total funds raised at the event ($470.05). Expenses for the festivities were listed as $52.00, but most were covered by donations.
November 1896 – FALL FAIR
Later in the year, once the crops were in, Clontarf area residents held a Fall Fair to celebrate and raise more funds for the building of the new church. Records provide no final numbers for funds raised by organizers, but it appears to have been quite an affair.
Spanning two days, with dinner served on both Saturday and Sunday, Fair events included a horse raffle, another watch drawing, a fishpond, a play, and a cigar and candy stand. There were raffles for a kettle and a cigar box, as well as three “Fancy Tables” organized by Mrs. Moore, Mary Hurley, Miss Riley, and Mary Purcell.
The records note that Patrick Freeman of Clontarf donated the horse for the raffle and Frank McMahon of Tara and Eugene Daniel of Hoff went out ahead of the raffle to sell tickets to area residents.
Examples of funds raised:
Fancy Tables – $50.00
Play tickets – $14.35 (95 tickets sold @ 15 cents each)
Dinners – $68.00 (“at least”)
Watch Drawing – $92.00
March 17, 1897 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT
Limited information exists in the record books for this event, but undoubtedly there were the usual nineteenth-century fundraiser staples: raffles, cigars, candy, dinner, and a play.
Included in the March 17, 1897, financial records entry are a few details on the Dramatic Club of Clontarf. Sixty-four tickets were sold to the performance for total sales of $16.00. The ticket prices rose to 25 cents a seat. After renting wigs ($1.85) and purchasing a “tableau fire” and “sundries” ($2.15) and paying printing costs ($4.36), the records indicate they contributed $10.60 toward the window fund. They must have received a discount on some of their props.
Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records and copies are located in Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. Eileen McCormack copied specific pages when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.
Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022
For more information on Clontarf history, please visit here and here.
Catherine McAndrew McMahon sent this postcard to Tom, her oldest son, in early April 1908. She was in Rochester being treated at the Mayo Clinic for cancer, and Tom was at home in Tara Township. Catherine died on April 18th following surgery to remove a tumor.
Tom kept his mother’s obituary folded up in his wallet. His rosary, the postcard, and the obituary are the only things left behind by my great-grandfather.
Tom is standing, second from the left, and Catherine is seated in front, next to her eldest daughter and namesake. The McMahon family would lose its youngest son, Johnny (standing, at far right), to tuberculosis about three years after this photograph was taken.