The Irish in America


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Meet Florence Connolly, Second-Grade Teacher

Florence was the first Tazewell resident to catch my eye once I delved into the research for my article. I never know why exactly someone stands out to me. I just get a feeling and the wheels start turning. Often the wheels come to a screeching halt, but once in a while I get lucky and that feeling leads to interesting discoveries.

Florence Mildred Connolly was born on February 25, 1889, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her parents were Thomas F. Connolly and Mary Morrison. Florence was the youngest of the couple’s four children. Thomas had an additional six children from his first marriage to Dora Fitzgerald.

Thomas was born about 1844 in Ireland and came to the United States in 1852. He settled in Chicago, marrying Dora Fitzgerald on January 3, 1869. The couple moved to St. Paul after the birth of their first son, Joseph. In St. Paul, Thomas and Dora’s family expanded to include five boys and one girl (the youngest, Mary Margaret). Dora died shortly after Mary’s birth in 1878. With six young children to raise Thomas soon remarried. He and Mary Morrison wed on January 15, 1880. The Connolly family lived at 77 Partridge St. in St. Paul.

In 1880, Thomas “worked at a shoe and boot factory,” according to the census. By 1900, the Connollys lived at 523 Third Street in Stillwater, Minnesota. Thomas was a manager for Union Shoe and Leather. 

[Since this post is about Florence at The Tazewell and not her father, I will refrain at this time from sharing all of the fascinating information I learned about Thomas F. Connolly. Stay tuned for his story, coming soon!]

In the 1916 Stillwater City Directory Florence was employed as a teacher and lived at the family home on Third Street. Her father died in 1917 and by 1918 Florence boarded at 1317 Selby Avenue (a three-bedroom, two-story home built in 1912) in St. Paul and taught at Jefferson School (located at Pleasant and Sherman). The 1919 St. Paul City Directory listed Florence in residence at 135 N. Western Avenue at the brand-new Tazewell Apartments.

Florence moved into apartment 205 with her older sister Mary (the youngest of Thomas’ first family). Mary was a teacher at Hill School (Selby and Oxford) and Florence was still at Jefferson. The Tazewell was very conveniently located one block from Selby Avenue – the streetcar, shops, and services were practically outside the front door. 

For the 1920-21 school year, Florence transferred to Webster School. This was a smart move for Florence, as it cut her commute time to five minutes. Webster was an elementary school located on the northwest corner of Laurel and Mackubin, just two blocks from The Tazewell. According to the Saint Paul Public Schools Directory of School Officers and Teachers 1920-1921, Florence taught second-grade. There were two classes for each grade of kindergarten through eighth (except three classes of fourth grade and just one class of fifth grade). Living two blocks away didn’t win Florence any award for “teacher living the closest to school” – several of her Webster colleagues lived within a block of the school.

Webster School built in 1882. Currently the site of McQuillan Park. (photo: Minnesota Historical Society)

Florence and Mary had a phone at The Tazewell, and their number was “Dale 4826.” The numbering of the apartments changed somewhat after the renovations in 1980 and I have not quite been able to figure it out, but I think Florence’s apartment, #205, was an efficiency unit. And efficient it was, with its space-saving pull-out bed, built-in desk and cabinets and walk-up dressing room/closet, complete with a built-in dresser, mirror, slide-out vanity table, and bench.

Bed, built-in, French doors, closet, view of kitchen thru dining room - photo credit: Kevin O'Brien
Bed (pulled out partially), built-in, dressing room to left (Photo: Kevin O’Brien)

There was also a built-in booth/table in the kitchen and French doors leading from the main room to dining room. Windows added light and air to the space as well as the sense that the apartment was larger than its 500 square-foot size. There were the added amenities of a grocery store and a beauty shop in the building, at the garden level. I think Florence and Mary would have been quite comfortable at The Tazewell. They resided there for ten years.

In 1930 Florence lived at The Commodore, 79 N. Western. The Commodore was a step (or two) up from The Tazewell. It was not apparent in the City Directory listings that Mary and Florence were still living together when Florence moved to The Commodore, but the 1930 Census cleared it up for me.

The Commodore was a swanky “residential hotel.” Florence and Mary paid $100 a month for rent. In 1930 rents at The Tazewell ranged from $42.50 to $75 per month. There must have been some misunderstanding with the census-taker because both the women’s ages are incorrect – Florence shaved a good eight years off her actual age, Mary took a modest four years

I took a closer look and both Florence and Mary remained single. They taught in the St. Paul Public Schools for the rest of their working lives. Mary passed away in 1968, aged ninety. Florence lived another twenty-five years, passing away in 1993. Florence may have been lonesome for her sister in those years, or possibly happy to finally be rid of her! That’s something research in the City Directories will never tell us!

I wonder if Florence stayed in touch with any of her neighbors from The Tazewell…like Beth Hughes who worked as a teller at the Merchant’s Trust and Savings or Central High School teacher Grace Cochran? I think before I consider more of The Irish in America (and at The Tazewell) I want to share what I have found on Florence’s father. 

Next up will be a profile on Thomas F. Connolly. Connolly came to the United States as a boy from Ireland in the aftermath of the Famine. In time he built a prosperous shoe and boot empire from a prison in Stillwater, Minnesota. I’ll explain…

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The Irish in America (and at the Tazewell)

The Tazewell in Saint Paul’s Cathedral Hill

I am polishing up an article for Ramsey County History Magazine on 100 years of history at The Tazewell. The short story…The Tazewell Apartments were built in 1918 in a bustling neighborhood of St. Paul. The building suffered from mid-century neglect and urban fight and fell into disrepair. In 1979 the building was condemned. A developer rescued the property and in 1981 The Tazewell Condominiums emerged from the cockroaches, squirrels, and blown out windows.

As a current resident of The Tazewell, I find myself wondering about what the building was originally like and who used to live here. Since, apparently, the original building plans don’t exist, the former plays out in my imagination (aided by the very occasional architectural clue). The latter curiosity can be more concretely satisfied. In preparation for the article, I spent a great deal of time looking at the old St. Paul City Directories to learn about earlier residents of the building. Because so much of the research I do revolves around Irish immigrants, my eye was instinctively drawn to the Irish surnames in these directories. It’s no surprise, but there were a good number of Irish Americans living at The Tazewell over the years.

I mention several of the residents in the article,, but there are many more stories behind the names on the pages of those directories. Small stories, maybe fragments of stories, hidden but waiting to be told. I will explore some of these stories over the next few months. The Irish in America and at The Tazewell is not terribly catchy, but it will have to do for now.

Although construction was completed in 1918, 1919 was the first year a full slate of residents appeared in the directory. Of the fifty residents, there were 21 women and 29 men living in a total of 36 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments. Irish surnames like Hughes, Connolly, Howe, Kelly, Egan, and Neely were scattered among Thorson, Steuer, Albrecht, Van Sylke, and others. Of course, I understand that Felix Hoffman could have as much Irish ancestry as say, Nora Egan, and we’ll look at that as well. That’s kind of the point of America, after all, isn’t it?

For the purposes of exploring the lives of the Irish in America, I will begin next time by looking at the first resident to catch my attention – Florence Connolly, a teacher and original resident of The Tazewell who stayed for nine years. Check back on Monday for Florence’s story.