02 January 2013

Ghost towns

House, SD

Many of the structures I document are part of ghost towns. For many reasons--loss of railroads and employers, agricultural disasters, economic downturns, greener pastures elsewhere--settlements and towns flourish, wither and are reduced to clusters of brittle structures. Their stories are not always well known.

Today in family history: Emma Nellie Keese Kelly, who had just turned 19, died in Kellyville, Marion County, Texas, in 1880. She was the daughter of my great-great grandfather George Washington Keese, who was born in Georgia and migrated to Caldwell, Texas, with his family by 1850. Somewhere along the way, in Tennessee, George married Harriet Adeline Perkins, who according to census records was born in Vermont, whose story is uncertain. Emma Nellie was their youngest child.

Emma Nellie married Lewis Dennis Kelly, whose father George Addison Kelly was a founder of the industrial settlement known as Kellyville or Kellysville (originally named Four-Mile Branch). The Kelly Foundry, Furnace and Plow Company manufactured and reapaired agricultural equipment, and during the Confederacy produced ammunition as well.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, "By 1880 the Kelly Iron Works was listed as the state's outstanding producer of agricultural implements, the Kelly Blue Plow being its most popular finished product. However, due to the loss of cheap water transport following removal of the Red River Raft, a fire that destroyed his furnace, and a joint-stock arrangement with the state Grange not suitable to him, Kelly closed his foundry and moved his plow production operation to Longview in 1882. Kellyville rapidly declined." Kellyville and its decline is discussed in T. Lindsey Baker's Ghost Towns of Texas.

Emma died before the foundry moved and Kellyville became a ghost town. Her infant son, George A. Kelly, born just before her own birthday in November 1879, died in February 1880, less than two months after her own death. Lewis died in June 1880. Kellyville was abandoned in 1883. It's not often that so much is so thoroughly lost in one small family. I do not know what happened to Emma Nellie; there is so much that could have happened, but we can only speculate.

So I slow down for ghost towns. Someone has to. They are memories captured in structures, not words, and the images are all we can keep. 

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