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The whole thing begins with James Cowley and his wife, Bridget Flynn traveling to the US from Ireland circa 1853. I believe they married just before they sailed from the city of Dublin. Details of their travel and arrival are unknown but they settled first in Troy, New York. Their first child, Mary was born in 1854 in Troy. Their oldest son, Richard was born in Urbana in 1857. James was employed as a laborer and I suspect with one of the railroads moving westward following the industrial path of the Erie Canal. In about 1860 the family moved into Urbana and James worked for the Big Four railroad. (Cleveland Cincinnati Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company.) Detailed records are very sparse as they relate to the Cowley's in those early years. However, my grandmother, Mary Cowley Kennedy was clear in memories of childhood. That historic period included the rise of Abraham Lincoln from circuit-rider practicing law to the Presidency. Mary also spoke of her father and brother "working together" with Jim Kennedy for the railroad. That led to her marriage with Kennedy in about 1886.

This time frame also covers the Civil War and Mary recalled only minor experiences that were tied to those troubled times. She could recall vividly her visit with her father to see the funeral train for Lincoln that had passed through Funk's Grove northwest of Urbana. She was then about eleven. During this time another child was born to James and Bridget, they named her Kathryn. Two other male children had died in previous years. A cemetery plot at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Champaign includes James, Bridget, James and John the children and older sister, Kathryn Cowley Walsh who died in 1901. The Urbana City Directory of 1883 lists James and Richard Cowley as laborers living on the northeast corner of Walnut & Water sts. Both men were still working for the Big Four at this time and I expect as part of their track maintenance crews. James Kennedy was at the "roundhouse" in the blacksmith shops.

All during these times according to Mary Cowley Kennedy the family was "pooling" their resources and as investors participated with others in real estate ventures in the community. Both are named in a law suit by a group of investors against the property that later became the Urbana-Lincoln. This is on file at the Urbana Free Library. My copy of this document is in storage in Pennsylvania.

At this point both James and Richard were into real estate and we are in possession of one plot map from Eastern Urbana showing several locations owned by James Cowley. The year is circa 1890 and family members recall that The Panic of 1893 held devastating financial consequences for the family. From then on both James and Richard were extremely cautious in dealings with local banks but little else is known about their acquisitions and sales.

As an overview it's clear that both Cowley men were very much involved in real estate and managed after retirement from the railroad to continue their efforts. Bridget died of cancer in 1884 and James in 1908. Their son, Richard died in 1912 under rather remarkable circumstances. His obituary reads as follows:
DEATH TAKES TWO IN ONE FAMILY Richard Cowley is Stricken Before Funeral. Made Home with James Kennedy Whose Death Occurred Saturday Evening. Stricken with apoplexy just before the funeral of his brother-in-law, James Kennedy, Monday morning at the latter' home 605 South Urbana avenue, Richard Cowley died at 6:30 that evening. Mr. Cowley made his home with Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy, the latter being his sister. After suffering the stroke he did not regain consciousness and died in the same home where his brother-in-law died hours before.

Mr. Cowley was born in this city fifty-four years ago and had always made his home here. Of late years he lived with Mrs. Kennedy. He also farmed a small tract of land near this city. He had never married. The funeral will be held at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Interment will be in Calvary, at Woodlawn cemetery. One further footnote, Richard Cowley was one of the original developers of Woodlawn cemetery and with others established it in 1907. Further details would be available through the Urbana Free Library. The Cowley/Kennedy family is certified on file as "Pioneers."

Richard was never the primary subject of my research which centered around the Kennedy's and Richard's sister, Mary Cowley. She was my grandmother and my dearest friend during childhood in South Florida. My mother, Mary Agnes Kennedy Flannery had been quite ill during my early years and Grandmother was in complete charge. Mary was a remarkable woman whose life spanned times before the Civil War until the end of World War I I. She and her family came to Urbana in 1855. She stayed until 1924 when the old hotel-rooming house her family had owned was reopened as the Urbana-Lincoln hotel. Mary Kennedy died in 1946 at 92.

(She had once owned a night registry with Lincoln's signature in several places. The book was misplaced somehow, somewhere during the years of World War I. It may be in a private collection with other mementos?)



Mary Cowley Kennedy was heroic by any standard!
She was a woman nearly impossible to describe in the context of our times. However, a documentary should have been devoted to her life and the remarkable way she faced challenges of that century extending from the Civil War to the Atomic Age. She was born at a uniquely historical time in America, 1854. The oldest child in an Irish immigrant family they fought to establish themselves in a semi-hostile environment. They were devout Catholics in a Protestant community. The men were railroad workers assigned to the lowest levels of labor as track layers, section hands and blacksmiths in the forges at roundhouses of the Big Four. As the oldest child, Mary helped manage her siblings while her mother held small jobs in town, ultimately owning a fabric shop in Urbana that burned to the ground in the town fire of 1871. (Mary was then 17 and worked at that store.)

Mary Kennedy recalled all of these things as she helped my mother in a time of need. My parents had separated in 1930 when Mary was 76 years old. Consequently she proceeded to raise my sister and I during the most challenging years of the Great Depression. Coincidentally, I believe my mother was ill from what is currently termed; depression and it took her out of parenting for almost five years. During that time Mary Kennedy was our "Mom" and even with what she'd survived until then, she rose to the challenge.

It was in those years she talked to us of her father and how he took her to view the funeral train of President Lincoln. She told of how her father and brother left the railroad and entered the world of real estate, mortgages, industrial development and ultimately total loss in the Panic of 1893. She also explained how the men never recovered from their losses and suggested they should have fought harder to regain success in business. She said if she had been a man she would have taken over every bank in town. She termed all bankers "snakes" who couldn't be trusted with other people's money. She wouldn't enter a bank so other family members had to handle her finances.

She vividly recalled the Civil War and its end as veterans turned up on her doorstep seeking food and clothing. They were returning to homes in the West after having faced the terrible battlefields of that war. They were going home without medical help, financial aid or even a leadership that held promise for them. Of course things changed as they eventually found political voice and a return to society under General Grant.

My sister and I listened in rapt attention as she spoke of how her little brothers died "of ignorance" with typhoid fever. She described how she and her sister, Catherine, bathed their burning foreheads with cool towels using the very water that was killing them.

Mary spoke of these things and of how she was hired to supervise the sons of a famous Union General. He was General John C. Black of Danville and she traveled with that family through the eastern states as part of a political campaign. Later she married, James Kennedy, a blacksmith in the Big Four shops. Raising three children of her own she saw them all educated and career bound. To her horror in 1912 she witnessed her husbands injury in a home accident that took his life a year later. He had fallen from their roof and internal injuries proved fatal. She had nursed him at home all during his pain-wracked illness and then to his death without effective anaesthetic.

On the day of the funeral for James Kennedy tragedy struck again. Her brother, Richard Cowley, who resided with the Kennedy's had a fatal heart attack while getting dressed for the church service. A few days later Mary had "twin funerals" to arrange for the men she had depended upon at that time .

So over the years Mary had just about seen it all and somehow managed to emerge with strength intact. I could write about her for years and not do her justice. However, there is one little story I must add. It's worth passing along for you and anyone else who might read your work later. It happened long before "Civil Rights" became a serious issue following World War I I. In the south that was believed to be a matter settled decades previously.

Mary Kennedy was 85 in 1938 and never a large person, her age had stooped her shoulders and reduced her weight to less than 100 pounds. She was also a bit infirm and walked with a stick. One of her daughters had purchased a cane for her but she refused to use it, "too flashy" was how she put it. Instead she went to the shed, cut off the handle of an old broom and that sufficed for her. She was determined, strong as a leather lariat and none in my memory was ever willing to face her in anger.

One of her routines was a bi-monthly bus ride into Miami and she truly enjoyed those trips. She liked to visit the YWCA, eat lunch and talk with ladies her age. She refused all auto rides and claimed the city buses were more "her style." One afternoon on her return home she had an adventure our family never forgot. It demonstrated Mary's lack of fear and basic courage under tough circumstances. She had taken a place on her bus near the rear doors. She had not noticed a black lady seated forward of her near the window. She claimed the driver yelled something at her and then stopped the bus. She said the driver was "a giant of a man" and he shook his fist at her. He told Mary Kennedy she would have to move ahead of the black lady who would have to move back behind the rear doors. (That was the law in Miami, Florida and long before Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.)

She refused and made the black lady keep her seat. (The driver later claimed she tried to hit him with her broom stick.) In any case both women stood their ground and were finally ejected by the driver. Fortunately Mary had not struck the driver and the problem had erupted at an intersection near a phone. Mary called a family member who picked them up. The black lady was housekeeper for a very wealthy family in Miami and she lived in Coconut Grove. Mary kept in touch with the lady and they exchanged gifts at Christmas for many years following the incident.

Mary Kennedy died while I was overseas during World War I I and in keeping with her personal request I was not told of her death until I returned home from the Pacific. She had died at age 93. Her life had spanned time from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. According to family members, Mary remained "sharp as a tack" up to the day of her death.

Mary Kennedy had never stopped talking about her family in Urbana over our times together. She somehow seemed to keep in touch with them daily in her thoughts and prayers. I will always regret my own family members missing her company and the amazing spirit she brought to every occasion. Truly a woman deserving a book but who will write it? I don't believe I have the resources or the energy required. (It's worth the thought I'll admit!)


Bob Flannery
West Palm Beach, FL.

IF you have pictures or stories about the neighborhood please