A PORTRAIT OF OLIVER S. KELLY

From Panning Gold to Melting Steel:


| January/February 1997



Oliver Smith Kelly

1. Oliver Smith Kelly, as he appeared in the 1884 Biographical Encyclopedia of Ohio.

3982 Ballard Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45209-1716

Oliver Smith Kelly stuck it rich. He had worked as a carpenter, but the lure of gold proved too strong to resist. He left behind his home in Springfield, Ohio, looped through Nicaragua, and arrived in California gold fields. He spent the better part of 1852 through 1856 mining 'placers,' deposits of gravel containing small particles of ore which can be washed out. Luck smiled on Kelly. The man who returned to Springfield was wealthy (Springfield Daily Republic 12 and Yester Year in Clark County, Ohio 29). Oliver had ample capital to risk in establishing a series of industrial enterprises. The Kelly name would come to be associated with steam engines, threshing machines, road rollers, pianos, trucks, and tires. Like the Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller stories, the account of Kelly's life invited readers back to an era when it was possible to become rich through good fortune and to stay rich through inventiveness and hard work.

Born in 1824, Oliver was the grandson of James Kelly, an Irish immigrant who first settled in Virginia. James felt the despair at Valley Forge and the exhilaration at Yorktown while serving under General George Washington. Hazarding the privations of a trek through the Cumberland Gap and across the rugged highlands of Kentucky, this patriot of the Revolution and his dozen children arrived in Springfield in 1808 (Springfield Daily Republic 12). To look then at the hamlet situated on the wooded knolls of the Mad River would have given James Kelly no glimpse of the sprawling city of factories which Springfield would become, his own grandson contributing significantly to that future growth.

John Kelly had been born in 1789. He fought in the War of 1812 then returned to farming in Clark County, Ohio. His untimely death in 1825 left one-year-old Oliver without a father. Other members of the large Kelly familywhich Oliver later called 'the Kelly neighborhood'helped to raise the infant (Yester Year 28).

Oliver's earliest recollections were of the log house on the farm which his father carved from the wilderness four miles south of town (Yester Year 27 and Kelly Springfield Today Part 1). Oliver's grandfather lived a half mile to the north. Most of James' seven surviving sons and four daughters resided in the vicinity (Yester Year 28). Patches of cleared land floated like islands amid forests of oak and black walnut, mammoth sycamores sheltered the river, and every boy and girl quickly learned to handle a gun, supplementing the larder with wild game. Oliver's aunt was a crack shot: '... she could bring down a deer or anything else that crossed her path, any day,' Oliver would recall (Yester Year 28). He would also remember the self-sufficiency of pioneer families: '...we raised the flax and wool from which our mother spun our clothes; we raised the cattle and killed the beeves, from which we got the hides that we took to the tanner, who tanned them on shares, and in the fall a shoemaker would come to the house and stay several weeks, making shoes for all the family' (Yester Year 28).

Woodcut of an early Springfield portable steam engine, built in Springfield, Ohio, in the early 1880s. Note how engraver made trial gouges in black margins, which would be removed before printing. All woodcuts and copper cuts here reproduced are from the collection of Dr. Robert T. Rhode and have been printed by Otto Printing of Newport, Kentucky.

Joshua S. Castle_1
4/28/2009 9:06:16 PM

This article needs pictures of the Kelly Home.


Joshua S. Castle_1
4/28/2009 9:06:02 PM

This article needs pictures of the Kelly Home.