Back to Historic Buildings
Fitzgerald Family Background      
Fitzgerald Buildings

Fitzgerald Building Chronology

Personal Background of the Fitzgerald Family           

The Fitzgerald Block was built by Martin and Mary Darcy Fitzgerald.  Mary Darcy Fitzgerald emigrated from Ireland in 1842, and after a short sojourn in New York, where she married Martin, she and her husband moved to Memphis.  There she built and operated the Memphis Hotel.  It thrived but the Fitzgeralds were eager for greater things.  When yellow fever smote the South, they traveled northward.  First they located in Dubuque, Iowa for a short time then went to Chicago largely by riverboats.  They opened another hotel in Chicago, which they ran for two years.  By thrift and hard work they accumulated real estate and other holdings, which included two marshy city blocks on the north bank of the Chicago River.  Those lands now include the site of the Merchandise Mart.  Reasoning that Chicago was on the edge of things, they sold their Chicago investments to buy land in Mattoon in 1855-57.

They came to Mattoon between 1855 and 1857 believing that it would become a major town since it was in the center of the state and at a junction of two rail lines.  On the day Ebenezer Noyes first sold lots in his addition (4 Jul 1857), the Fitzgeralds bought the west half of lot 2 in the original plat of Mattoon block 142.  This is located between 18th and 19th on Broadway.  It was known as 1811 Broadway in 1906.  They built the “Chicago House” hotel on this spot and conducted a wholesale grocery.  The building was later moved to the following Western Avenue address and was destroyed by fire before 1863 taking all their possessions.  A two-story brick structure was constructed on the Broadway site that dates roughly to this period.  The three-story brick building at 1815 Broadway was also built by the Fitzgeralds and probably was a location for a saloon.

On 15 Sept 1858 they purchased lot 1 in block 85 of Noyes Addition, which is 1904-06 Western Avenue.  At some point they also purchased lot 1 in block 114, which is 1900-1902 Western Avenue where they had a saloon. Martin was listed as a grocery merchant in the 1860 census.  He had real estate valued at $400 and personal property valued at $100.  On 25 Mar 1862 they bought the site of their future home, lots 4 and 5 in block 84 of Noyes Addition (Prairie and 20th St.) for $200.  When Martin died in 1863, the land on Broadway, which now included part of lot 3, was valued at $1,000.  The property on Western Avenue was valued at $700, and the lot with their future home was worth $350.  Altogether their real estate was worth $4,630.  When Martin died in 1863, Mary engaged a train to convey 300 mourners to Terre Haute where he was buried because there was no Catholic cemetery in Mattoon at the time.  Mary used some money from the estate to purchase an 80-acre farm from the Illinois Central Railroad.

Their business activities included a saloon.  Mary was reportedly its dominant figure.  She ran it with a tight hand and tolerated no boisterous or unseemly antics.  In 1861 a group of newly enlisted Civil War soldiers became obstreperous.  Their then commander, a Colonel Blood, was unable to quell their rowdiness.  They continued amok until they encountered the Fitzgerald place.  Mary, with a large firing piece faced up to them across her bar, put down their riotousness and drove them with vigor and determination back to what later became Camp Grant.

On 29 January 1867 Mary was joined in holy matrimony with John Montgomery, another Irish Catholic.  They raised her two daughters, Mary Ann (12 years old) and Sarah J. (9 years old).  Sarah Jane Fitzgerald had been the first white female child born in Mattoon.  She attended St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute.  Mary Ann had been born in Tennessee in 1855.  She never married.  She was considered “distracted” and William Moran was made her conservator.  She was judged insane in the 1925.  After her mother’s death, Moran arranged to give her $200/year as per Mary’s will, but cut her out of all other inheritance.

The next land purchase made by the Montgomerys in 1870 and 1871 expanded their holdings around their home at 200 N. 20th Street.  On 15 Oct 1870 they bought lot 3 and on 12 April the following year they purchased lot 2.  Mary and John now owned the west half of block 84.  Her home remained there throughout her lifetime.  However, she had to purchase lots 2 and 3 from her husband’s estate in September 1891 for $400.  The house was later split in half and one side went to the northwest corner of 34th and Richmond Avenue.  The other half was moved to Lake Paradise.

In 1870, the Montgomerys were listed as saloon owners in the census.  Their real estate holdings were worth $3500 and their personal property was valued at $1,000.  Mary had come a long way in ten years.

In 1882, Sarah J. married William Moran who had a hardware store in Mattoon.  Moran was active in politics, serving on several city councils.  He also unsuccessfully ran for mayor. Something happened in May 1888 to Moran’s business.  On May 7th, Mary bought his hardware store stock for $2500, and Sarah bought his interest in lot 6 block 84 Noyes Addition and the south half of lot 2 in block 113 of the original plat of Mattoon, paying $1000 on May 11th.  The latter location is the site of Sarah and William’s home, 201 N. 19th Street.  Around 1908, Moran also ran a patent medicine company.

About 1892 the Fitzgerald Block burned and Mary had the task, at age 72, of rebuilding.  The current stately brick building was completed in 1895 or 99.

Mary died on April 5, 1900 a very wealthy woman.  She paid the second or third highest taxes in Mattoon.  Her estate wasn’t settled until January 1, 1910.  The probate file was removed from the Courthouse many years ago by William Moran, Jr., who lived in Chicago at the time and later moved to California.  It was interesting that Mary’s obituary was brief and did not mention her saloon.

Sarah was the executrix of Mary’s will, though William indicated that he did much of the work.  She must have inherited the property for in 1910 she is named in 6 pending suits. Ida M. Jones claims that Raymond, Baul, Helen, Ruth, Genevieve and Montie Jones were harmed because of damages suffered by reason of injuries caused by intoxication at Sarah’s building on lot 1 block 114.  They reached a compromise where Sarah paid Ida $455 for the benefit of all the plaintiffs. 

It appears that Sarah may have owned the saloon but did not operate herself.  In 1898 it was called Ramsey & Ward Saloon and in 1904 J. A. Savage gave it his name.

Some of the above information is from an entry written by Mary Jane Horsley for the 1976 County history book and a telephone interview with Jack Horsley.  Some details are from the 1906 Coles County Biography.  The land records were gathered by Renee Henry from the grantee/grantor records.