7 Adams Street--The Ryan Block

James and Bridget Ryan immigrated to the US from Ireland sometime before 1855 and by the 1860 census had four Massachusetts-born children: Mary, John, Patrick, and Elizabeth. They were doing quite well. They owned their house, worth $700, and had a "domestic", 65-year-old Margaret Murphy, also from Ireland. The house on Dutton Street must have been quite large because they had eight boarders, split evenly between male and female. Half were Irish immigrants and half worked in the mills. James died before 1870 but Bridget kept the house for twenty years until they moved out of the center of town.

The first jobs for three of the children were, unsurprisingly, in the mills.

John started working for a junk dealer but put in some time in the mills as well. Around the age of 25, he started his own junk business, John Ryan & Company and was joined as a junior partner by brother Patrick. In 1892 the two bought a nearby brass factory that had probably been customers of the junk yard (near Liberty square). The two companies were run in tandem for several years. The Union Brass Foundry eventually employed sister Elizabeth as well.

Even before purchasing the foundry, in 1891 the brothers had bought several buildings on the west side of Liberty Square on Adams street, eventually owning most of the block between Worthen and Hampton (a street no long in existence). The buildings were owned by George and Nellie McNaboe (both Irish immigrants), who had run a periodicals store and lived at 5 Adams Street while renting out the stores and rooming houses in the other buildings. Things were going so well that the Ryans tore down all those buildings and put up the "Ryan Block," a major step up in building capacity and quality.

The Ryan Block received quite a bit of attention in the press when it opened in 1905. A newspaper extolled the brothers for their ideal of "not how cheap but how good." "The finish of the building is of North Carolina pine, finished natural, and hardwood floors ar laid throughout the entire block." In an age where building fires were a frequent occurrence, "The construction of the building is practically fire proof, metal lathing and other fire-resisting materials being used." It also received praise for its excellent fire escapes, "...no building in the state is better provided with fire exits than the Ryan building."

There were sixty rooms in all, including shops on the main floor and three floors of apartments. The apartments all contained sinks with hot and cold water. Each floor had two (!) toilets and bathrooms (separate for men and women, of course). The newspaper was amazed that "There are windows even in the closets..." There were gas and electric light throughout.

Picture of Ryan Block Building from a book published about 1895

It was certainly an attractive building when it was built (see the black and white picture above, from The Spindle City Souvenir, 1906). Below is the building as it is now being renovated as modern apartments partway through the project (August, 2003). It should be no surprise that the renovations are being performed by the descendants of Greek immigrants, who themselves had done renovations in the early twentieth century.

Picture of Ryan Block under renovation in August 2003

John Ryan died only a year after his crowning glory was finished, in 1906 as the result of a failed appendectomy. Elizabeth became president and Patrick treasurer of the brass foundry. It continued operation until at least 1930. The apartment house was at times in the name of either Elizabeth or Patrick and was sold in 1933. Afterwards, Patrick worked in real estate.