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.
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.
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.