Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens


JESSE MARION KELLEY. In nearly every community have lived individuals who, by innate ability and sheer force of character, have risen above the masses and won for themselves conspicuous places in public esteem. Such a man was the late Jesse Marion Kelley a pioneer of Greene county and who was intimately identified with the civic and industrial history of the city of Springfield for a long lapse of years, his career as a progressive man of affairs having been synonymous with all that was upright and honorable in citizenship. He contributed freely of his time and means to the maintenance of the early day schools of this locality and other institutions which he deemed would make for the general good, using his influence in, every way possible to advance the general welfare of those with whom he associated in the various walks of life. Mr. Kelley was not only a public-spirited citizen, but a whole-souled gentleman, whom to know was to admire and respect, and he not only delighted in public improvements in a material way, but liked to see also the promotion of such interests as were conducive to the comfort and happiness of his friends and fellow citizens. There was probably none of his contemporaries in this locality who was held in higher esteem by the population, during which might be termed the formative period of the county regardless of all sects, political or professional creeds. His life most happily illustrated what one may accomplish by faithful and persistent effort in carrying out noble purposes, even in the face of discouraging circumstances. It is the story of a life that has made the world better for his having lived, for his actions sprung from a heart filled with love and altruism for humanity, and was a blessing to all who were within range of his influence. Personally, Mr. Kelley was a high-minded, right-thinking man, according to those who knew him well, his private character having always been unassailable. His life may be safely imitated by the young, and the great amount of good which he did, while laboring for his own advancement and that of his family, will never be fully known until the last great day when the book of life shall be opened on high and every man receive due credit for his works, his actions and his influence.

Mr. Kelley was born in Greene county, Tennessee, in 1830, and he was seven years of age when he settled near Walnut Grove, Greene county, Missouri, with his parents, George and Sally (Bouldon) Kelley. The family made the overland trip from Tennessee by wagon, arriving in time to erect the log house that was to be their home, before the rigors of winter set in. It was merely a temporary shelter, and often during the terrible winter that followed they awoke in the morning to find that their beds were covered with snow which had sifted in through the cracks in the walls. But despite the hardships and privations incident to the lot of early settlers, the wife found time to give some instruction to her children. To the little son, Jesse, fell the task of keeping the smaller children employed, and to him many of the younger as well as the older ones owed their knowledge of reading, spelling and the rudiments of arithmetic. Grammar was not taught until a later date, but as the mother and father were excellent, grammarians the children used good language from hearing it constantly in their home, When the youngest of the children was quite small the father, after a lingering illness, was summoned from earthly scenes, leaving the highly educated and strong-minded mother to provide for the large family. She took up her task with rare courage and fortitude, and succeeded admirably although surrounded by a most discouraging environment. Jesse had been engaged to teach the country school in that vicinity one season, and although his pupils advanced as never before, the community felt that because he had not turned the class back to the word "baker" (which was a sort of land-mark in the old spelling-books) he was doing them an injustice, having taught them to read and write instead. However, before the end of the following summer the patrons of the school came to the boy (he was still very young) and importuned him to accept the school for another season, "because it was so nice to listen to their children read after their day's work was done.

George Kelley, the father, had served very creditably as a member of the state Legislature, also as sheriff of Springfield before his untimely death, Jesse being his deputy. In Springfield, then, seemed to exist the opportunity for the son to further his fortunes, so he decided to locate here, and for many years was employed as a dry goods clerk. Here he met and married Sarah (Taylor) Worley, a daughter of Hiram and Sarah Worley, a relative of the Taylors of Tennessee and a direct descendant of the Monroes and Henrys of Virginia, of whom the great orator, Patrick Henry, was one. To the union of Jesse M. Kelley and wife three sons and one daughter were born; Charles, the eldest, died during the Civil war; Richard, a promising young railroad man, died as a result of exposure while attending to his regular duties for his company at Grand River, Indian Territory; Mary Lizzie, who lived to the age of nineteen years, graduated from the Ward Seminary of Nashville, Tennessee, being a brilliant musician and one of a strong, peaceful mind; after graduating she returned to her home and lived for a short time to enjoy the benefit of her education; Edwin H. Kelley, who is later mentioned in this sketch, is the other son. Shortly after their marriage the wife prevailed upon her husband to purchase a small house and lot near the corner of Walnut and South streets. They pooled their ready money and contracted to pay the balance in monthly payments. Long before the expiration of the stipulated time they were given in which to make the final payment settlement was made in full, and they improved the place by adding several rooms and in making other important changes. Before and during the first years of the war between the states a great many strangers passed through this section of the state, many of them finding true hospitality and pleasant surroundings at the Kelley home. From this modest beginning sprang the name and fame of their hotel. About 1879 Jesse M. Kelley's name began to be mentioned with favor as a worthy public official, and he became a candidate for recorder of deeds on the Republican ticket, and he was duly elected, serving the county well, inaugurating many improvements. At the close of his term of office he began work on one of the first sets of abstracting books in this county, and he remained identified with this business in Springfield until his death, which occurred in January, 1914 at the advanced age of eighty-four years.

Mr. Kelley was one of the founders of the present splendid public school system of Greene county. He posted the announcements, calling the citizens in mass meeting, which resulted in much heated discussion, because some believed that the colored population would be sent to the same schools established for the whites. One fanatic even threatened the life of our subject, and rode many miles to shoot him, "for callin' his children no better'n niggers."

At the opening of the Civil war Mr. Kelley joined the Home Guards and helped build the forts and rifle pits south and west of the city. During these distressing times, coal was hauled from Greenfield, each wagon train having hairbreadth escapes from the enemy. Then came news of large armies marching on Springfield, and the citizens expected severe bombardments. Later the town was attacked and while shells were falling around their home the Kelleys took what they could of their household effects, journeying by stage to Rolla, Phelps county, which was at that time the western terminal of the railroad. There they took the train to St. Louis and on into Illinois. Upon returning, after quiet had been restored in the Ozark region, our subject and his wife found nothing but their house remaining, and they again opened a small hotel, which up to the year 1881 was the favorite stopping place for many of Springfield's most influential citizens. The hotel will be remembered by many as the Kelley House. The domestic life of Mr. and Mrs. Kelley was ideal, and Mrs. Kelley's death occurred only a few hours after that of her husband, in January, 1914.

Their son, Prof. Edwin H. Kelley, has long been one of Springfield's best known musicians. He was born in this city on October 16, 1865, and here he grew to manhood and received his education in the local ward and high schools. By nature he is both a musician and an artist, and during his school days here he became well known for his fine drawings. In 1891 he went to Leipsic, Germany, and studied music under Hans Sitt, a famous instructor, of the Royal Conservatory of Music of that city, remaining there several years, making an excellent record. While abroad, Prof. Kelley studied art during the summer months in the studio of Martin Laemuel, a distinguished artist of Germany, who has since remained a very warm friend of Prof. Kelley. The latter made many paintings in watercolor while a student in Germany. They were all from life, and each one of them has a history in themselves. They show unmistakable talent, and have been admired by all who have had the privilege of seeing them. Returning to America in 1895, he was appointed musical director at the old Normal school in Springfield, which position he held two years. Since then he has been one of the instructors in music at Drury College at two different periods. He now devotes his attention exclusively to his studio in the Masonic Temple building in this city and has a large number of pupils constantly. He teaches the violin, on which instrument he is exceptionally proficient.

Prof. Kelley was married in Leipsic, Germany, February 14, 1895, shortly before his return to the United States, to Marguerite Kneip, a member of a prominent old family of Leipsic, where she was reared and educated. This union has been blessed by the birth of two children, namely: Elizabeth, born on December 1, 1895, received a common school education in the local ward and high schools, and is a member of Christ Episcopal church, in which she was baptized when a child; Alice was born on February, 5, 1992, and is now in the eighth grade in the public schools and has made excellent records in all her work.

Prof. Kelley and wife are members of Christ Episcopal church, and he belongs to the Springfield Musicians' Union, also the Springfield Musical Club.

[1559-1563]


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