Horseshoe Romance

One of the most important street addresses in my family’s past is in Jersey City, NJ.  My maternal great-grandparents, Patrick Ryan and Delia Donnellan, came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1880s and settled in Jersey City’s Horseshoe district, an area teeming with Irish immigrants.  Patrick and Delia were married in 1891 and had six children when 37-year-old Patrick died suddenly of tuberculosis.

With the money from Patrick’s small life insurance policy, plus the little she had in savings, Delia opened a candy store at 581 Grove Street and moved her family into the apartment above the shop.  My grandmother, Mary Ryan, was the oldest daughter and worked in the store after school.

A young undertaker, Lee Thompson, worked at the Thomas F. Carey Funeral Home next door at 579 Grove Street. It was the perfect location for him.  He had a good job with a bright future at the funeral home, and a candy store just steps away to satisfy his sweet tooth.

The June 10, 1910 edition of The Jersey Journal is filled with headlines of murder and mayhem.  “Woman’s Body In A Trunk Sunk In Lake” “Murdered Man Found In River” “Penitentiary For Boys Who Attacked Girl”

But tucked down in the left hand corner of the page was this non-violent headline. “How a Romance of the Horseshoe Ended.” Anyone reading the short article soon discovered how off the mark the headline was. It had nothing to do with a romance ending. Quite the contrary. It was the story of how my grandparents met, fell in love and were soon to be married.

Lee and Mary Thompson celebrated 61 wedding anniversaries together until they passed away in the 1970s. Who knows how their lives would have turned out if Delia Ryan had rented a shop blocks away from 581 Grove Street and its next door neighbor? Would Lee’s and Mary’s paths have ever crossed? Would my grandfather have found his sweets–in every sense of the word–someplace else? The one thing I do know is that I wouldn’t be around to write this post.

That little store with the apartment upstairs was much more than an inanimate building. It was a real-life matchmaker that played a pivotal role in my family’s story. Unfortunately, the building was torn down years ago and I’ve never seen a picture of it. Here’s what you see of the location today on Google’s street view.

581 Grove Street would be somewhere along the sidewalk on the left, across the street from the Home Depot. The entire block sits between the entrance and exit lanes of the Holland Tunnel. The pointed spire in the background is St. Lucy’s church where Lee Thompson and Mary Ryan were married on June 22, 1910.

Many of our priceless family homes have been torn down and replaced with roads, parking lots, new houses or apartments. That’s life. There’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do is take the time and effort to preserve the aging photos taken in and around our old homes. If not for ourselves, then do it for future generations before the photos fade beyond recognition or are lost in some future move. And if anyone knows where I might find a photo of the original buildings along the 500 block of Grove Street, please let me know.


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