Family line continues for fiesty Irishman Billy Maher

Ireland_population_change_1841_1851Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

When you drive down Billy Maher Road, do you ever wonder if there was a Billy Maher? Yes there was, and he lived on that road from 1887 to 1927, when he died.

William (Billy) Maher was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1835. He spent his early years in Ireland and in 1849 came to America with a brother and sister during one of Ireland’s worst potato famines. According to family legend, Billy’s brother was a foreman with the New York Pennsylvania Railroad and Billy worked under him. His brother and sister died young. That legend also said the peppery Irishman got into a fight with a fellow worker and thought it was better to leave New York. He migrated to Mississippi, where he helped build the Mississippi River levee between Vicksburg and Rosedale, Miss. On April 25, 1883, William M. Maher married Anna Rose Stobernack, the daughter of German immigrants, in Rosedale. Billy was 47 and Anna Rose was 30.

In 1884 Anna Rose’s sister and brother-in-law, John and Marie Schlafer, purchased 26.5 acres of land on Hathaway Crossroads at Bartlett from J. J. Woods (part of the Edwards tract). William Maher purchased 25 acres of land adjoining the Schlafter farm from C. R. and wife A.C. Edwards in June 1885. He also purchased the R. Hathaway land and homeplace adjoining his property in July 1885.

Bartlett-Sesq-logo-SMALL-WEThe Mahers did not move to this area until 1887. Their first child, Mary Bridget, was born in 1885 in Natchez, Miss. Their seven other children were born in Bartlett. They were William James (1887), Thomas Patrick (1887), Thomas Francis (1890), Ella Katherine (1892), Anastasia Marie (1894), Emma Louise (1897), and John Michael (1899). Thomas Patrick died at age 3, and the rest lived to adulthood.

The family settled in Bartlett and began farming. They raised cotton, cattle, grain, vegetables and fruit, and all the children helped with chores. As the farm prospered, Billy improved the operation of the farm by adding a water tower and irrigation system.

The barn was replaced by a brick two-story structure, which included a potato cellar, a carriage house and dairy equipment. In later years Billy’s sons, Tom and John, would operate a successful dairy from there, delivering milk to many Memphians.

The family was very religious and there were no Catholic churches in the area. Billy would hitch up the horse and buggy, load up the family and drive to the end of the streetcar line in Raleigh, then ride the streetcar to St. Bridgid’s Catholic Church, where several children were baptized in 1891. Later the family attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Anna Rose, who was a Lutheran, became a Catholic in 1908. Billy would have rejoiced to know that in 1979 the Catholic Diocese of Memphis built the Church of the Nativity across the road from his property.

In 1893 a fire badly damaged the Mahers barn, and Billy was seriously burned trying to rescue his horses from the fallen roof. He was taken to St. Joseph Hospital and not expected to live.

He did live, and in remembrance of the nuns at St. Joseph Hospital who cared for him, he named his next-born daughter Anastasia after the Mother Superior. He also contributed to a new wing being built onto the hospital.

In 1907 the Mahers purchased an additional 70 acres of land from the 323-acre Leroy Miller tract, across the road from the initial acreage. The 1910 Tennessee Federal Census lists William Maher with 16 workhands.

The farm was a gathering spot on Sundays. Year later, former neighbors told of visiting the farm, the men riding over the fields to inspect the crops, while the women gathered on the porch to chat and enjoy freshly made ice cream.

Anna Rose Maher suffered a stroke in 1916 and died Dec. 13, 1919. She was buried in the Schlafer family plot on their farm with her infant son, Thomas Patrick. Billy Maher died on Oct. 16, 1927, at the age of 92, of complications from a streetcar accident. He was buried in Calvary Ceme-tery, and Anna Rose and the child were moved to that plot.

In accordance with his will the 60.5 acres were divided equally among five of the children. Mary McCulley received the homeplace, where she and her family lived until 1933.

After the property was sold, the homeplace burned, but the barn remained. The youngest son, John, purchased the property, and he and his family renovated the barn into a ranch-style home. The family lived in the home until John’s death in 1986. Twenty-four acres of the estate were sold for a subdivision. At that time the balance of the land remained in the hands of grandchildren, over a century after the land was purchased.

Emma Fisher O’Neal, one of Billy’s granddaughters, was only seven when he died, but she said she remembers her smiling twinkle-eyed grandfather, and the gatherings with other families on the Maher farm.

“I think my grandfather must have had a good bit of political clout among his friends and neighbors,” she said. “My mother said when election time came around Mr. (Ed) Crump would always come around to talk to my grandfather about the candidates.”
It was probably this clout that caused Billy Maher Road to be so named, she said. Originally it was Hathaway Crossroads, then New Brownsville Road before it was named for Billy Maher.

Billy Maher had 36 grandchildren, and many of his descendants still live in the area.

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, Bartlett Historical Society, Special to the Express. Sources of information include “Maher Family Information” by Emma Fisher O’Neal and a March 18, 1982, article in the Press-Scimitar.