Friday, October 25, 2013

Reconsidering That Payment

The question about whether widow Mary Kelly Phillips had actually received the payment she was awarded in her lawsuit against the receivers for the Wabash Railroad Company is something that deserves consideration. After all, the Wabash Railroad wasn’t in the finest of financial conditions at the time of the 1914 verdict.

I had always presumed Mary had received what was due her—that is, until I started researching all these details. It was at that point all the doubt was introduced into my mind.

On the other hand, one quick glance at the 1920 census—the very next one after Patrick Phillips’ sudden death at work in 1912 that precipitated the lawsuit—told me that Mary owned her home free and clear. That’s right: no mortgage.

I had always presumed that Mary Phillips’ home showed as free of any mortgage in the 1920 census because she had applied the proceeds from the lawsuit into putting her financial house in order.

Thinking that one over, I realized that I was carrying my modern presumptions into the milieu I was researching. While it is the rare homeowner nowadays that is not encumbered by a mortgage, it was much more common, back in those days in which Mary lived, to own a home or farm outright. While I had presumed otherwise, Mary's home might have been free of any mortgage since the beginning when the Kelly family purchased it.

Which brought up a second question: did Patrick and Mary always own that home without a mortgage? After all, the young couple had actually moved into the home when it was property of Mary’s mother, Johanna Falvey Kelly. Could it be that, upon Johanna’s death, the young couple had received title to the home from Johanna’s estate?

I had to roll back the years to find my answer to the status of the Kelly-and-Phillips homeownership. As it turned out, the 1900 census—the year that Patrick and Mary were married and moved into her mother’s home on Hoagland Avenue in Fort Wayne—showed the house as owned with a mortgage.

Even so, it could have been possible that, though Johanna owed a mortgage on her home, upon her 1903 death it might have been cleared up as part of stipulations in her will. Yet, in the 1910 census, Patrick Phillips was shown as homeowner, still declared as carrying a mortgage.

With the 1920 census finally showing the house free and clear, we can presume the lawsuit proceeds had been sent to their intended service in clearing up those homeowner debts. But for a brief moment, just following the settlement of Mary’s lawsuit, we might have had our doubts.

Apparently, according to The Fort Wayne Daily News on June 5, 1914—not yet one full month after the verdict had been reached in the Phillips case—the receivers for the Wabash Railroad had taken the whole mess back to court, seeking to appeal the outcome.

Any sense of peace over justice achieved for Mary must have been immediately overridden by news of that about-face. If Mary had pluck and determination in bringing such a lawsuit to court in the first place, she certainly could add fortitude and endurance to those character qualities after this last turn of events. It was as if her mission was not to be obtained, after all.

Thankfully, the rebuff was short-lived, as announced in that day’s headlines: “No New Trial.”
            In the Wells circuit court Judge Echorn has overruled a motion for a new trial in the case of Mary A. Phillips, executrix of the estate of Patrick Phillips, vs. the receivers of the Wabash Railroad company. The plaintiff was some time ago awarded damages in the sum of $8,500.

Perhaps now, Mary could settle down to piecing her life back together again, and turn her full attention to single parenthood in the raising of her four children.


  1. I like your line of reasoning - but I don't think it would "stand up in a court of law." :) The house might have been paid off as early as 1910 (a day after the census even...) and it would seem like the mortgage (if it was a follow-over from the mother's) could have been well on in years by 1910-20.

    Somewhere out there - is a notice of whether or not the railroad judgement was settled... Not that I could find it "over the wires". :)

    1. Well...all the more argument for another trip to Fort Wayne. Sometimes, you just gotta dig through those documents with your own hands...

  2. Seems likely that she must have gotten some money if the house was mortgage free:)

    1. I believe it was the 1930 census that estimated the worth of her home at about $2500. Even if she didn't get the full $8,500 (after court costs and attorney fees, assuming the loser didn't have to cover those), she still could have paid off the remainder of her mortgage, I'm thinking.


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