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The O’Meara Paper Company

Maurice O'Meara & his wife Ellen Devy nee Mullane at Atlantic City, C 1900
Maurice O’Meara & his wife Ellen Devy nee Mullane at Atlantic City, C 1900

theserpentThis is the ‘rag to riches’ story about Maurice O’Meara, my great great grandfather, who was born in 1833 and who died 15 January 1910.  Quite when his family went to America I have yet to discover but they were Irish Catholic immigrants from County Mayo that settled in Brooklyn New York. Maurice started his working life buying rags and waste paper. By 1855 he was selling his material to paper manufacturers and later founded the O’Meara Paper Company of 44 South Pearl Street New York, which became a multi-million pound business.

Maurice married Ellen Devy Mullane, who was born in America was the daughter of William Mullane and his wife Ellen Devy Mullane. Maurice and Ellen married at the Church of the Assumption in a service conducted by The Rev. Father Keegan on 6 March 1859 and they later had 10 children. He was a great benefactor to his Church, the Brooklyn Catholic Orphanage and The Paper Trade Association.

Sometime prior to 1888 Maurice moved his family from Newark to Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York City. Park Slope became the successor to the Heights and the Hill as the “bedroom of the upper middle class and the wealthy.” The area was slow to develop but by 1871 the first stage of Prospect Park had been constructed and thousands made their way there on Flatbush Ave horse carts. With the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, Park Slope continued to boom. The 1890 census showed Park Slope to be the richest community in the United States. In 1895, the family moved to 83 8th Ave..

The Archives of the Brooklyn Eagle from 1888 until 1902 have 77 references to Maurice or a family member. Particularly prominent among his activities were the Emerald Society, founded in Brooklyn in 1839 and which has operated since that time for the purpose of raising funds for the support of underprivileged children being cared for by the Diocese of Brooklyn.  Maurice was a Director of The Emerald Society, an Annual Ball committee member, a trustee of the Catholic Benevolent League and a member of the Society of The Friendly Sons of St Patrick, another Society founded in 1783 to care for impoverished and displaced Irish immigrants. A very accomplished man.

On 6 March 1909, Maurice and Ellen celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at a nuptial mass at The Church of St. Francis Xavier on 15th Street New York. The event received the blessing of Pope Pius X, sent by cable through Bishop McDonnell, from the papal secretary, Cardinal Merry Del Val and 300 relatives and friends attended their reception at the family home of The O’MEARA family, 83 Eighth Avenue, New York.

Maurice O’Meara died on 15 January 1910, reportedly of heart disease in his seventy-sixth year, and an obituary notice appeared in The New York Times the following day. It said that he had been in the paper trade for sixty years and had incorporated The O’Meara Paper Company in 1900. He had been a trustee of The Brooklyn Catholic Orphanage, St Francis Xavier’s Church Brooklyn, a member of The Montauk Club and a Vice President of the New York Paper Trade Association.

His beneficence is unquestionable, always supporting the Catholic Church. His entrepreneurial skills in business were also indisputable. As a member of The Montauk Club he would have been active in the development of Brooklyn’s business, and possibly its politics. Constituted in 1889, The Montauk Club was a private club for the area’s most prominent families who had settled in newly-fashionable Park Slope. It still exists today and was founded in the midst of the economic boom at a time when the population of the borough surged. The magnificent Club House at 25 Eighth Avenue was lavish and the design was inspired by a palace on Venice’s Grand Canal and had gothic architecture, carved mahogany woodwork and beautiful stained glass windows. Many plans for the future of Brooklyn were hatched within its hallowed halls.

Under the will of her late husband, one quarter of the stock of The O’Meara Paper Company was left in trust to Ellen and the remaining three quarters divided between his three sons William, David and Maurice Jnr; no provision was apparently made for his seven daughters, Julia A O’Meara, Ella O’Meara, Margaret (Maggie) O’Meara, May O’Meara, Ida O’Meara, Lillie O’Meara and Estelle O’Meara. Whilst a public company, it had always been retained in total family control. During his life O’Meara’s business had expanded and by 1920 the gross earnings of the company amounted to $11,237,165. It was also said that there were as many as five papermills across the New England States.  However, a dispute was to arise.

In my experience, it is often the case that ‘a man is the empire and the empire dies with the man’. In other words, every enterprise is only as good as its helmsman, and The O’Meara Paper Company may have been an example of this. Within families, disputes are ugly to report, however common. In 1922, the Peoples Trust Company, acting for the ‘old weak and confiding’ 82 year old widow of Maurice O’Meara, Ellen, was forced to bring legal action against her sons, the brothers William, David and Maurice Jnr.. The case was reported in The New York Times on 9 February 1922 and in an adjudication by Former Judge Edward W Hatch, appointed as a legal referee in the case, he said that the three brothers should, within thirty days, pay back $1,250,000 in salaries that they had awarded themselves over an eleven year period. Their value to The O’Meara Paper Company had been drastically overvalued and their Mother Ellen had been mislead and had been, in her absence of any knowledge of the business, provided with a nominal income over the period since her husband had died. The judge said that the brothers had manipulated the value of profits for their own benefit. Not a pretty tale, but often the way of business. I am unable to tell you about the resolution of this tale but, suffice to say, it remains complexing by today’s standards that three brothers can do so well when their mother and seven sisters do so poorly.

But, the great benefit of publishing these stories is that from time to time more information comes to light. In this case a Granddaughter of the youngest O’Meara brother, David O’Meara, one Kelly Louise Snider Dunn, adds the following addendum:

For the descendants of David O’Meara the story has been handed down in a different way. Amongst the seven sisters some were greedy women and they persuaded their mother to bring a suit against the sons. Ellen O’Meara herself was adequately provided for but some of the sisters felt they had been cheated. The suit did great harm to the company. The Maurice O’Meara Paper was incorporated in 1927 into Walker-Goulard-Pheln Co, Inc.. David and Will O’Meara worked for them. Maurice Jr. died in 1928.  David O’Meara,  as part of the financial settlement of the lawsuit, was forced to sell his home in New Rochelle, New York State (albeit an elegant residence), and move to a smaller home. It was also said that Ellen O’Meara was a demanding woman who expected her sons to visit her every day. The consequences of family disputes are never happy but it is important to offer the reader a story from a different perspective, after all word of mouth has much credibility.

Ida O'Meara Lyons with her Granddaughter Barbara Linington Lyons.
Ida O’Meara Lyons with her Granddaughter Barbara Linington Lyons.

One of those seven sisters was my great grandmother, Ida O’Meara, who married William Thomas Lyons. She is pictured here with her granddaughter Barbara Linington Lyons. The Irish Catholics families, The O’Mearas, Lyons, O’Malleys, Malones and many more to add to the complex Irish bloodline of this genealogy.


The great songwriter Cole Porter cavorting with Eleanor O'Connell Gormley
The great songwriter Cole Porter cavorting with Eleanor O’Connell Gormley

This chapter has been greatly enhanced by information from two second cousins. Firstly Kelly Louise Snider Dunn, a Granddaughter of David O’Meara and secondly Joanie Gormley, a Granddaughter of Ella O’Meara, who provided the picture of Maurice & Ellen O’Meara. Amongst the many family photographs Joanie Gormley has shared of our ancestors aside is this charming snap of her Grandmother Eleanor O’Connell Gormley. Apparently she hung out with Cole Porter and joined his entourage as he undertook European Tours… all mates together.