MICHAEL KINNEY was a child of the pioneers Andrew and Mary Jane Kinney of Fitchburg, and was just six years old when his family brought him to Wisconsin in 1844 and founded what became the Irish Lane settlement area. Michael grew up on the homestead where he lived and farmed the rest of his life. Michael was born June 18, 1838, in Ontario, Canada, to Andrew and Mary Jane Clark Kinney (Kenny). Michael was named for his paternal grandfather, who had lived in Newcastle, County Mayo, Ireland. Michael’s father Andrew and Uncle Michael left Ireland for the New World in 1831. His uncle Michael initially set up a farm in Trois Rivieres, Canada. His father Andrew lived there and at numerous other places in the following years as he started a canal contracting business that expanded from Canada all the way down the East coast to South Carolina.
Michael’s father Andrew met Lucretia Jane (Mary Jane) Clark in Trois Rivieres, and they were married in 1834 in Salisbury, Connecticut. Lucretia Jane was a seventh generation descendant of the Clark family of Milford, Connecticut, an English family that arrived there in 1639, just nineteen years after the Pilgrims landed on the East Coast. The Clark’s 1600s ancestral home was reconstructed in 1780, and is now a museum for the Milford Historical Society. Lucretia Jane’s grandfather Elisha Clark fought in the American Revolutionary War under the command of General George Washington. Lucretia Jane was born February 18, 1802, and was the eldest child of Elisha and Jane Baldwin Clark, who later lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts. After Andrew and Lucretia Jane were married on March 23, 1834, Lucretia converted to Catholicism and later became known as Mary Jane.
Michael Kinney was one of four children of Andrew and Mary Jane Clark Kinney. His older brother Edmond was born December 8, 1835 in Hudson, New York. Then Michael was born June 18, 1838, in Ontario, Canada. His sister, Harriet, was born September 14, 1840, in Salisbury, Connecticut. His younger brother Andrew was born August 18, 1842, in Ontario, Canada.
In May 1844, Michael’s parents brought their young family from Canada to the newly opening Wisconsin Territory. Andrew and Mary Jane settled in the wilderness that would become Fitchburg and founded the Irish Lane settlement area. Irish Lane got its name in 1924 when electricity first came to the area and Michael’s son Edward was asked by Madison Gas and Electric where to send his electricity bill. Edward said, “Send it to Ed Kinney on Irish Lane – I’ll get it.” In the mid-1800s, a community of Irish homesteads in the area surrounding Irish Lane eventually came to be comprised of twenty-five families. It was one of the three Irish settlement areas in the township in the 1800s.
The year after Michael’s parents (Andrew and Mary Jane) arrived in 1844, Michael’s Uncle Mike and his family moved in 1845 from the Trois Rivieres farm and settled on Irish Lane. The two Kinney families (Andrew and his brother Michael’s) set up homesteads side by side, each with a log cabin and a log barn. Michael’s father Andrew raised his family at a homestead southeast to the intersection of today’s Irish Lane and Caine Road, and Uncle Mike’s homestead was to the southwest of the intersection. The Kinneys raised wheat as a cash crop, and expanded their holdings to 200 acres by 1849. Michael’s father Andrew was knowledgeable in stone masonry, and supervised the laying of foundations for their new neighbors’ log cabins and barns in the township. In addition, his father Andrew continued his contracting business, now across southern Wisconsin. Michael and his brothers worked on the farm under the direction of their Uncle Mike while their father was gone on projects for work.
While Michael was growing up, there were no Catholic Churches in the southern Dane County wilderness, so Michael’s parents brought priests out from Madison to say Mass in the Kinney’s log cabin. The Kinneys’ efforts, along with a Fox family’s efforts, were a forerunner of the founding of St. Mary’s Church on Highway M in Fitchburg, now replaced by Holy Mother of Consolation Church in the nearby Village of Oregon.
Michael’s Uncle Mike died on August 25, 1854. Michael’s mother Mary Jane died in 1855, and his father Andrew died a few months later on September 6, 1855, when Michael and his siblings were still teenagers.
The executor of his father’s estate was an older cousin of Michael named Timothy Kinney. Timothy was born in 1823 at the family home in Newcastle, Ireland. In 1848, he immigrated to America, and later joined the California gold rush, where he amassed a considerable amount of money. Timothy made his way to Madison, Wisconsin, by 1853, and in 1856 he opened a hotel on the north side of Main Street and west of Bedford Street. Also in 1856, after years as a village, Madison became a city, and Timothy Kinney was elected the first alderman of the Irish Fourth Ward southwest of the Capitol. In 1859, Timothy purchased a farm on the east side of the Kinneys on Irish Lane, though he continued to reside at the hotel. Timothy became the guardian of Michael’s younger brother Andrew, who went to live at Timothy’s hotel, and later Andrew married and resided in the Irish Fourth Ward.
Michael’s older brother Edmond inherited from their father a tract of land in northwestern Wisconsin, moved there in 1860, and later had a large 480-acre farm in Hudson, Wisconsin. Michael’s sister Harriet married and later moved to Osceola, South Dakota, where she and her husband operated a wheat farm.
Michael remained in Fitchburg to farm the family homestead, and married Alice Lynch in July 14, 1861. Alice was born in County Fermanagh, Ireland in April 1837 to Peter and Bridget McQuillen Lynch. Alice’s uncle Patrick Lynch emigrated from Ireland and came to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1846 and settled on Irish Lane in 1847, founding the pioneer Lynch family of Dane County. Patrick wrote back to Ireland encouraging relatives to join him, and many did, including Alice’s grandmother Rose Ann McWilliams Lynch, who came in 1850, and later Alice herself in 1852. Alice’s siblings also came to Dane County, some of whom started farms in a rural Irish settlement in the Town of Westport just north of Madison. In 1864, Alice’s father Peter Lynch, then a widower, retired from farming in Ireland and arrived in Fitchburg. Peter Lynch lived with Michael and Alice Kinney for part of each year for the next three decades, along with living with others of his grown children.
During Michael Kinney’s tenure owning the farm on Irish Lane in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, the homestead went from being a wheat farm, to a general farm, to a dairy farm of 140 acres (60 acres of the 200-acre farm had been inherited and sold by Michael’s brother Andrew). Michael served in Fitchburg’s town government as treasurer for a number of years. Some of Fitchburg’s Irish immigrants were illiterate, and Michael would write their letters and read newspapers to them.
Michael and Alice had ten children born in the log cabin during the 1860s and 1870s. The first son was Andrew, born April 11, 1863, married Margaret Giles in 1914, and lived in Chicago where Andrew died in 1916. Bridget was the second child of Michael and Alice, and she was born August 25, 1865, married Matthew Lochner in 1887, and lived in Fitchburg where Matthew was town treasurer in 1906, and later lived in Madison, where she died in 1938. Michael and Alice’s third child was Michael Joseph, born May 22, 1866, and married Ellen Lacy in 1894. Later, he married Maude Watts in 1901. He farmed in Fitchburg on Fish Hatchery Road north of modern day Post Road. Michael Joseph also had a successful career in real estate. He died in 1951 in Madison. Alice Ellen was the fourth child of Michael and Alice Kinney, and was born October 15, 1868, married James M. Byrne in 1887, farmed southeast of the intersection of Byrne Road and Syene Road in Fitchburg, and died in 1940. Michael and Alice’s fifth child was Mary Jane, born August 3, 1870, married Philip Byrne 1894, lived on a number of farms in Dane County, and died young in 1910. The sixth child of Michael and Alice was Rose Ann, born November 14, 1872, married Patrick H. Purcell in 1901, farmed on Purcell Road in Fitchburg, and died in 1956 in Janesville, Wisconsin. Michael and Alice’s seventh child was Edward James, born August 30, 1873, married Alice Watts in 1901, operated Michael and Alice’s farm after they passed away, and Edward died in 1955. The eighth child of Michael and Alice was Harriet, born May 22, 1876, married a printer William Gill in 1901, farmed on the property west of the Kinney farm and at other locations, and she died in 1949 in Madison. Michael and Alice’s ninth child was Thomas Patrick, born February 15, 1879, married Nora Tobin in 1902, and lived in Chicago where Thomas died in 1962. The tenth child of Michael and Alice was Elizabeth, who was a twin to Thomas Patrick and died shortly after birth.
Michael and Alice Kinney raised their children in their log cabin on Irish Lane until 1896. In that year, they built a large yellow wood-frame house in an upright-and-wing architectural style with Queen Anne ornamentation.
Michael’s wife Alice Lynch Kinney died June 26, 1898 of appendicitis. Michael spent the early 1900s in semi-retirement at the homestead, while his son and daughter-in-law, Edward and Alice Watts Kinney, took over the farm. On November 12, 1912, Michael passed away in Fitchburg. Michael Kinney’s descendants worked the farm for many more decades and continue to live on the property today in the 21st Century.
By Thomas P. Kinney, author of:
Irish Settlers of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, 1840-1860, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Fitchburg Historical Society, 1993.
The Kinney Family of Irish Lane – From the Barony of Moycarn to the Homestead in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Irish Lane Publishing Company, 1994.