THE WATTS FAMILY OF SYENE ROAD – HISTORY SUMMARY
George and Catherine Watts lived on rural Syene Road in Fitchburg in the early 1880s. The Watts family soon moved to the cities of Omaha, Nebraska, and later Baltimore, Maryland, for work and educational opportunities. But the city-girl daughters Alice and Maude Watts later returned to Dane County and married country-gentlemen brothers Edward and Michael Kinney. The families operated farms in Fitchburg in the 1900s. Seven households of descendants live in the Irish Lane area in the 2000s.
Significantly, the Watts family put together a great photo collection spanning the 1870s to 1901, which was quite unusual to have in the early days of commercial photography. In that era, people generally did not have personal cameras, so the Watts’ photos were taken by professional photographers. This interesting and uncommon photo collection provides a valuable window into late 1800s America.
Select photos accompany the following overview of George and Catherine Watts’ upbringing, their adult lives, and their children’s families. Some of the information in this article comes from notes of Monsignor Edward M. Kinney, who spoke to his mother Alice Watts Kinney and Aunt Maude Watts Kinney and others. Msgr. Ed started writing things down from 1931 through 1976, when he passed away. While many of the below dates have not been checked against government or church birth, death or marriage records, the information has generally proved to have a high level of accuracy.
The father George Watts originally hailed from Baltimore, Maryland. George was of English descent, and the Watts name had been in the Baltimore surrounding area since the 1600s. George’s father was John Wesley Watts, who married Kezia (or Keziah) (born ca. 1814) and had the children — Elizabeth, George, Alice, Charles, and John. The second child, George Henry Watts, was born on March 2, 1839, in Baltimore. The John and Kezia Watts family was Protestant. After John and Kezia had the children, the father John died young, leaving Kezia to raise the children in Baltimore. Kezia worked as a nurse in those years.
When George grew up, he left Baltimore and moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he managed a store. There, he met Catherine Landers, who had moved from Dane County, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois, seeking work. George and Catherine were married in November 1879.
Catherine Agnes Landers (her first name has also been spelled “Kathryn”) was born on December 25, 1852, in Huntstown, County Dublin, Ireland. She was baptized on February 27, 1853, in the Catholic Parish of Blanchardsville in the Diocese of Dublin. Catherine’s parents were Patrick Landers and Henrietta Butler. (See Baptismal record).
Patrick Landers is believed to have been born around 1820 in Ireland. (See age listing in the 1870 federal census for Oregon, Wisconsin). Henrietta was born on July 7, 1821 in Ireland to Peter Butler and Harriet Gilbert. (Dane County Vital Statistics – death record of Henrietta Butler Landers). After Patrick and Henrietta Butler Landers were married, they had the children — Mary Ann, Catherine Agnes, Patrick James, and Julia.
The Landers immigrated in the 1850s to America after the first two children were born, it is believed. Patrick Landers went with a brother ahead of Henrietta, though Patrick and his brother became separated in New York. Then Henrietta and the two children joined Patrick in America.
Patrick and Henrietta Landers’ family came to Wisconsin, and lived at several different places around southern Wisconsin. Seven places where it is believed the Landers lived are as follows. It is thought that they were living in Delavan, Wisconsin, when their son Patrick was born on July 28, 1860. An adult Patrick Landers was residing in 1863 in Harmony, Rock County, Wisconsin, according to the Civil War Draft Registration Records, and is believed to be the subject Patrick Landers. It is said that the youngest daughter Julia was born in 1864 in Janesville, Wisconsin. On the 1870 federal census, the Landers family lived in Oregon township. On the 1875 state census and the 1880 federal census, they were residing in Fitchburg (the surrounding households on the 1880 federal census suggest that the Landers were living on rural County MM between Irish Lane and Haight Farm Road). In the 1890s, the Landers lived in south Madison. As to where the Landers lived when they resided in Oregon, family stories recall two farms in Oregon township on which Patrick and Henrietta Landers lived. One was on the north side of Netherwood Road nearly a half mile west of the Highway MM intersection (Catholic Church corners). The other farm was on the north side of Alpine Road nearly a half mile west of the intersection with Glenway Road.
When Catherine Landers’ brother and sisters grew up, her older sister Mary Anna married twice it is believed to William Napoleon and then Nicholas Moran. Mary died in 1927. Catherine’s brother Patrick Landers, who became the railroad section boss in Oregon, married a widow Jane Pillar Smith, who already had a son Earl and three daughters. Patrick and Jane Landers had twins Violet Eugenie and Vulah Euphemie, and a third daughter Pansy. The family lived for a time on Jefferson Street in Oregon in what had been the last house on the left going out of town just before the train viaduct. Daughters Violet and Pansy later lived in the house, which had been operated as a rooming house.
Catherine Landers’ younger sister, Julia Landers (1864-1923), married Peter O’Brien of Oregon. Peter and Julia O’Brien had two children – Rose Esther O’Brien, who married Frank Kowing, and William Emmet “Darby” O’Brien, who married Dorothy Chaney. Significantly, Emmet and Dorothy O’Brien’s son Marvin O’Brien of Syene Road had sons Pat O’Brien of Caine Road and Shawn O’Brien of Whalen Road in Fitchburg. Pat and Shawn O’Brien’s families have been neighbors in the 2000s of the seven households of descendants of Catherine Landers’ daughter Alice Watts Kinney of Irish Lane. See the Landers descent chart at the end of this article showing how the O’Briens and Kinneys are related.
By 1895, Catherine Landers’ parents Patrick and Henrietta were living in south Madison. Patrick, who was then about seventy-five years old, worked at a quarry on Rimrock Road where the Dane County Fair Grounds is today. Workers commonly took shortcuts by walking along railroad tracks at that time. On November 12, 1895, Patrick was walking home from work when he was struck and killed by a train. To make matters worse, his son Patrick was on the train! The mother Henrietta Landers died a few years later on November 19, 1899, of heart failure while living in Oregon. She was buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Oregon. (Dane County Vital Statistics – death record of Henrietta Landers).
As mentioned earlier, when Patrick and Henrietta’s daughter Catherine Landers grew up, she moved to Chicago in the 1870s seeking work. Catherine met George Watts, who was managing a store, and they were married in November 1879. They moved from Chicago to Fitchburg sometime after the 1880 census was taken. George and Catherine Landers Watts moved into a wooden house that was located on the east side of Syene Road a quarter of a mile north of the intersection with Irish Lane. The house was situated just south of where the railroad tracks come closest to Syene Road. (This house was taken down around the late 1910s).
George and Catherine Landers Watts had three children – Alice Julia, Maude Elizabeth, and George Henry. The family was living at the house on Syene Road when Alice was born on July 14, 1881. The father George was employed in Madison as a printer at the time. He was known for his excellent handwriting, which was likened to calligraphy.
George and Catherine soon thereafter moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where it is said that George managed a store for nearly twelve years. Their daughter Maude was born June 15, 1883, in Omaha. Their son George was born there as well on December 12, 1885. When the state census was taken in 1885 in Omaha, Catherine was listed as “Katie.”
As the children neared their teenage years, the parents moved the family from Omaha, Nebraska, to the father George Watts’ hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, for educational opportunities. George’s father William had died when George was very young, and his mother Kezia Watts was living at a house in the 1890s that she owned at what is believed to have been 678 Mulberry Street. Kezia lived on the fourth floor. George and Catherine’s family lived on the lower three floors. Each floor had two or three rooms. George’s unmarried brother Uncle Charlie also lived at the family home. The daughters Alice and Maude attended high school in Baltimore. George was operating a newspaper business in Baltimore at that time.
George’s mother Kezia Watts died on July 25, 1896 in Baltimore. George Watts died on December 27, 1896 aged fifty-seven years old at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore in a large section of Watts family graves from generations gone by.
Around 1898 or 1899, Catherine Watts brought her three children back to the Madison area so that they could be closer to her relatives and the girl friends with whom she grew up. Catherine Agnes Watts died on May 19, 1904, in Madison following an operation, and was buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Oregon.
George and Catherine Watts’ daughter Alice became a teacher around 1899 and 1900 in two of the one-room schools in Fitchburg: Swan Creek School (on the southeast corner of County MM and Haight Farm Road) and Syene School (on the northeast corner of Syene Road and Lacy Road). Alice Watts met Edward Kinney and they were married on February 19, 1901, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Madison.
Alice moved to the Kinney dairy farm on the south side of Irish Lane, an eighth of a mile east of Caine Road (and less than a mile from where Alice was born on Syene Road). The Kinneys were some of the early settlers in Fitchburg, and had pioneered in 1844 the first farm in central Fitchburg. Alice joined Edward on this Irish Lane farm in 1901.
Although Alice stopped teaching school when she was married, she maintained ties to the neighborhood where the schools were located. During World War I, she became a member of Swan Creek Sewing Circle, which made items like neck scarves and mittens for the troops. (Alice’s descendants in the 2000s are members of the organization, which became a social group). Alice was also a member of Holy Mother of Consolation Altar Society in Oregon and of Fitchburg Center Mother’s Club. The latter was an association for neighborhood mothers of the one-room school that her children attended, Fitchburg Center, and the organization in the 2000s is a neighborhood social club. Alice enjoyed writing poetry, and was known for her cooking and entertaining skills. Her husband Edward operated the family dairy farm, and was Justice of the Peace for Fitchburg for several years.
In the early twentieth century, Edward and Alice Kinney had seven children – Evelyn, Michael Edward (who later became Msgr. Ed), Helen, Harold, Wilfred, Donald, and Regina. All of the children were born and raised on the Irish Lane farm.
A great friend of Alice Watts Kinney was Lillian Havlatko of Chicago. Lillian, who was of Bohemian descent, had been a close friend of Alice’s mother Catherine Landers Watts when Catherine lived in Chicago, and Lillian served as midwife at Alice’s birth in 1881. Likewise, when Alice’s children were born in the early 1900s, Lillian was again the midwife for their births as well. Lillian had great style and was a larger-than-life character and friend of Alice’s family on Irish Lane.
Alice Watts Kinney passed away on May 30, 1952, at seventy years old when she was a passenger in an auto accident. Her husband Edward Kinney died three years later on November 29, 1955, at their home on Irish Lane. Ed and Alice were buried by the long-time Kinney monument in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Oregon. As mentioned above, in the 2000s seven households of Edward and Alice Watts Kinney’s descendants live on and around the Kinney homestead. For more information on Edward and Alice’s lives and descendants, see the Fitchburg Historical Society website’s family history section on the Kinney Family of Irish Lane, and see the reference books at the end of this article.
The sisters Alice and Maude were close all their lives, even marrying two Kinney brothers. When the girls’ father George died in Baltimore and their mother Catherine brought them to the Madison area, Maude got a job living and working in the household of the Van Slyke family on Carroll Street in downtown Madison. (1900 federal census). Maude met Michael Kinney, an older brother of Edward Kinney, and Mike and Maude were married it is believed on February 24, 1903, in Chicago. They took up farming on Fish Hatchery Road north of Post Road in Fitchburg. (1910 federal census). Mike and Maude Kinney had eight children – Maurice, Raymond, Howard, Ruth, William, Robert, a daughter that died at birth, and Joseph. It was commonly said that the kids were double first cousins with Ed and Alice Kinney’s children.
Maude’s husband Mike Kinney, besides running their farm, also lent money to people who owned houses in Madison and took mortgages in return. Mike and Maude lived at the Fish Hatchery Road farm until 1940, though their son Bill was operating the farm raising hogs in the later years. Mike and Maude Kinney then moved to Madison. Like her sister Alice, Maude was known to be a good cook, and both were complimented on their lemon meringue pies. Mike died in Madison on March 13, 1951, and Maude Watts Kinney died July 11, 1967. Mike and Maude Kinney were buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Madison.
Alice and Maude’s little brother George Watts grew up and married Blanche Connor on July 17, 1907, in Chicago. George and Blanche Watts had three sons – George Henry, Howard, and Floyd, and lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where George worked as a printer. (1920 and 1930 federal censuses). George Watts died on July 22, 1955, in Hennepin, Minnesota.
The Watts family of Syene Road in Fitchburg had extraordinary travels to Omaha, Nebraska, then to Baltimore, Maryland, and back to Dane County, Wisconsin. As the father George worked as a printer, store manager, and newspaper man, the family created a substantial and unusual-for-the-times collection of photographs while their children grew up in the late 1800s. The close sisters Alice and Maude married Fitchburg Kinney brothers in the 1900s heyday of Wisconsin family farms. In the 2000s, descendants of the sisters gather for picnics at the Irish Lane Kinney homestead, not far from where the colorful and industrious Watts family of Syene Road got its start.
By Thomas P. Kinney – 2022, author of the two books:
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.