Denis Kelly of Donaghmore (Killygordon) Parish in County Donegal, Ireland came to America in 1806 and settled outside of Philadelphia in what would become Havertown. He purchased a textile mill there and became wealthy making uniforms for the War of 1812. In 1821, Denis brought his nephew, Charles Kelly from Ardnaganna in Donaghmore Parish to America. They leased an existing mill on the Darby Creek next to the Delaware County Turnpike (Baltimore Pike) in 1826 and named it the D and C Kelly Mill. A few years later, Denis sold his share of the mill to Charles, and he operated his own mill in Havertown. Both of the Kellys became quite wealthy.
Most of the Kelly employees were Irish born and Catholic. Many were from the Kelly’s native parish in Ireland. In 1826, Denis built a church for his employees in Havertown and named it after his patron saint, St. Denis. Charles did the same much later in 1849. His was named St. Charles Borromeo. Prior to St. Charles Church, the Kellyville employees of the Kelly Mill attended Mass infrequently when the priest from St. Denis could visit.
Charles Kelly became quite wealthy from the proceeds of his mill, and he bought land on both sides of Darby Creek in Upper Darby in the 1840s. The area around his mill became known as Kellyville, a hamlet of Upper Darby. Charles became Kellyville’s first postmaster in 1849 and he worked on committees to build the Philadelphia – West Chester railroad that ran through his town. When completed, there was a Kellyville Station at the location of the present Gladstone train station.
Charles Kelly died in 1864. The portion of Kellyville south and west of Darby Creek became independent of Upper Darby Township in 1885 to become Clifton Heights Borough. The Kellyville Post Office then became the Clifton Post Office. The Kelly Mill burned down in 1888. By that time, Kellyville was the portion of Upper Darby bordered by Shadeland Avenue on the East, Darby Creek on the south and west, and Marshall Road on the north. As the Kelly name slipped from memory, this area became known as Oakview.
In my novel about Irish immigration, “Donegal Generations”, Charles Kelly is featured as a fictional character in the final four chapters of the book. The character is based on the real Charles Kelly, the owner of Kelly Mill and founder of Kellyville. Of course, Mr. Kelly’s words and actions are used fictitiously in my novel.
St. Charles Church opened a Catholic elementary school in 1866. In 1892, the older church was replaced by a larger building, the St. Charles Church in the photo. The bell tower was added later in 1898.
After 141 years, St. Charles Catholic School closed in 2007. The school building is now used as a public elementary school by the Upper Darby Township. The school was renamed the Charles Kelly Elementary School after Charles Kelly of County Donegal.
There is one of the oldest log cabins found in North America in Kellyville on Darby Creek. It is the Swedish Cabin built by Swedish settlers to the area between 1638 and 1655.