4. Thomas Hugh McKenna


Thomas McKenna and his 2nd wife Rebecca Dorris Hendricks

Thomas H McKenna (1844-1910)

Born in County Tyrone

Thomas was born to Hugh and Mary McKenna on the last day of the year in 1844. He was born in County Tyrone. We believe they either lived in the Clogher Parish or Aghaloo Parish.

Clogher Parish

We found evidence that Hugh and his family may have lived near the village of Newtownsaville in the townland of Tullanafoile (Clogher Parish). Other relatives may have lived in neighboring townlands of Tamlaght, Kilnaherry and Beltany. McKenna was the most common surname in the Clogher Parish and the most common McKenna forenames were Hugh, John, James and Patrick.

Aghaloo Parish

We recently found a letter written in 1894 , from Thomas McKenna’s cousin John McKenna. From the few details provided in the letter, we discovered that John’s father was Samuel McKenna. Samuel and his family lived in County Tyrone before immigrating to Wisconsin. He lived in the townland of Mullintor(Aghaloo Parish), near Minterburn and Caledon. This is about 20 miles away from Tullanafoile. Samuel and several of his children immigrated to Columbia County, Wisconsin in the late 1850’s. Hugh and his family may have also lived a Aghaloo Parish. We hope to find additional details of the McKenna family in the church records of the Aghaloo Parish.

Life in County Tyrone

Like most families in rural Ireland, Hugh and Mary lived on a small farm and paid rent to a Protestant gentry. Their landlord in Clogher would have been Francis J. Gervais

or in Aghaloo would have been the Earl of Caledon. By law, any improvements they made, such as building a stone house, became the property of the landlord. Thus, there was no incentive to upgrade their living conditions. Their farm was small and the only way they could live was to grow potatoes, oats and perhaps some flax for spinning.

The potato famine hit Ireland in 1845, the year after Thomas was born. What had been a meager existence turned to dire circumstances. They suffered with stark starvation and debilitating diseases that decimated their family. More than 1 million people died as a result of the Potato Famine and more than 1.5 million left Ireland to seek refuge in other countries, primarily the United States.

Hugh and Mary survived the potato famine and, though some of their relatives immigrated to the United States, they chose to stay in Ireland. We have many questions about their lives that may likely never be answered. For example:

  • Did some of their children die in the famine?

  • Did Hugh and Mary’s spouses die in the famine and then they married each other?

  • Were they forced off of their farm by the landlord, as were many farmers?

  • Did extended family members also move to Belfast which would have allowed further socialization?

  • What family members did they leave behind in County Tyrone?

This much we know - near the end of the potato famine, they moved from County Tyrone to Belfast seeking work and a better life.

Life in Belfast

By February 1852, Hugh and Mary were living in Belfast with their six children. The Christ Church Census and a Belfast Street Directory showed them living at 6 Albert Street Place. Hugh was working as a millworker, as was their oldest daughter, Ellen. Though most McKenna’s in Ireland are Catholic, Hugh's family belonged to the Church of Ireland and his brother Samuel's family were Presbyterian. Of the 1,208 McKenna’s listed in the 1901 Census in County Tyrone, only one household (5 people) was not Catholic. Similarly, of the 874 McKenna’s living in Belfast (County Antrim), only 36 belonged to the Church of Ireland. Of the 36, 2/3rds were descendants of either Hugh or Samuel McKenna. Therefore, when we find a McKenna who belonged to the Church of Ireland, they are of special interest to us.

The Linen Industry in Belfast was emerging as a major player in the Irish linen industry. Belfast produced about one half of all the linen produced in Ireland. In 1852, there were 28 linen mills in Belfast, with eight located on the Falls Road, very close to where Hugh and Mary lived. Between 1850 and 1861, the number of spindles would double and the number of power looms would rise from 100 to almost 5,000. The typical millworker worked a 12-hour shift. The mills used a “wet spinning” technique that kept the factories hot and humid. Workers often went barefoot to avoid slipping. Wages were low and injuries and illness were common among factory workers.

Religious Conflict in Belfast

Catholics from rural Ulster flocked to Belfast in search of work and set up their own neighborhoods, predominantly in the west of the city. In response, working class Protestants were attracted to militantly loyalist groupings. The segregation was a source of increasing religious tension. The Pound Area (just south of Divis Street) was a center for Catholic gatherings and Sandy Row was the center for Protestant gatherings. The two areas are connected by Durham Street, with Christ Church being the dividing line between the two areas. Durham Street was regularly the site of religious riots and bloody battles between sectarian rivals. Serious disturbances occurred in 1857, 1864and 1872. Galway Street,where Hugh and Mary McKenna family lived in 1860, was just off Durham Street, one block north of Christ Church. They certainly would have witnessed the conflicts and their safety would have been impacted.

When Thomas was 14 years old, a spiritual revival hit Belfast and much of Ulster. Hugh Hanna, known as “Roaring Hugh”, was an active leader of open-air preaching and revivals. During the summer of 1859, he held revival meetings in his Berry Street Presbyterian Church every night for six weeks attracting massive crowds. Then in August 1859, over 25,000 people attended a revival at the Belfast Botanical Garden which Hanna helped organize.

Marriage to Sarah Singleton

In 1865, Thomas married Sarah Singleton. They were married by Rev. Hugh Hannah in the Berry Street Presbyterian Church. Presbyterian marriages in Ireland were legalized in 1782 and in 1844, marriages between Presbyterians and Church of Ireland members were legalized (Marriage Act of 1844).

Sarah Singleton was likely a member of the Berry Street Presbyterian Church congregation. In order to be married in the Church, they would have needed to have a communion token that was used by leaders in churches, to prepare individuals to receive sacred sacraments, like communion, baptism and marriage. Though they were married in the Presbyterian Church, their children were later baptized in the Church of Ireland.

Birth of the Twins

In 1866, Sarah gave birth to twins, Sarah and Thomas. Birth records show that Thomas and Sarah Singleton McKenna's twins were born in Belfast's Lying-in Hospital near Carlisle Circus. While most babies at the time were delivered at home, Sarah must have had complications with the birth of the twins. According to the 1831 Belfast Street Directory, the Lying-in Hospital was available "to aid labouring ‘indigent females’ by providing accommodation, food and medical supervision during childbirth." The twins, Thomas Jr. and Sarah, were born 26 February 1866. Thomas Jr. would die 9 days later, on 7 March 1866 and was not yet baptized at the time of his passing.

At the time of their birth, Sarah was living with her mother Ellen Singleton at 12 North Howard Street, in the heart of the linen industry. Thomas was working as a carpenter in Glasgow. Sarah, the twin girl, was healthy at birth, but Thomas was not and died 12 days later. Unfortunately, Thomas was not baptized before his death.

Following the death of Thomas, the twin, the family moved into their own place on Fortingale Street. Thomas may have worked for Robert Allen, a carpenter who had a contract to build 400 housing units. Robert and Jane Allen lived very close to the McKenna’s on Court Street. Their 20-year-old son Thomas Lonsdale Allen worked with his father and may have been a friend to Thomas McKenna.

The connection between the McKenna's and the Allen's is confirmed not only by the circumstances of living close in Belfast or working in the same profession. The connection is confirmed by the fact that both families immigrated to Coalville, Utah in the early 1870’s. Only seven families from Ireland lived in Coalville in the 1880 census and all of them were from Belfast.

Robert and Jane Allen were divorced during the 1870’s. In the 1880 census, Jane was living in Coalville, Utah and Robert was living in nearby Hoytsville. Thomas and Sarah would have known of their divorce and were likely saddened by it.

Immigration to the United States - 1872

Thomas and Sarah immigrated to the United States in late 1872. They left Liverpool on 6 November 1872 on the steamship Nevada. According to the ship register, they had been living in Widnes, an industrial town about 20 miles from Liverpool. The Nevada developed mechanical problems and eventually returned to Liverpool on 27 November. After a few days in port, they departed on the steamship Manhattan on 4 December 1872. They arrived safely at Castle Garden in New York City on 23 December 1872.

Thomas and Sarah traveled by rail from New York City to Echo Junction in Utah. The Union Pacific Railroad had joined with the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 to form the first transcontinental railroad in the country. From Echo Junction, they travelled by wagon the six miles to Coalville, arriving in late 1872 or early 1873.

Profession – Railroad Carpenter

Thomas likely started his working career in the linen mill in Belfast, but by the time their twins were born in 1866, Thomas was a carpenter. George McKenna, who lived close to the Hugh McKenna family in the 1852 Christ Church census, was a carpenter and may have trained Thomas. Carpentry was in high demand as Belfast grew from 100,000 people in 1850 to 175,000 people in 1870. Housing units were being built quickly and cheaply.

According to many original records, Thomas worked as a carpenter from his early 20’s.

  • 1866 - Birth of Thomas and Sarah (Twins) – Carpenter

  • 1869 - Birth of Hugh Herbert McKenna - Carpenter

  • 1871 - Birth of George McKenna - Carpenter

  • 1880 - Census in Coalville, Utah – Carpenter

  • 1888 & 1900 - Street Directories for Logan, Utah – Carpenter

  • 1901-1903 - Street Directories for Salt Lake City, Utah – Carpenter for Rio Grande West Railway and Denver Rio Grande Railway

  • 1904 - Hibbard History - “Mr. McKenna worked for the railroad … worked as a carpenter for Fred Parkinson and on his dry farm until he quit because of ill health.”

It is also well-known in the family that he worked for the railroad. It is fair to assume that his main occupation was “Railroad Carpenter”. According to the Union Pacific website a railroad carpenter “builds, repairs and maintains buildings, bridges and train cars” for the railroad. While he lived in Utah and Wyoming, he would have traveled to where the work was and would have been away from home often.

Coalville, Utah

Coalville was first settled by the Mormon pioneers in 1859, starting with tents and dugouts, but building log cabins as soon as possible. Later on, the log cabins were replaced with brick and frame homes. The population of Coalville grew from 626 in 1870 to 911 in 1880. Thomas and Sarah McKenna were in Coalville, UT for the 1880 Census.

“Coalville originally began as a settlement known as Chalk Creek. In 1854, the territorial government in Utah offered a $1000 reward to anyone who could find coal within 40 miles of Salt Lake City. Four years later, Thomas Rhodes found a coal vein in the Chalk Creek area, and coal mining began in earnest. Hundreds of tons of coal were shipped to Salt Lake City, and soon a narrow-gauge railroad was built. The settlement was then renamed Coalville, as a result of this early success.” Wikipedia

The railroad between Echo and Coalville began operation in mid-1873 and the laying of railroads in Summit County would continue for at least 20 years to support the mining efforts in Coalville, Park City, Grass Creek, etc. But in 1876, Union Pacific purchased controlling interests in the Summit County Railroad and Church-owned coal mines. This strengthened the monopoly UP had on coal and seriously weakened the work opportunities in Coalville. The Salt Lake Tribune reported,

"The Coalville railroad has been almost abandoned for the past year, scarcely a train a week passing over it. The reason for this is that the Rock Springs coal has supplanted the home product." (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, September 7, 1879)

By the end of 1881, the rail work in Summit County was largely completed and the monopolistic pressure from Union Pacific was stifling economic opportunities in Coalville. Thomas McKenna’s work had been impacted by this and he decided to seek employment elsewhere. Rock Springs, WY was emerging as a major hub for Union Pacific Coal and related rail operations.

Thomas’ employment would be closely linked to the railroad for the next 25 years.

Utah and Northern Railway from Salt Lake City to Franklin, Idaho

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted to tie Salt Lake City to the newly completed transcontinental railroad in Ogden, Utah. The Mormons had been hired by Union Pacific to grade the Union Pacific line through Utah during the closing months of the race to complete the transcontinental line. The UP was desperate to push as far westward as possible and collect government loans and land grants. However, UP refused to pay the $1.1 million they owed the Church. (At the time, the company was effectively bankrupt). To settle the debt, the UP transferred rails and other supplies plus rolling stock to the Mormons. This provided the material for the Utah Central Railroad.

Thus in 1869, one week after the grand celebration at Promontory Summit, the Church started their own railroad (Utah Central) from Ogden to Salt Lake City, completing it in January 1870. Between 1871 and 1874, the Church continued their effort 75 miles north from Ogden to Cache Valley with the Utah Northern Railroad. It reached Franklin, Idaho, across the Idaho border, in May 1874 where construction was halted due to lack of funding and scarcity of volunteer labor.

Knowing of the discovery of Copper in Butte, MT and of the significance of copper in the expansion of electricity, Union Pacific purchased the Mormon railroad companies in 1878 and quickly resumed construction of the railway north to Butte Montana. These companies were merged with other rail companies and would eventually form the Oregon Short Line Railroad in 1897.

The rail line from Cache Valley to Butte Montana began in earnest in 1878 and was completed by the end of 1881. The initial push was a narrow-gauge railroad. The rail from Pocatello north into Montana, was later changed to standard gauge on July 24, 1887. The narrow-gauge line north from Ogden to McCammon, Idaho, was replaced in 1890 by a newly constructed standard gauge line.

Between 1880 and 1900, records show that Thomas and his family were in the following locations, all related to the Oregon Short Line Railroad:

1882 - Rock Springs, WY – birth of Albert McKenna

  • 1883 – Logan, UT – death of Sarah Singleton McKenna

  • 1884 – Logan UT – marriage to Rebecca Hendricks

  • 1885 – Logan, UT – birth of Josiah McKenna

  • 1887 – Logan, UT – birth of Emanuel McKenna

  • 1890 – Nutria, WY – birth of Violet McKenna – Nutria, WY (41.75106,-110.16571) is about 25 miles east of Kemmerer, WY, just south of Highway 30. It was a small railroad station.

  • 1893 – Logan UT – birth of Royal McKenna

  • 1894 – Green River, WY – Thomas and Rebecca McKenna attended masquerade ball with daughter Laura, Al Morton, and others

  • 1895 – Rock Springs, WY – birth of Ida McKenna

  • 1895 – Rock Springs, WY – Thomas McKenna is selected as a “juror on inquest”

  • 1895 – Butte, MT - Rock Springs mayor Rogan visits Butte, MT in September and reports on his visits with Rock Springs residents, including Thomas McKenna

  • 1895 – Rock Springs, WY – Marriage of their daughter Laura to Alfred G Morton

  • 1895 – Logan, UT – purchase of 1 acre of land for $1

  • 1898 – Logan, UT – birth of Samuel McKenna

  • 1898 – Lima, MT – Logan newspaper article wrote that Thomas was “down from Lima, MT visiting his friends and family”

  • 1900 – Logan, UT – 1900 Census – Rebecca and their children living at “South West field and lane” – currently 553 and 545 Southwest Street in Logan which is .7 miles from the Logan Train Depot

  • 1908 – Logan, UT – Sold 1 acre of land and home for $900

Rock Springs, Wyoming

The first coal mine in Rock Springs was opened in 1868. In 1874, Union Pacific formed their own coal company because their main coal supplier was selling coal to them at highly inflated rates. With their own supply of coal, UP now had a monopolistic advantage. According to Wyoming historian T.A. Larson, the high-quality coal was lucrative for the railroad as the UP could use it in engines, sell it at a profitable markup in the open market and charge high freight rates to competing coal companies. With the mining of coal and the ever-increasing demand, Rock Springs grew from 40 people in 1870, to 763 in 1880 to 3,406 in 1890.

Thomas and Sarah McKenna were living in Rock Springs in March 1882 when their youngest son Albert was born. Though they would move to Logan in 1883, they would return to Rock Springs, particularly in 1895 when their daughter Ida was born. Their oldest daughter, Sarah would marry Robert Muir in Rock Springs and they would spend much of their life there. Robert Muir would become the General Master Mechanic for Union Pacific. Their daughter Marie Laura would marry Alfred G Morton there in 1895, though they would later divorce.

Logan, Utah

Thomas and Sarah Singleton McKenna moved to Logan in 1883. The Logan temple was nearing completion and was dedicated the following year. But Sarah died in November of 1883. Thomas then married Rebecca Dorris Hendricks in July of 1884. Five of their nine children were born in Logan. In 1895, they purchased a one-acre plot southwest of the train depot for $1. It is currently located at 553 (and 545) Southwest Street in Logan Utah. After moving to Hibbard, Idaho, they sold the property in 1908 for $900.

How Did Thomas McKenna Meet Rebecca Dorris Hendricks?

The railroad from Ogden to Logan was completed in 1873 and was stopped in Franklin Idaho in 1874. The Oregon Short Line Railroad picked up where the Utah Northern Railroad left off and created the link between Cache Valley and the Montana mines. The construction began in 1878 and was completed in 1881. With this new market, Cache Valley’s agricultural and industrial production was in high demand. Cache Valley could produce much more wheat than could be consumed locally. New mills were built and were put to use grinding for the Montana mines. In the summer, there were major cattle drives from Cache Valley to the mines to supply meat. This was a major economic boost to Logan and the surrounding communities.

But production was not the only benefit to Cache Valley. The northward construction of the railroad sent many Cache Valley men into Montana to work. Thomas’ work took him wherever the railroad needed carpentry work done. Working with the Cache Valley men in Montana may have prompted him to move his family to Cache Valley around 1883. It may have been for the family atmosphere or for better educational opportunities for his children.

When the railroad started into Idaho in 1878, Supt. George W. Thatcher was the key man of the entire undertaking. He let the contracts. The principal contractors were Marriner Wood Merrill, William Dorris Hendricks, and Thomas Edwin Ricks, all of Cache Valley.

Marriner Wood Merrill, was the contractor for grading the road. William Dorris Hendricks and Thomas Edwin Ricks were the contractors for laying the rails. They employed many of their own family members and hired and supervised many other workers from Cache Valley. They tried to keep their camps orderly and did not work on Sunday. This was greatly different from most of the other railroad camps.

After the death of his wife Sarah Singleton McKenna in 1883, Thomas McKenna married 23-year-old Rebecca Dorris Hendricks in Logan Utah. Rebecca was closely related to both Thomas Edwin Ricks and William Dorris Hendricks. Thomas E. Ricks’ wife Tabitha Hendricks was Rebecca’s aunt (her father’s sister). William D. Hendricks was her father’s cousin. These were Rebecca’s most prominent relatives in the railroad world, but many of her other relatives were also employed in the railroad work. Could it be that one of Rebecca’s relatives knew Thomas and introduced him to her after Sarah died?

Brigham Andrus Hendricks was one of Rebecca’s cousins. His history recorded, “During his young manhood days be worked with his father in railroading. He spent most of his time in construction work in the state of Montana. There he came in contact with unprincipled and undesirable men, and many times he was called upon to defend himself, his family, and church.”

Salt Lake City, Utah

Around 1901, Thomas’ railroad work shifted from the Oregon Short Line Railroad to the Denver Rio Grande Railway in Salt Lake City, UT. We don’t know the reason for the change, but we know that Rio Grande West was remodeling some of their rail cars to meet the changing requirements of the connecting railroads. For example, in the early 1900’s cars Nos. 551 and 552 had some of the passenger seats removed to add mail rooms. This allowed the cars to carry passengers, baggage and mail on lighter traffic branch lines. Thomas is listed as a carpenter for the Denver Rio Grande Railway or Rio Grande Western Railway in the 1901-1904 SLC street directories. Alonzo McKenna was born in Salt Lake City in 1903.

· 1901 – Salt Lake City, UT – Street Directory – room at 345 S 2nd W

· 1902 – Salt Lake City, UT – Street Directory – room in Albany Hotel (595 W 2nd S)

· 1903 – Salt Lake City, UT – Street Directory – residence at 428 Post Street

· 1904 – Salt Lake City, UT – Street Directory – residence at 101 Rio Grande Street

These 1898 maps can be found at: https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08891_003/

Hibbard, Idaho

Rebecca’s younger brother was Josiah Hendricks. In 1880, when he was 17 years old, he went to work on the railroad for their relatives William D. Hendricks and Thomas E. Ricks building railroad from Dillon to Butte, Montana. As he was the oldest boy, he was obliged to help his father obtain food for his family. In the Spring of 1883, Thomas E. Ricks hired him to drive two yoke of oxen to Snake River bringing one of the first companies to the Upper Snake River Valley, reaching Rexburg May 18, 1883. He stayed and worked for Thomas E. Ricks. There was much to be done, clearing the sage brush from the land and getting out timber to build their homes, store, meeting house, grist and saw mill.

In 1884, at the time of Josiah’s marriage most of the land around Rexburg was filed on, so he went down on the Snake River and filed a claim on a hundred and sixty acres where Hibbard, Idaho is now located, and resided there. By the early 1900’s three of Josiah’s siblings had moved to Hibbard, including Thomas and Rebecca Hendricks McKenna in 1904. Thomas would live in Hibbard until his death in 1910 and Rebecca would live there until 1925 when she moved to Rexburg. She died in Rexburg in 1932.