Tuesday, February 25, 2020

2020 Prompt - Prosperity - Denis Cronin


Prompt - Prosperity

Denis Cronin- great grandfather

Nancy Simmons to Josephine Martin to Mary Catherine Cronin to Denis Cronin - my great grandfather 

I thought of my great grandfather, Denis Cronin, when the prompt Prosperity was assigned. Prosperity usually means the type of success that comes from having a lot of money. But "a lot of money" is relative to how much you had to start with in life.  Denis left Ireland a poor 17-year-old boy and followed his siblings to Detroit with a dream of prosperity.


I used Denis’ death certificate to start researching him. Denis died in Sunland, Los Angeles, California Dec 21, 1925[1] at the home of his brother, Daniel Cronin. His death certificate stated he was 66 years old, born in Ireland and his parents were John Cronin and Johanna O'Connor. 

Denis was born in Ireland to parents that had survived the great famine. They had ten children and Denis was the 3rd child born in County Cork where years of political and religious dissention were prevalent.  In the mid-1870s widespread unemployment, poverty and appalling housing conditions existed.[2]

In 1877,[3] Denis decided to leave Ireland and move to Detroit, Michigan where he found work in a thriving industrial city. He married and raised a family of six children. He went from a poor Irish boy from Coolinarna, County Cork, Ireland[4] to a successful streetcar engineer and a leader among his peers.  He came to a country where he started working in a dangerous entry level job, was able to move up the ladder of prosperity due to his involvement in unionizing the streetcar employees and could practice his faith without conflict.

His baptismal record had his name is recorded as Dionysius Cronin.  He was baptized 16 Oct 1859 in the Catholic Parish of Cullen in Millstreet, County Cork, Ireland[5]. Dionysius is the Latin derivative of Denis used in the Catholic church records. Cullen is a small village located north west of Millstreet town in County Cork[6].

Denis' passport application states he immigrated in 1877. Many poor Irish immigrants could find work in Detroit in high risk occupations. He found work as a molder at the Peninsular Stove Company by 1882.[7]  This risky job earned between $18 and $21 per week[8]. (Footnote has website about Detroit as global capital of stove manufacturing).  A molder was a strong young male who worked in a dark, hellish environment with enormous cupola furnaces filled with hot blue smoke and pounds of glowing cherry-red molten iron.  The molder would be covered with black grime and soot and poor hot molten iron into molds.[9] Life as a molder was dangerous and harmful and over time molders often suffered from lung and heart problems.

 On June 2, 1886, Denis Cronin married Bridget Stackpoole[10],a young Irish immigrant. The same

year, Denis is listed as a car inspector and his home is at 175 Franklin Street.[11] Denis had found a job working as an inspector for a streetcar company. This job is probably much safer than a molder now that he is married.

In April 1891, Denis is working for the Detroit Urban Railway and is now a driver. He probably was caught up in the political aspect of labor unrest as the streetcar employees decided to strike.[12] Even though we have no record of Denis' direct involvement in this conflict, one wonders if he reported to work and drove his streetcar, or did he withhold his services and joined the strikers?

A month later in May of 1891, Denis profits from an agreement between owners and the workers.  The agreement gives conductors and drivers an 18 cent per hour wage with a 10-hour workday and one day off every 14 days.[13] This gives Denis a $46.00 a month paycheck or about $600 annual income.  

In the 1900 federal census, Denis is listed as a motorman with the street railroad, he can read and write, and he owns his home.[14] This illustrates that Denis is doing quite well working for the street rail system.  Denis and Bridget also have five children by 1900; Johanna is 13, Dennis is nine, Margaret is seven, my grandmother Mary Catherine is four, and William is two. They lost a two-year-old son in 1891.[15]

In 1906 Denis Cronin was very active in the street railway employee union since he runs for president of the streetcar employee’s union.[16]  Over 1100 workers voted but unfortunately Denis comes in second by 210 votes. [17]

Another event that occurs in 1909 that affirms Denis' growing prosperity was his ability to take a trip with his wife and young daughter to Ireland to visit his family. Denis applies for a passport and provides us with lots of personal information. In 1910 we find that Denis bought a second home at 719 Campbell street by auction for $3,300[18] and he moves from 211 Nineteenth Street to his new home.

In 1920 the census states Denis is still working as a motorman, lives at 719 Campbell street.[19]  Sometime after 1920 Denis retires and then on November 30, 1924 Denis' wife, Bridget, died.[20]  A year later, Denis decided to travel to Los Angeles to visit his brother, Daniel.  It is while he is in California that he died on December 21, 1925.[21]  His body is shipped back to Detroit and he is buried in Mt Elliott Cemetery next to his wife. According to my mother, when Denis died, he left a house for each of his children. 

Denis’ prosperity was measured by his ability to find work to earn a good wage, and his participation in a union to advocate for safe working conditions and a fair wage for all.  By working hard and investing he was able to purchase several homes to help his children.  And during his 48 years in Detroit, Denis and his family were able to practice their faith without conflict. He was an example of how an immigrant can attain prosperity!

[1]Denis Cronin, death certificate Local Registered No. 194 (died 21 Dec 1925), Department of Public Health, San Francisco City and County, California.  
[2] Cork City Council, Cork City Libraries, Grand Parade, Cork, Ireland, Cork, Past and Present, accessed: 19 Feb 2020, http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/history/historyofcorkcity/1700-1900/corkinthe19thcentury/
[3] Ancestry.com, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925, Dennis Cronin, certificate 10227.
[4] Ancestry.com, Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915, Dionysius Cronin, residence: Coolnarna.
[5] Ibid.
[7] Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 accessed: 20 Feb 2020, page 317, Dennis Cronin; citing "Detroit, Michigan, City Directory, 1882.
[9] “When stoves were the hot new thing”, The Detroit News, 24 Jan 2015, accessed: 20 Feb 2020, <https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan-history/2015/01/24/stove-capital-detroit-history/22234051/>
[10] Ancestry.Com, Michigan, County Marriages, 1822-1940, Denis Cranin (misspelled Cronin).
[11] Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989", accessed: 20 Feb 2020, page 429, Dennis Cronin; citing "Detroit, Michigan, City Directory, 1886.
[12] Detroit Transit History.info, The Pre-D.S.R. Years- Part II, Labor Unrest.  http://www.detroittransithistory.info/TheEarlyYears.html
[13] Ibid
[14] Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census, Detroit Ward 10, Wayne, Michigan, page: 10B; ED 107, Dennis Cronin, accessed: 13 May 2010.
[15] Ancestry.com, Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1950, John Daniel Cronin.
[16] 'Street Car Men Elect', The Detroit Free Press, 5 Dec 1906, Wed, p. 8; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3482663/denis-cronin-runs-for-president-of/)
[17] Ibid
[18] Denis Cronin house purchase, The Detroit Free Press, 18 Sep 1910, Sun, p.44; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/45178589/dennis-cronin-house-purchase-719/)
[19] Ancestry.com, 1920 United States Federal Census, Detroit, Ward 16, Wayne, Michigan, page 5A, ED 495, Dennis Cronin, accessed: 13 May 2010.
[20]  Ancestry.com, Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1952, Bridget Enzian (misspelled Cronin), accessed 20 Feb 2020.
[21] Denis Cronin, death certificate Local Registered No. 194 (died 21 Dec 1925), Department of Public Health, San Francisco City and County, California.  

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