Martin Joseph Kavanagh

Martin Kavanagh was born in Baltimore on September 16, 1862 to Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh. He was their first of nine children. They lived on Albemarle Street. Patrick was a ship’s carpenter. Patrick’s brother was Joseph Kavanagh. Owner of the Joseph Kavanagh Co. usually called the Shop by his family and workers. When the Shop had grown enough to begin bringing in several apprentices, Martin was hired and trained by Joseph as a coppersmith. He started at the Shop at 15 in 1877. He was the first of five brothers to work for their uncle. Martin learned his trade well and became a full coppersmith within 3 yrs.

In 1884, he married Mary Rachel Uhlberger, They had a child together several months earlier. It was certainly a scandalous thing at the time. The girl was named Katherine called Kitty. She was the first of eleven children for Martin and Mary Rachel. Martin grew in Joseph’s trust. He became Joe’s senior man by the 1890s as brothers Eugene, James then Joseph A. are hired. The Shop grew even more. A crew of over 25 including Uncle Joe, nephews Martin, Eugene. James, Joseph and finally the youngest, Frank. Frank apprenticing as a coppersmith and the last man taught by Uncle Joe.

By the turn of the century, The Joseph Kavanagh Co. had prospered. Installing and maintaining stills from Connecticut to Florida. The nephews all making the periodic trips up and down the east coast. Martin included. When he was at the Shop in Baltimore, Martin began occasionally running a pass or two of rye whiskey in the company still. They had constructed a still as a demonstrator for customers. They made some rye for their own consumption, but not often and nothing more. Martin slowly begins a somewhat regular production after hours without his uncle’s or his brothers’ knowledge. Selling what he makes to friends who were in the illegal whiskey trade. This is before Prohibition, but there was always a market for illegal cheap whiskey. The Shop is very busy with their distillery repairs and installs but also working for breweries and fabricators and steamship companies in Baltimore. Martin was Uncle Joe’s second in command. Uncle Joe leads a strong crew of smiths including his nephews all with their own contributions to the business.

In 1903, Eugene Kavanagh is returning to Baltimore via train from Connecticut. He was there to take measurements of the building to give an appropriate quote on a still installation. The train crashes at approximately 5 p.m. Eugene is killed. Uncle Joe and the family are shocked and deeply saddened.

February 7 1904. The Great Baltimore Fire destroys the building on Lombard Street. Joe and his four nephews witness it from the East side of the Lombard Street bridge. Uncle Joe wants to continue. He invests in temporary facilities. Briefly at Hawk & 7th Streets then at Gough & 7th. Uncle Joe takes ill six months later. He dies on December 10, 1904.

In Joe’s will, Martin is named his successor. Martin(unbeknownst to his brothers) has already been gifted 50% of the company by Uncle Joe. The will passes the rest of the company and its name to Martin. The surviving nephews and several nieces are all named in the will. Martin receives the lion share of the estate. The other beneficiaries received $1000-2000 in cash. Martin receives the business and $25,000. Martin owns the Shop now. His brothers, Joe, James and Frank work for him.

Martin leads the business in its rebound from the Fire. It is a difficult time in Baltimore. Most companies are in the same state as the Kavanaghs. Recovering from destruction. The City has been cleaned and the rubble removed very quickly, but the economy is still struggling to bounce back. Commerce in and out of the City takes some time to return to normal. The brothers all agree to take less money until the Shop can get back on its feet again.

Martin’s crew at Gough & 7th is at 15. His brother Joe struggles to find work to cover them all. He pushes and scrounges for work in any distillery, brewery or fabricator that is open. Martin has a solution. He has the crew build a 100 gallon still in the building. He and some of his friends begin running passes of whiskey on a more and more regular basis. The brothers are aware of it and Martin does not hide it, but he doesn’t share much of the specifics. Joe and the brothers take any money they can get and they assume it will be temporary.

By 1906, the Shop’s work has increased a bit. The days of their still work up and down the East Coast are gone. In the time since the Fire and the Shop re-establishing itself in their new building, local smiths have stepped in for many of their out of state customers. Some distilleries hire them on full-time. The business of Joseph M. Coppersmith, Martin J. Kavanagh Successor must focus on local work. Joe makes calls and jobs continue to arrive. Slowly they begin to get busier. Martin considers hiring more men. His brothers are very much against any more hires. They are still waiting for Martin to increase their pay. He continues to tell them that the money is not there. Martin and his friends keep making and selling rye on the side. New men that the brothers do not know arrive at the Shop. Running whiskey or transporting whiskey. Martin seems to be making more money though his brothers are not. He tells them he will raise salaries to the Pre-Fire level as soon as the Shop can afford it. Brothers Joe, James and Frank are restless. They are opposed to hiring more men. They would rather work more hours and make more money individually. Martin is more and more focused on the whiskey operation than their coppersmith work.

Christmas Eve 1906. Martin is having drinks with his friends in a local pub. His brother, Joe has agreed to join him. Martin was jovial and dressed in a new suit. Holding his Uncle Joe’s gold watch while they spoke. Joe sipped his rye as Martin bought a round for his friends and sundry. A jolly lot they were, but not Joe. Joe watches his brother hold court and buy several rounds for all. Joe leaves and returns to his home. He speaks to his wife about his brother. He confides in her that he is not sure he can trust Martin anymore. At least, not to run the Shop and pay he and the other brothers properly.

Early in 1907, Joe meets with his younger brothers to discuss breaking from Martin’s Shop and forming their own. They all agree to do this. They must time their move right. They make notes of jobs, customers’ names, vendors’ names and prices. They take a few tools, some of their uncle’s old hammers. Not enough to be noticed, but enough to help with a new business. Joe finds premises for them on Central Avenue. They are ready.

April 22, 1907 at 9 a.m., Joe, James and Frank step into Martin’s office and inform him that they are quitting. They are starting their own Shop which they will call the Joseph Kavanagh Company. Martin is outraged and calls them ungrateful. A large argument begins as Martin asks one then another of his brothers to reconsider. They are determined. They are tired of not getting properly paid and they can not work for him anymore. Martin saves his strongest victrol for his brother, Joe. They were always close, but Joe has had enough of Martin’s mismanagement, drinking and money squandering. Martin screams at Joe that he is not even a coppersmith. He is certainly not Uncle Joe. Joe answers that neither is Martin. They walk out to cries of “You are not Joe!” from Martin. They make their way to Central Avenue and get right to work.

So, begins several years of battle between the two Shops. Martin calls customers and passes on that his brothers have abandoned him. Martin tells his customers his brothers do not have the experience to succeed. Joe makes calls to introduce the new company. He lets those folks know that he has Old Uncle Joe’s best men with him. He has the best smith and best engineer the Shop had working for him. It is an ugly battle of words. Meanwhile, Martin’s work quality starts to suffer. His skills have deteriorated in the last few years. The drinking and high-living seems to be playing a part. Slowly, his brothers’ Shop begins to draw in more and more work. Customers of Martin’s begin coming to them due to slow deliveries and slipshod work. Martin continues to focus on bootlegging and illegal whiskey instead of basic coppersmith work. Things at Martin’s Shop go down quickly with less skilled men and with Martin’s erratic leadership.

In August of 1909, Martin declares bankruptcy and his Shop closes. The Joseph Kavanagh Co. is doing much better. Upon receiving word that Martin’s business is closed, Joe makes quick calls to any of the old customers to bring them into the fold. Martin’s future is in doubt. He owes many creditors both legal and illegal. He visits his brother Joe in the Spring of 1910. He admits that Joe’s way was the better way. The better Shop. They have a drink in Joe’s parlor and talk. Martin blames everyone, but himself. He blames the Fire, he blames the City and he blames his creditors. Joe listens quietly without responding. His brother is very shaken and disheveled in appearance. He confides in his brother that he is concerned for his safety. Joe lends him a pistol he purchased a few years ago for protection. He doesn’t offer money, but passes along the gun. His brother leaves.

On Christmas Eve 1910, Martin Kavanagh is spending the evening at the Plaza Hotel. He is nodding off at the cafe at approximately 9 pm. The bartender wakens him to tell him he can not sleep there. Martin and this bartender, Clarence Keen, get into a loud argument. Martin is told to leave. Keen escorts him out. On the front steps, the fight turns physical. Martin pulls the revolver from his pocket and fires at Keen. Wounding him in the throat. Keen collapses against the steps. He is gravely injured. On a Christmas Eve night, many folks are out and about. There are many witnesses to the shooting and Martin is apprehended several blocks away, He is booked for assault with intent to kill.

Martin stands trial. He is found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail and required to pay Keen, who recovers, $ 500.00. Martin serves his time while his brothers’ company flourishes. Joe, James and Frank buy a lot at the corner of Pratt & Central Avenue. They use money borrowed from Joe’s wife Johanna(she owned and operated a boarding house for a few years). They have a large coppersmith facility built. The brothers carry on the legacy of their uncle. A family coppersmith Shop that will do business from that corner for over 90 years before the next move.

After Martin’s release from prison, his wife has divorced him. He spends a brief time in Baltimore. He remarries. Wedding Marie Roman and they both move to Chicago. The only contact the brothers have with him is through his daughter Kitty. She is Joe Kavanagh’s goddaughter. She visits her father and brings word of him home to Baltimore. He is working in Chicago in construction and is happy with his wife and her family. He dies November 6, 1919. He was hit in the head by a brick that fell from a building on a construction site. He is buried in Chicago.

He is for all intents and purposes the first villain of the story of the Shop. Corrupted by power and addled by drink. He nearly took the business down with him, but his brothers had other plans. With the money and help of Johanna Kavanagh, they move forward. They thrive and they succeed. Joe’s sons soon are hired and the next generation begins its training and smithing. Joe and his brothers speak rarely of Martin. They were left with many questions. The obvious one being what happened to that $ 25,000 that he inherited. How did he start with so much and fall so fast? The brothers wondered, but there were no answers. They got to work and did what was necessary. Martin was gone and the three picked up the pieces so the Shop could live on. It did and still does.

Martin J. Kavanagh, Joe’s Successor. Circa 1900.