The Return to Brooklyn – William Fay (1863-1934)

       William Fay, the only child of Michael and Rose Fay to survive into adulthood, spent his youth in Jersey City, N.J., but when he came of age he decided to move back to Brooklyn where he was born. I suspect a big factor in this decision was his uncle Lawrence Fay, who was running a successful saloon next to the Erie Basin in Redhook. Apparently William had found his calling early in life. The 1880 Census conducted in Redhook on June 2 captured William visiting his uncle Lawrence. At the age of 17 his occupation was already listed as “Bartender”.  Whether he was working at the time at Lawrence’s establishment is unclear.  Three weeks later when the Census takers canvassed Jersey City, William was found back at home with his parents, again listed as “Barboy”. He was also listed in the 1883 Jersey City directory as a bartender, living with his parents.

       We don’t know precisely when William made his permanent move back to Brooklyn. He was at home in Jersey City for the 1885 Census at age 22 years. But the 1886-87 Brooklyn Street Directory had him  living at 453 3rd Ave. and listed his occupation as “barkpress” (operator).

      The next record of a Brooklyn location for William occurred in a Brooklyn Eagle article of Dec. 22, 1888 which described the  events surrounding a boxing match between a Mr. Collins and Mr. Lewis that was subsequently raided by the Brooklyn police.

     “At the beginning of the second round Lewis slipped and fell and Collins struck him after he was down. Lewis’ friends claimed a foul; but the referee ordered the men to go on and cautioned Collins. Lewis was fresh and Collins, who seemed weak, made a rush for his opponent, which the latter skillfully avoided. As Collins stepped by him Lewis landed another terrible blow on the luckless left eye. The men clinched and Lewis adroitly fell. As he arose to his feet the referee called time.

       At the beginning of the third round betting was ten to five on Lewis. While the men were sparring for an opening, the door leading into the place was opened and a dozen policemen appeared. Then there was a wild rush to get out. Several jumped through the only window in the building, while others made for the door. The principals and about a dozen sportsman were placed under arrest and taken to the Eighteenth Precinct Police Station. Among them was a well-known lawyer who gave the name of Anderson. He was one of the first to rush from the place and was a block away when a burley policeman stopped him.

     “What are you puffing for?”  asked the Guardian of the Peace.

     “Don’t you see that I am stout,” said the counselor.

     “Well I think that you had better come to the station house and rest yourself.”

     Captain Kelley was at the desk and discharged all the prisoners with the exception of the two fighters. They were locked up.”

       Among the  “sportsmen” listed in this report was William Fay, bartender, 562 3rd Ave. This address was in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, between Redhook and Park Slope. Uncle Lawrence had died just a few months earlier, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that William was helping his Aunt Julia at the saloon on Van Brunt Street.  Four years later, in the 1892 census conducted in February, William was still located in the same area, but was listed as a Salesman.  Given the pattern of  his employment one can only speculate that he was selling liquor as a living.

        On June 14, 1892 William Fay married Margaret Delaney in Hudson, New York, 125 miles north of Brooklyn on the banks of the Hudson River. The best man at the wedding was his cousin Joseph Michael Fay, the son of Patrick. (They must have been close because William would later name his second son after Joseph.)

How William met Margaret and courted her remains a bit of a mystery. Margaret was born in 1868 in Hudson and had lived there all of her life.  Hudson in the 1890’s was considered a vacation destination for many in the city, and steamboats running up and down the Hudson river  provided an enjoyable and easy connection with the town. Perhaps he had taken a vacation cruise up the Hudson and had met and fallen for the small-town girl from upstate New York. We simply do not know.

       The newlyweds settled into their new life in  Brooklyn and Margaret was pregnant with her first child when the news arrived that William’s younger brother Michael had contracted pneumonia and had died in Jersey City, on Jan 21, 1893. The couple’s first son, William Jr. (my grandfather),  was born later that year on June 28.  Nearly three years later, on June 17, their  daughter Margaret Agnes ( called  Marguerite) was born. By this time William was running a liquor store on the corner of 5th Ave. and 11th St , while living in an apartment down the block  at 315 11th St.


       By 1900 William had moved his family into the rooms above the liquor store that he ran. Tragedy, however, was about engulf them. On March 23 Michael Fay, William’s father and the first Fay to come to the U.S., died over in Jersey City. William and Margaret’s second son, Joseph, was born a day later on March 24, but Margaret experienced complications from the birth. A little over a week later Margaret, too, succumbed, as reported in the Brooklyn Eagle .

        Margaret’s body was transported back to Hudson, New York and laid to rest in Hudson City Cemetery beside her father Patrick and two of her siblings, Annie and John. Three years later Margaret’s mother, Margaret (Connor) Delaney would join them.  

       In the June 1900 Census William Fay was listed as a Hotel Keeper – apparently because he had taken in three boarders in the rooms above the liquor store, one of whom worked as a clerk in the store. His mother Rose, now 64 years of age, had also moved in, presumably to help with the children.  In addition he had engaged a recently widowed woman in the neighborhood, Mary Ralston , as a housekeeper.   William now had three young children to care for – William Jr., still not 7 years old, Marguerite, nearly four, and an infant only two months old. By 1900 the development of condensed milk and infant feeding bottles had eliminated the necessity of wet nurses – which made what occurred next all the more surprising.

       The 1905 Census revealed that William had moved his family north out of Gowanus to the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn on Union Street.  His occupation was listed as bartender and his mother Rose was still living with the family. The older children were by then in school, but Joseph, who would have been five, was nowhere to be found. Strangely, though, Joseph subsequently appeared in the 1910 Census living with the family of Joseph Bradbury, a carpenter, living on St. Nicholas Avenue in Bushwick. Joseph and his wife Annie (nee Berry) had two children –  Ella,  22 years old, and Floyd, 18 years old.  Joseph M. Fay, now ten, was listed as a cousin, although there appeared to be no actual blood relationship.

        It turns out that when William Fay first married Margaret Delaney they were living around  7th St.  between 3rd and 4th Ave.  Joseph Bradbury and his family were living at the same time on 9th St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues – just a few blocks away. They must have become friends. Eight years later, sometime after Margaret had died, the Bradburys apparently offered to raise William’s child.  How much, if any, William saw of his youngest son we cannot know, but during that time the Bradburys had moved quite a distance away to Bushwick. It all ended quite sadly on April 16, 1911 when Joseph died. His Death Certificate lists the cause as acute lobar pneumonia. He was attended by a physician for two weeks, but without modern antibiotics  he was unable to recover. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery at the foot of a huge oak tree, but there is no trace of a marker to be found.

              In 1915 the Fays  moved once again several blocks north to 21 St. Johns Place. William was still working in a saloon, William Jr. was working as a clerk for a railroad, and Marguerite, at 18, was in school.  Rose, who was now 76, was still with them. In addition there was now another member of the household – Margaret Hedavan, William’s aunt, had come over to Brooklyn. She had been living with Peter Fay and his wife in Jersey City in 1910  but had apparently found another home with her nephew and sister-in-law.  Two years later  both of these elders were to depart this world within a couple of months of each other  – Rose (Killeen) Fay died first on May 20, 1917 and Margaret (Fay) Hedavan on July 17th. Both were around 78 years old. Each was laid to rest with her husband – Rose in Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City,  Margaret in Holy Cross in Brooklyn. What a long journey they had walked –  from rural tenant farms in Ireland to a bustling industrial metropolis in America.

        It was in Dec of 1915 that William Fay Jr. applied for a marriage license.  He had met Margaret Keenan,  the daughter of John F. Keenan, who was living with her family on Monroe St. in the Bedford –Stuyvesant  section of Brooklyn. They were married on December 7 at St Thomas Aquinas Church , 4th Avenue and 9th St. They would soon set up housekeeping close to the other Fays.  In 1920 they were in an apartment in the same building as William Fay Sr.  on 2nd St. on the edge of Park Slope. William Sr. was living with his daughter Marguerite and Anna M. Delaney,  a cousin from Hudson, N.Y.  Marguerite was in the process of getting her teaching certificate to teach elementary school and Anna was working as a stenographer. Apparently Marguerite visited and kept in touch with her Delaney cousins in Hudson, of whom, as we shall see,  there were quite a few.

390 2nd Street