The O'Hara connection
When in doubt, turn to M. J. O'Hara
These newspaper clippings tell some of the story of a remarkable man, Michael J. O'Hara (1856-1934), better known by his initials M. J. He was married to Anne Jane Major, daughter of Margaret Mallon and Charles J. Major. They made quite a life for themselves in the village of Camillus, about 12 miles west of Syracuse, New York.

Syracuse Courier, July 4, 1896
Dr. Magee of Syracuse, assisted by Dr. Elsner of Syracuse and Dr. Slocum of Camillus, operated upon Charles Major for appendicitis this morning and were very successful. The operation was performed at the residence of M. J. O’Hara.

Marcellus Observer, July 1899
M. J. O’Hara and Martin Donnelly left Wednesday on their bicycles for a ten days’ run over the country and will stop at several places before returning, touching at Auburn, Elmira, Waverly, Wayland and Perry.

It took me awhile the realize the following story wasn't about car trouble. Mrs. M. J. O'Hara seemed to be entertaining relatives every week. Things have changed a lot since 1901, but there's something about this story that makes me feel it could have been written yesterday.

Marcellus Observer, July 26, 1901
A pleasant evening visit
On Thursday of last week quite a party of friends drove over from Skaneateles Falls via Elbridge, to spend the evening with Mrs. M. J. O'Hara. They were delayed on the way by the loss of an axle nut so that they did not arrive till after nine o'clock. But fortunately the evening was a delightful one and the return trip was all the more pleasant in the wee hours of the morning. They received a pleasant welcome and the later evening was passed all too quickly in social pleasures, ice cream with other refreshments were served meanwhile.

In the party that came from the Falls were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Major, Mr. and Mrs. John Major, Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Donahue, the Misses Julia and Sadie Major, Florence O'Hara, Margaret Mallon and Messrs. Michael Major, James Mooney, Wm. Gannon, Edward Heavron and Robert Heavron. Also Michael Flynn of Solvay, and Thomas Flynn, Bartley Freeman, and J. P. O'Hara of this village were present.

I suspect the last names of Edward and Robert Heavron should have been spelled Heverin.

The O'Hara men seemed to alternate on taking business trips to Canada where, for several years, the family owned a mill:

Marcellus Observer, June 12, 1903
Masters Charles and Joe O’Hara were each the recipient of a fine Monarch bicycle from their father, M. J. O’Hara, on his return home from Canada.
However, business wasn't the only thing that prompted M. J. O'Hara to hit the road, sometimes literally:

The Auburn Citizen, June 8, 1909
M. J. O’Hara of Camillus was thrown from a motorcycle yesterday at Niagara Falls, breaking one of his legs.

Marcellus Observer, August 20, 1909
The many friends of M. J. O’Hara are glad to greet him on his return home after an absence of about six weeks, the greater part of which was spent in a hospital at Niagara Falls. He is doing well and expect soon to be able to put his whole weight on his leg and walk without a cane.

M. J. O'Hara and several other Camillus residents lived in a valley between two steep hills. Nine Mile Creek and some usually small streams flowed through that valley. Not surprisingly, a heavy rain often produced flooding in downtown Camillus. O'Hara tried to solve the problem by erecting a wall on his property along the creek. However, his wall was no match for the next big storm:
This photo of the Michael J. O'Hara property may have been taken a day after the September 1915 flood when nearby Nine Mile Creek overflowed after an all-night rainstorm. Water filled basements in this part of Camillus and was several inches deep on the first floor of the O'Hara home, trapping the family on the second floor for more than 24 hours. Some old time residents called it the worst storm ever.

Marcellus Observer, September 17, 1915
O’Hara Suffers Worst at Camillus
The worst flood that has visited Camillus in the memory of the oldest resident did widespread damaged Monday and Tuesday, when Nine-mile Creek overflowed its banks. The crest of the flood was reached at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when the stream was eight feet higher than normal. Two bridges on Mud Brook were washed into Nine-mile Creek and a gang of men was kept busy preventing the debris from collecting at the South Street bridge, part of which was also carried away.

The greatest damage in the village was suffered by M. J. O’Hara, and this was minimized by the removal of goods to places of safety with the assistance of neighbors. The O’Hara family were finally marooned upstairs by the flood which at its worst covered several inches of their lower floor. The high water covered this section of the village as far as W. B. Gorham’s on Main street, the Baptist church, E. E. Eliis’s and W. A. Kellar’s.

A canoe and a rowboat were used to transport the inhabitants, who also resorted to high water boots to rescue their property. The high water filled cellars which had never been flooded before.

The Nine-mile Creek bridge on Main street had too narrow a channel to admit the passage of the stream, which backed up and flooded the southern section of the village. The water south of the bridge was more than a foot higher than the water a few feet north.

The O’Hara residence, garage, barn and cooperage bore the brunt of the high water. Forty barrels of Portland cement for use in the construction of the new garage were among the losses suffered; 200 pounds of butter in jars, in the house cellar, were rescued by Paul Staatz, who donned a bathing suit and swam after the butter.

The creek did several hundred dollars damage to the Camillus Cutlery Company’s factory, where it overflowed into the stock room and prevented part of the employees from working. The grinding room, which is in a separate building northeast of the main factory, was entirely surrounded by deep water which was so high that the men had to be carried to safety one by one of the broad shoulders of Alphonse Schaaf.

Among the minor casualties of the flood, Ernest Crookes lost one chicken who died of chills and fever, resulting from undue exposure. Eugene Latters fell through the South Street bridge over Mud Brook and was fished out by William Keller. Mr. Keller, who had just given his barn a thorough cleaning, declared that he is cleaning out a layer of nearly two feet of mud which was deposited on the barn floor. At the Wiley residence, a large flock of young chickens were rescued in a bathtub and floated to the house for safety.

The water receded five feet on Tuesday between two and eight o’clock in the morning, and the stream is resuming its normal size.


Marcellus Observer, April 18, 1918
Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. O’Hara have received a card announcing the safe arrival in France of their son, Sergeant Major Joseph F. O'Hara, in the 30th regiment. Friends of the young sergeant major will surely extend heartiest congratulations and there’ll be something doing when our Joe gets his pull at the long hair from the Kaiser’s mustachios which Joe promises to bring home as a souvenir and fly from the flag pole of the finest garage on Genesee turnpike.

Marcellus Observer, August 20, 1919
Mrs. M. J. O’Hara, Elizabeth Connors, Margaret Caveny of Warner*, and Charles O’Hara motored to New York to meet Regimental Sergeant Major Joseph O’Hara who is due to arrive at Hoboken Wednesday on board the American**.

A wireless received by the O’Hara family from their son stated he would arrived as stated. He has been in service over two years and on duty overseas 14 months with the 30th Infantry Headquarters Company, 3rd Division, and will go to Camp Upton to be mustered out.

* Several early references to the hamlet of Warners, New York, appear without the "s" at the end. Margaret Caveny would become Mrs. Joseph O'Hara, Elizabeth Connors married his brother Charles.

** A ship called USS American was used by the Navy in 1918-19, but I'm not sure it is the one referred to in this story.


What follows is a newspaper account of a 1919 wedding involving the son of Anne Jane Major and Michael J. O'Hara. It's a wedding that seems lifted from countless old Hollywood movies, or one that may have inspired countless old movies

Those involved in the post-wedding nonsense must have had a lot of fun, though some may have been lucky to have escaped injury. Anyway, here it is, a wedding from what often is described as a simpler time. If filmed, it would have starred Constance Bennett and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and would have featured a wacky car chase.

Marcellus Observer, October 22, 1919
The marriage in Camillus Wednesday, Oct. 15, of Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Connors, to Charles P., son of Mr. and Mrs. M. J. O’Hara with the various showers and social events, have been the occasion of great interest, all fittingly climaxed with one of the largest and most charming of weddings.

The ceremony was performed at four o’clock by Rev. T. Leo Finley in St. Joseph’s Church before a great throng of friends, filling the edifice to the very doors.

The ushers preceded up the aisle to the altar rail, the bride and groom entering to the altar with their attendants, Miss Catherine Connors as bridesmaid and Joseph F. O’Hara as groomsman, brother and sister of the couple. The ushers were John R. Hyland, William O’Hara, Charles Connors and Paul Staats.

The church was trimmed elaborately in greens and reds of nature’s providing. At the foot of the aisle were large baskets of cut flowers, the rail and altar showing great effort of friends in decoration.

Miss Elizabeth O’Hara played the wedding march, also accompanying Miss Margaret O’Hara as she sang "O’Promise Me" as the bridal party entered, and "I Love You Truly" as they departed.

The bride wore a gown of white satin, which duchess lace and white pearl trimming, a long train, a veil, and carried a shower bouquet of white roses. Her bridesmaid was gowned in pink with silver trimming, a large silver lace hat and carried pink roses.

Guests numbering into hundreds went to the Connors’ home at the close of the church ceremony, where a reception was followed by a wedding supper. The serving was done by Miss Anna Nolan and a bevy of girl friends. The bridal party and families were seated at table, a centerpiece of pink roses completing the table decorations, which were all in keeping with the color scheme of the home decorations, done in pink and green.

Following the extensive supper menu, guests were invited to view the array of gifts of every kind, the score of those being suited to the fact that the couple will begin housekeeping at once in the rear of the garage. The profusion of gifts was most marked; furniture, silver, cut glass, pictures, money, principally practical things, and attesting the esteem of hosts of friends.

Merrymaking reigned till ten o’clock and then some. The trip was planned alone, in the groom’s Scripps-Booth car, which had been tuned to escape all followers. But they did this, three auto loads chasing them to Syracuse. On a corner James Haney’s car had a mishap, they got mixed, and the elopers escaped them, driving to Auburn.

Here the groom (learned he) had chosen the wrong confidant, for five girls had hired a room at The Osborne House, fixed it with the clerk, arranged the room properly, then hid in the room in the dark.

The couple were shown to the room – and you can learn the rest when they return, if those naughty girls don’t get what is coming to them it will be in the papers about their narrow escape.

Previously, Mrs. James Haney gave a kitchen shower in honor of Miss Connors, loads of culinary things laid at the shrine of the coming homemaker. The hotel dining room was a charming sight, cupids, hearts and such timely things artistically placed. Some forty girls were guests. A supper was served of the kind which has made Camillus Hotel famous.

A variety shower was given by Miss Mary O’Hara. Her decorations were delicately done in pale pink and flesh color and delicious refreshments served. “Variety” indicated the gifts.

The bride was honored with a miscellaneous shower at the home of Mrs. Frank Kappe, sisters of the groom acting with her. Hallowe’en spirit prevailed here, the house decorated with yellows, blacks, witches and the like. A happy evening, a feature of which was the serving of chicken salad, ice cream, cake, coffee.


Syracuse Journal, 1920
Miss Margaret M. O’Hara, 24, of Camillus, died Monday morning, following a short illness. Miss O’Hara, who was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. O’Hara of that village, was born and brought up there. She attended Camillus schools and was very popular among the younger set.

Surviving besides her parents are two sisters, Lucy A. and Loretta B., and two brothers, Charles P. and Joseph F. O’Hara. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

Marcellus Observer, March 14, 1923
Charles P. O’Hara had a narrow escape from injury when the bus he was driving Wednesday morning between Camillus and Syracuse left the road and crashed into a stone pile. The steering gear broke on the bus.


Marcellus Observer, March 28, 1923
Expression of Appreciation
After one passes from this life to the one beyond it is our custom, in reviewing the past, to dwell on the good qualities of the deceased and his accomplishments. Too often we fail to see these good points during the active life of the subject, and join the crowd of “knockers.” To most of us a word of appreciation in life is worth more than a full-page obituary.

It is with these thoughts in mind, and with a sense of real indebtedness, that the writer attempts to thank M. J. O’Hara and Sons for keeping Camillus village warm during the past winter and for keeping the roads open to Syracuse. There has not been a single home here without coal at any time, due to their strenuous work. We have marveled to see coal delivered here when other nearby villages were out. But diplomacy, gift of oratory, cold cash, or righteous indignation, “M.J.” has managed to have coal cars consigned to Camillus by the “Barons” when even Syracuse was so short that conditions were acute.

While it is true that there was an unusually large amount of wood burned here, nevertheless we are as dependent upon coal as the city. When coal cars could not be procured, O’Hara’s trucks hauled coal in all sorts of weather, over almost impassable roads, to keep our bins from getting bare; and this was all done at a financial loss.

The State Road from Camillus to Syracuse was the only road leading out of Syracuse in any direction which was passable for auto travel throughout the whole winter. Day after day, the gang from O’Hara’s garage, consisting of every able-bodied man who could handle a shovel, cleared the highway.

No sooner would a storm pass, and the roads be cleared, than another storm would follow. Against the greatest of discouragements their trucks plowed their way through and opened up traffic for the buses. Their bus schedule was followed throughout the winter as regularly as the New York Central.

We feel that Camillus is indebted to M. J. O’Hara & Sons and their whole organization for our warm homes, and thus the absence of the great amount of sickness which was prevalent in other communities. We feel that Camillus is a much more pleasant place to dwell in when we can benefit by the proximity of Syracuse. Winter is a long season when not broken up into frequent trips to Syracuse. It is becoming a necessity to leave our highways open and again we had this necessity supplied by our townsman.

In behalf of The Camillus Cutlery Co. and its employees, we take this opportunity of expressing our appreciation.

(William D. Wallace was manger of Camillus Cutlery.)

As for the following mix-up, you could blame it on Henry Ford who found it more profitable to produce cars that all looked alike

Auburn Citizen, June 21, 1923
Auto stolen by mistake
It was good news to Lewis Willis, Throop merchant Tuesday afternoon when he was tipped off by traveling salesman who visited his store with information that he might find his car in Camillus and the information proved true.

It seems that Mrs. Michael O'Hara, wife of Camillus garage proprietor, and her daughter, came to Auburn Saturday evening in their Ford coupe and parked it alongside of Ford coupe of same design as that of Mr. Willis in Genesee Street.

On returning, they got into the wrong coupe and drove home. It developed that the Willis coupe had some little peculiarities that caused the Camillus garage man to wonder what was the matter and the conversation was had in the presence of the knight of the grip who related the story to Mr. Willis when he heard that he had lost his machine.

Willis went to Camillus and obtained his machine last night while O'Hara came to Auburn and found his coupe parked in Genesee Street where it had reposed since Saturday night in the one spot. Sheriff Frank Hendrick assisted materially in the general adjustment.

Watertown Daily Times, August 12, 1924
Gas at Camillus Drops to 14 Cents
Syracuse, Aug. 13 – Following consistently his policy of underselling the lowest of Syracuse retailers, M. J. O’Hara, independent dealer of Camillus, Tuesday renewed the downward trend of his gas price and quoted a new rock-bottom figure of 14 cents.

The lowest price in Syracuse Tuesday was 15 cents, with the city-wide general quotations at 16 cents.

While Syracuse basks in the warmth of cheap motor fuel, Utica residents still pay the 19 and 20 cent prices asked by dealers in that city. There is slight possibility of a drop in that city, directors of the Utica and Central New York Automobile club were informed at their meeting Tuesday night.

Leo O. Coupe, chairman of the committee investigating gas prices in Utica, reported a drop of one cent in price since the committee began its work several weeks ago.

The committee learned, he said that the gas price of Utica is controlled by the Standard Oil Company. The present peek prices are the result of the lack of competition.

Syracuse low prices are due to an active price-slashing war conducted by several independent dealers.

Marcellus Observer, July 31, 1929
O’Hara Garage Damaged By Flames
in Serious Fire; Cause Unknown.

Fire seriously damaged the garage of M. J. O’Hara & Sons at Camillus Thursday afternoon, causing a loss of several thousand dollars before it was finally extinguished.

About 3 o’clock Thursday an explosion occurred in the vicinity of the gas pump, located in the interior of the building at the new ladies’ rest room. Immediately, the front of the garage was filled with flames from burning gasoline, and the elevator shaft leading to the floor above became a roaring inferno. Fortunately no one was near the pump at the moment of the explosion.

James Haney, who was nearby, ran to turn in the fire alarm and the department responded in a few minutes. Several streams were put onto the blaze, but it soon became apparent that the local firemen could not cope with the spreading flames. A call was sent to Marcellus for aid, and that department made the 6-mile run in record time, but upon arriving, they found that the Camillus men had the situation in hand, and were excused.

The most damage was done to the front interior on both floors. A tire storage in the front room upstairs was badly damaged by heat and water. A used car and a body stored on the upper floor were badly scorched. The damage would have been confined to the lower floor except for the fact that the elevator shaft formed a flue, pulling the flames to the upper story. It was only after intensive fighting that the flames were quelled at this point.

The rear of the garage and the boiler room are practically undamaged, except by water. Work of restoration is already underway and business will be resumed in a few days. Mr. O’Hara stated to the writer that in his 47 years of business, this is the first time he will be obliged to call upon an insurance company for an adjustment.

Way Out West with the O'Haras
The following is an editorial written in 1929 by Thomas E. Mowry, editor and publisher of five weekly newspapers in Central New York – the Marcellus Observer, Elbridge Citizen, The Jordan Homepaper, Camillus Enterprise and Otisco Lake News. It sheds even more light on the remarkable Michael J. ("M.J.") O'Hara of Camillus, New York, husband of Anne Jane Major.

Marcellus Observer, August 14, 1929
Tuesday, in Camillus Bank, I met M. J. O’Hara; he stood at the wicker window talking with President Maxwell. I asked the President if Mr. O’Hara wanted to borrow money; if so, to speak to me about it. His reply was that Mr. O’Hara just had a fire, the insurance was paid, and he had plenty of money.

Well, we talked along. I told Mr. Maxwell he was looking better than he had for some years past, since he joined the lightweight class along with the editor. For the banker used to be what the coat and suit dealers called a “medium stout.” He looks good – and he hasn’t resorted to golf yet, either. Rides in the Cadillac for air, and keeping the beautiful home surroundings in apple-pie order makes him fit. While the constantly growing bank fund keeps him cheerful.

To Mr. O’Hara, I remarked that he would do some more building now, following the fire. I said he had been building something ever since I had known him for twenty years. His comment was to the effect that when he was building, he was helping the other fellow, the workman, the supply source, his town, as much as he might help himself. His reward has been in constantly growing business, in public service, and, most of all, gratifying appreciation of the public, of his friends. What has been done, we all believe, was with the idea of finally placing the daughters and the sons, each and all of whom have been willing workers, doing their part, as Dad led the way. A good Dad.

He has lately made a tour to include a visit to the site of the factory in Canada, or plant and acreage, where for many years he conducted the manufacture on a big scale of barrels, or the parts for their making. The ruins stand there, but the industry died with the war; there has since been no demand. He was wise in getting out of the business, after years of hard work, and long journeys back and forth to attend to a business at both ends. M. J. has done his share of hard work in his day. And he is always working in his head.

Incidentally, he says that 17-cent gas will give you just as much power and take you as many miles, as any that was ever made. This “Special” and “Ethyl” may make a little less noise, but the difference in what you save makes quite a nice “noise” when you are spending it for something else you enjoy. Wasn’t it Ford advertising that said something like “Save on the cost and spend the difference.” M. J. is still the Gas King from coast to coast. Camillus remains “Gas Town.”

But here I am again, wandering. My original intention in writing this was to give some account of what Mr. O’Hara told me, an incident on a motor tour which he took with his wife and the two daughters through the far west. The relation of this is so timely. It came about in our conversation Tuesday. The experience is indeed most appealing.

The date of August 15 is one of the most sacred holy days of the Catholic Church. Mr. O’Hara and his family were touring in the great far-western country and wished to observe this day’s devotion. They made inquiry in a small town, of a man named Sheridan, who proved to be owner of vast ranches with 25,000 sheep, whose herding was performed by a community of families living off on the great expanse of mountain sides. They are “Basques,” from Biscay, bordering France, and come here to follow their lifetime work as herdsmen.

The priest of the village church had for many years been excused from the office on that holy day, the villagers making this sacrifice in order that the priest might visit these people on that annual day, August 15, to perform the sacred mass for them. They had built beside the wooded opening a structure of native saplings in rough form, dedicated to this holy purpose of worship after the custom of their homeland. Mr. Sheridan presented the O’Hara family to the local priest.

So the morning of the 15th they followed the priest on his holy mission, 30 miles, they were told along the way of their journey, then 5 miles of mountain road out of their way, to observe the mass. Some 500 assembled by ten o’clock, out there under the skies of God, to worship.

They were recognized, and treated, as visitors, and at the close of the service they were invited, urged upon, to remain for the dinner, the feast. The holy day is The Feast of the Blessed Virgin.

No bidding to a feast was ever more sincere than this, and the manifest joy expressed by the people, many of whom could speak English. The family greatly desired to remain, until 12:30. But the drive to the next possible stopping place must be measured before nightfall, and the O’Hara’s literally “tore themselves away.” The memory of so sacred an assemblage is vivid.

We had stood in the banking foyer and the young clerk came out to announce that the bank was closing, we would please step out. I said to Mr. O’Hara, “Who owns this building anyway?”

He said, “Never mind, come on over in my part here.”

It was then that he related this to me. I had before remarked that I didn’t like to meet him off-hand in this way. I would like to sit down and visit with him, over in the fine home or on the bench in front of the old garage, where we have had many a good visit in the long ago. I told him I’d like to talk of Safford, Forward, Dr. Slocum, Cook; so many who are now gone.

To these he added Earl Ellis, Gorham, Mayer and others.

Well, whatever may be said, our good citizen, M. J. O’Hara is still “carrying on,” doing big things, for Camillus, for Syracuse, for everybody.