By: Wesley J. Worthington
Rags to Riches
William Kehoe was born in Wexford, Ireland on August 21, 1842 and grew up poor and then immigrated to America with his family in 1850. They landed in Savannah, GA and in a few short years, William began working in factories and eventually wound up in an iron works factory. By the age of 36, through hard work and a nose for business, he
became foreman and friends with the owner, Thomas Mulligan. Mulligan passed away in 1878 and bequeathed part of the Phoenix Iron Works company to Kehoe. A few years later, Kehoe bought out Mulligan’s widow for $4,000 in 1880 (approximately $125,000 today) to become the sole owner of the firm. He then grew the company into a multi-million dollar a year business over the next twenty plus years. His timing of the purchase coincided with the industrial revolution and the demand for iron for various uses such as iron fencing, boilers, marine parts, sugar mills, and heavy forging.
Charitable Works in the Community
Kehoe was not only a successful businessman, but was also involved in charitable works with the Savannah Diocese and St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the Georgia Historical Society, the Hibernian Society, and the St. Mary’s Female Orphanage Benevolent Society to name a few. He was generous with his time, money, and business expertise. He was the President of the Tybee Beach Company, Hotel Tybee Company, National Bank of Savannah, Savannah Power and Electric, and one of the founders and Presidents of Chatham Savings and Loan. Far from a robber baron, he was a generous philanthropist who understood the value of hard work and giving back to the community that gave him so much.
The Kehoe House
William Kehoe purchased the lot and built the Kehoe House on Columbia Square for approximately $25,000 in 1892 (approximately $1M today) and still stands to this day. In fact, the Kehoe House is one of Savannah’s most elegant, romantic, historical bed and breakfast inns to stay for tourists and wedding parties in the entire country. The house was originally built in a Renaissance Revival style with 24 rooms and 12 fireplaces along with a grand stairway and intricate iron work throughout the property. The house currently has 13 spacious private rooms with interesting names and scenery. It truly was and is a sight to behold.
Unwavering Catholic and Family Man
Kehoe married Anne Flood at St. Patrick’s parish in 1868 and they proceeded to have ten children like a strong catholic family did in those days. He was known to call his boys “sonny” and his girls “sister” because he couldn’t always remember their names. Kehoe was a devout catholic for his entire life and was a member of St. John the Baptist parish for many years and contributed time and money to the historical site. When the cathedral was severely damaged in a fire in 1898, he led the charge to raise money to restore the Cathedral and donated his own money for a baptismal font and much of the iron works used in the restoration. Kehoe died on December 29, 1929, leaving behind a legacy of his iron works business, improvements to Tybee Island, 7 children, and 25 grandchildren. He is one of the most notable Catholics buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Savannah, GA. If you would like to learn more about the history of Savannah and why over 15 million people visit this great city each year, please email us at email@example.com. Thank you for reading and God bless!