Nannie Kelly Wright

Nannie Scott Honshell Kelly Wright
1856-1946

 

Nannie Scott Honshell Kelly Wright was born on September 8, 1856, in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, and moved to Ironton, Ohio, in 1879, following her marriage to Lindsey Kelly, who managed the family-owned Centre Furnace at Superior in Lawrence County. During the economic depression that followed the Panic of 1873, the iron industry suffered, and by 1891, when the Kelly patriarch died, Centre Furnace and other Kelly holdings in real estate and finance were in distress and eventually went into receivership. In 1896 and 1898, Wright resourcefully gathered her own finances and purchased at auction both the furnace and ten thousand acres of land. She learned the iron business, opened the mines, renovated the furnace and the company houses provided for the employees, and began hiring workers when many in the nation were out of work. In addition, she brought in community resources, such as a physician for the families, churches, schools, and a post office. The community of Superior thrived, with Wright working alongside her employees in the factory whenever it was necessary. Wright’s Centre Furnace prospered, becoming, for example, one of the first companies to produce and ship iron by rail during the Spanish American War. In the rebuilding of the business, Wright demonstrated that she was a clever businesswoman, and she also gained the reputation of being one of the wealthiest women in Ohio.

With the deaths of her husband in 1903, and her son in 1904, Wright began to travel frequently and left the business in other hands for a while. In 1908, she married D. Gregory Wright, whom she divorced in 1919. During these years, Wright kept her stocks in Centre Furnace and other family holdings, but in 1923 she decided to sell many of them. She invested the profits but lost her home and most of her wealth in the stock market crash of 1929. Despite such great losses, Wright was still able to lead a comfortable lifestyle. She moved into the Marting Hotel in Ironton and by selling off personal assets (for example, her jewelry and her art) managed to support herself until her death on September 12, 1946.

Royster, J. J. (2003). Profiles of Ohio women, 1803-2003. Athens: Ohio University Press. Page 20.

Nannie Kelley at far left with husband Lindsey and son Lindsey, Jr., at WD Kelley’s 50th Wedding Anniversary party
Nannie Kelley at the Marting Hotel in Ironton
Centre Furnace, located at Superior, Elizabeth Township
Famous story re-published in the 1949 Centennial Edition of the Ironton Tribune
Marting Hotel in Ironton where Nannie lived until her death
Nannie’s summer home (still standing) at Bartles Station (SR 93 and SR 373) in Elizabeth Township. Later the home of Clarence and Minnie Dalton.
Another view of Nannie’s summer home at Bartles Station
Nannie, Lindsey Sr. and Lindsey Kelly Jr.
Photo taken in 2012 of the Kelley mausoleum at Woodland Cemetery

 

NANNIE KELLY WRIGHT
ONLY WOMAN IRONMASTER OF OLD FURNACE DAYS DIES 

(December 12, 1946)
Mrs. Wright, who was 90 years old last Sept. 08, died quietly in her room at the Hotel Marting at 8:30 a.m. following a critical illness of several days. With her passing Ironton lost one of its most colorful figures-a woman who was at home in the drawing room with governors and presidents. In furnace offices and furnace casting rooms. With her died a living memory of the old political, torchlight parades of other years of the business opportunities available even in those years when it was generally considered that a woman’s place was in the home…..

With her death today Ironton’s lost a resident who was a link with the “aristocratic” days of other years, a woman whose life was always one of bold adventure. She was the last immediate member of her family but some cousins, including the Davidson family of South Point, survive.”

NANNIE KELLY WRIGHT 
By Sharon M. Kouns

b. 08 Sept 1856 Catlettsburg, KY
d. 12 Dec 1946 Ironton, Ohio
Nannie was the daughter of Washington and Catherine L. “Kate” Kouns Crawford Honshell. She married Lindsey Kelly on 08 Oct 1879, Nannie and Lindsey had one son, Lindsey Kelly, Jr. who d. 1902, Lindsey Sr. was b. 16 May 1841 Lawrence Co. OH d. 1902 and was the son of William D. & Sarah Austin Kelly. (same year as his father)

( I.R. 21 June 1900 – Lindsay Kelly, Jr. arrived from Heights Town, New Jersey where he has been attending military school.)

After Lindsey’s death she married on 2 Oct 1906/8 Gregory Wright.

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Obituary in Ironton newspaper December 12, 1946 reads:
ONLY WOMAN IRONMASTER OF OLD FURNACE DAYS, DIES

Mrs. Nannie Kelly Wright, one of the district’s most colorful personage – a woman whose life’s story is a saga of American opportunity, romance and adventure-this morning entered upon life’s greatest adventure-death.

Mrs. Wright, who was 90 years old last Sept. 08, died quietly in her room at the Hotel Marting at 8:30 a.m. following a critical illness of several days. With her passing Ironton lost one of its most colorful figures-a woman who was at home in the drawing room with governors and presidents. In furnace offices and furnace casting rooms. With her died a living memory of the old political, torchlight parades of other years of the business opportunities available even in those years when it was generally considered that a woman’s place was in the home.

Only Ironmaster
Mrs. Wright was probably the only woman ironmaster in America’s history. From 1894 to 1897 the iron industry in this country practically at a standstill and stocks were worth about 15 to 20 cents on the dollar. Buyers at that price were scarce. Mrs. Wright, a close observer of political and financial affairs, reasoned an upward trend was due and invested in old Centre Furnace, near Superior. She paid the taxes, received an initial education in furnace operation and in 1899 she bid in the furnace, at auction, for $19,950. This included 12,000 acres. She managed the furnace, conducted regular inspections of property and in additions, made regular weekly trips to Cincinnati. She continued as owner and operator until 1906 when she sold to the Superior Cement Co.

Mrs. Wright was born Nannie Honshell, in Catlettsburg, Ky., September 8, 1856, daughter of Capt. and Mrs. Washington Honshell. Her father was a river man who helped form the WHITE COLLAR line. There were three other children in the family, one brother and two sisters, now dead. At the age of six she started travels that were to take her around the world three times. At six she joined her parents in a tour of New York and the St. Lawrence river. Thereafter she made many trips to Cincinnati and Richmond with her father. On October 8, 1879 she was united to Lindsey Kelly of Ironton in a gala church ceremony at Catlettsburg – most elaborate the Kentucky village had witnessed up until that time.

Barge of Flowers
The Kelly’s insisted on sending flowers for decoration and the day before the ceremony a steamboat and barge tied up at Catlettsburg landing. On the barge the Kelly’s had placed some 300 tube roses, each potted. At this time, Mr. Kelly was serving one of two terms as Ohio representative. The newlywed’s went to housekeeping in the old Henry S. Neal home that formerly stood on the southeast corner of fourth and Park. Later they moved to Superior to care for Centre Furnace and it was there that a son Lindsey, Jr. was born. Son and father both died in 1902 but Mrs. Wright continued as an ironmaster until her sale of the properties in 1906.

In October of the same year she married D. Gregory Wright of Philadelphia. He also preceded her in death.

During her residence in Ironton, at Fifth and Adams and on Sixth and Chestnut, Mrs. Wright entertained profusely and her parties were always elaborate affairs. Her home held priceless antiques and decorations, acquired during world travels, and her every move was marked by glamour. Her first world tour was made in 1898, another was taken in 1906 and a third in 1913. In all she crossed the Atlantic 14 times in years when it was the unusual rather than the ordinary. In London she was presented to the Court of St. James during the reign of Edward VII. On her latest travels in America she enjoyed a clipper trip to the Catalina Island: “I was not afraid.” She said upon conclusion of the journey. Those words aptly serve as a description of Mrs. Wright’s life.

Many Interests
Mrs. Wright’s business interests centered in Centre Furnace and the Kelly Nail and IronCo. of Ironton. She served as director of the latter institution for years and was also financially interested in the Belfont Iron Works, Ironton Engine Co., and Ironton, Huntington, Cincinnati and Catlettsburg banks.

During recent years, Mrs. Wright had resided in Ironton and Huntington hotels. She maintained unusual physical and mental alertness throughout her 90 years. With her death today Ironton’s lost a resident who was a link with the “aristocratic” days of other years, a woman whose life was always one of bold adventure. She was the last immediate member of her family but some cousins, including the Davidson family of South Point, survive.

The body of Mrs. Wright is at the O’Keefe Funeral home. Services will probably be conducted Monday, with burial in the Wright private mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery.

Mrs. Wright was reputed to have been at one time, one of the richest women, in their own right in America. She is reputed to have made, and lost, more money through business enterprise than any woman in this entire area.

Lawrence county Ohio genealogy and historical website