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A Photo From The Old Bley Homestead

The above unmarked photograph was found among those that were taken from the old Bley farm after the death of Jim Bley’s son, John P. Bley.  It seems safe to assume that it was Jim’s and Mary Ann’s wedding picture for the following reasons: 1) The photo came from their home;  2) Although their appearance had changed from aging through the years, they do have the same general features of Jim and Mary Ann Bley (see the picture on the next page of Jim and Mary Ann in their later years for comparison);  3) The photo was taken by the A. H. Matte Studio of Appleton, Wisconsin, the closest city to their farm;  4) The time period is right as seen in their clothing and the photo mounting.  Women still wore black wedding dresses in the late 1800s.

James W. Bley Marries Mary Ann McKeever

September 9, 1889 at St. Patrick Catholic Church, Stevensville, Outagamie Co. Wisconsin.

James W. and Mary Ann (McKeever) Bley

Relaxing In Their Rockers On The Old Bley Farm

A Picture of Contentment And Peaceful Tranquillity

James W. Bley received his legacy of the Bley farmstead from his father, John Hugo Bley.  He had worked with his father, farming and digging wells, all through the years and the farm naturally went to him after his father’s death.  Jim and Mary Ann raised a large family together on this farm, seven children who lived and two who died in infancy.  The infant mortality rate was still very high in that day.  The oldest child, a girl, was one of these, born about 1890.  Mary Loretta was born 14 June, 1892; Sarah Margaret was born 25 October, 1893; Anna Elizabeth was born 2 August, 1895; John Patrick (who later inherited the old farmhouse with his half of the farm) was born 23 April, 1900; Rose Cecelia was born 19 March, 1902; and Frances Virginia was born 7 December, 1903.  The other infant child who died was probably born after the first girl or after John Patrick, judging from the way the birth years fall.  This picture of Jim and Mary Ann in their golden years portrays a moment of placid serenity on the farm, a welcome relief from the hard work that farm life usually demands.  Jim was a very jolly, fun-loving man who loved to tease and the camera catches his personality well. Mary Ann’s smile is as broad as her heart.  Jim always spoke tenderly about his Mary Ann.  What a loving, happy couple they were.

Snapshots of the James W. Bley Family

LEFT:  A 1966 Bley Reunion.  This picture was dated June, 1966.  Two of the Bley girls, Rose and Frances, were visiting at the old Bley homestead where John P. Bley and his wife, Katherine, lived.  Their parents had died long before this picture was taken.  Mary Ann (McKeever) Bley had died in 1948 and her husband, Jim, followed her in 1950.  Their oldest son, John P. Bley, inherited the half of the farm with the old Bley house, as seen in the background of this picture.  Frances (Bley) Steenhoudt had moved to California and Rose (Bley) Robertson, lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  This must have been a happy reunion for the family - an opportunity for the two sisters not only to visit with each other, but to travel back to their home together and visit their family that still lived in Outagamie County.  The old Bley home is the same home that was built by their grandfather, John Hugo Bley, in the pioneer days of the county.  Seen left to right: John P. and Katherine Bley, Rose (Bley) Robertson and Frances (Bley) Steenhoudt.

RIGHT:  John P. Bley’s Wedding.  On June 14, 1937, John P. Bley, son of James W. Bley, married Katherine O’Neil of Oconto, Wisconsin.  This snapshot includes members from both of their families, so not all the people have been identified.  Those from the Bley side include (standing): First two on the left, Mary Ann (McKeever) Bley and her daughter, Sarah (Bley) Cotter; 5th from left, Anna (Bley) McGinnis; center with the boutonniere is John P. Bley; next to him is his sister, Rose (Bley) Robertson and her brother-in-law, Michel O. Steenhoudt; James W. Bley, patriarch of the family stands at the right.  Seated, left to right: Sara’s son, Joe Cotter; Collette McIlhone, daughter of Mary (Bley) McIlhone; Dorothy Cotter; and Katherine (O’Neil) Bley, the bride; the others in the picture are not identified.

An undated snapshot.  The date of this Bley family reunion can only be guessed - probably in the mid-1940s.  Again, the picture is taken in front of the old Bley house.  The home that they were raised in was the natural gathering place for these reunions.  It says something about our desire to go back to our roots, our “home”.  Most of the other siblings lived in the area.  George lived right across the road in his new farm house, which probably had more room for everyone, but it wouldn’t have felt like “home” to the rest of the children who were raised in the old Bley farmhouse.  Mary Ann and Jim Bley, the parents of this family, continued to live with their son, John P. Bley and his wife, Katherine, until their deaths.  Mary Ann and Katherine look like the perfect homemakers in their crisp, white aprons.  (Left to right):  Frank McGuire, husband of Mary Bley, the oldest child in this family, Rose (Bley) Robertson, Mary Ann and Jim Bley, Anna (Bley) McGinnis, unidentified male, one of Anna’s daughters, John P. and Katherine Bley, George McIlhone (son of Mary Bley McIlhone McGuire), and Leon Robertson, son of Rose (Bley) Robertson, in front.

LEFT:  This snapshot was dated 1938.  Jim Bley’s daughter, Sarah Cotter Babino, was moving to California with her second husband, James Babino, and her family.  “The old violin” seen in this picture became somewhat of a legend in Sarah’s family after its disappearance many years later, reminding them of the great love that the Irish have for the “fiddle and the jig”.  That old violin probably lifted many a pioneer spirit through the various hardships they faced, as they danced their cares away after the day’s work was done.  Shown left to right: Patrick McIlhone, George McIlhone, John Bley, Mary (Bley) McIlhone McGuire, Colette (McIlhone) Oskey, George Bley, Mary Ann (McKeever) Bley, Clifford Cotter, Sarah (Bley) Cotter Babino, John Elmer Cotter, George Edward Cotter holding the violin, James Babino (behind), Mildred (or Dorothy) Cotter, Frank Oskey (Colette’s husband), Joe Cotter and James W. Bley, patriarch of the family, is on the right.  Sarah and her family remained in the Salinas, California area.

RIGHT:  A four generation snap.  This was a proud moment in the lives of the James W. Bley family.  It was taken in recognition of the birth of their first great-grandchild.  Again, they gathered on the lawn in front of the old Bley farmhouse to celebrate the event.  Jim and Mary Ann had lost their first two children as infants, and Mary (Bley) McIlhone McGuire was their oldest surviving child.  Everyone was full of smiles for the happy event.  The baby is dressed in white.  Perhaps it was the day of her christening.  Mary (Bley) McIlhone McGuire is on the left, holding her new granddaughter, Patsy Oskey.  She looks like a typical doting grandmother with her first grandchild.  Jim and Mary Ann (McKeever) Bley, the great-grandparents, appear to be equally as proud.  Mary Ann is dressed so stylishly in her black coat and hat, sitting so prim and proper on her chair.  Colette (McIlhone) Oskey, mother of the baby, stands to the right.  Colette was always a shy, tiny person, just a “slip of a girl” all her life.  She never seemed to gain weight as most of us do as we grow older.  One always worried that a strong breeze might blow her away, but she was a hard worker.  The picture was probably taken in the mid-1930s.

Cliff and Margaret’s Wedding.  Sarah (Bley) Cotter Babino and her family remained in California.  This picture was taken on the day of her son Cliff’s wedding.  They took advantage of the moment to gather on the side lawn of her home and have a family picture taken in about 1946.  Sarah is standing next to the bride and groom, wearing a white apron.  White aprons seemed to be a trade mark of the women in the Bley family.  They spent many long hours in the kitchen cooking for all their kin.  Much credit is due to James Babino, Sarah’s second husband after she was widowed from John Cotter in 1928.  Sarah’s last child, Joe, was born in 1928, so James took on the responsibility of providing for and helping her to raise her six young children.  In this picture, left to right, are: James Babino next to four members of the bride’s family, then James Clifford and Margaret Olivia Cotter (the happy bride and groom), Joe Cotter, Sarah, holding granddaughter, Mary Hambey, Betty ?, Frances (Bley) Steenhoudt (Sarah’s sister who also lived in California), Johnny and Peggy ? (probably friends or relatives of the bride), Mildred (Cotter) and her husband, Lawson (Bud) Hambey.  On the ground in front of the others are: Michel Steenhoudt, husband of Frances (Bley) Steenhoudt, Jimmy Cotter, Bill Hambey, and “Sonny” Hambey.  Sarah’s first husband was John Edward Cotter.