Frank C Hollearn Uses an 1890-Style Hustle to Find a Path to Success

Frank Hollearn (1854-1922) had hustle and ambition; he wanted more from life. In many respects, he was the most successful child of Irish immigrants, John Hollearn (1829-1893) and Margaret Barry Hollearn (1833-1912). Frank was born in Cleveland, Ohio; the second oldest of eleven children.

Life Starts in Montgomery County, Kentucky

In the late 1850s, Montgomery County was becoming an economic point of interest, and this was where his parents settled. It was ideally located between Central Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains. It was a better place to raise livestock and hemp than other areas of the state.

In the mid-1800s, the Americans considered the Irish immigrant class a burden. Other immigrants came to the country with skills, but the Irish, escaping the famine, could only offer a willingness to do menial work. As a result, they took jobs that others refused, such as building railroads or digging canals.

Arrows mark key locations where Frank lived in his early life. Source: Excerpt of Mitchell’s Map of Kentucky, 1880

His parents ran a toll road on Mt. Sterling Pike. His mother collected the tolls, while his father maintained the dirt roads to keep them passable. Frank adopted the work ethic from his parents. They told him stories about Ireland, a place he would never see. Stories about relatives, people he would never meet. Yet these people shaped his life.

His Entrepreneurial Career Starts in 1870

Unlike his father, Frank learned a trade. In the 1870s, Frank completed an apprenticeship with William Adams (1817-1887). The growing Adams & Son Marble Works company was in Lexington, KY about forty miles from Montgomery County. A stagecoach ran between Lexington and Mt. Sterling on Thursdays. It costed close to $4, which made his visits home limited.

As a sixteen-year-old, Frank’s career began with a hammer and a chisel. With these instruments, he could use a tapping rhythm to carve the tombstones. This is slow work. It is dusty work. It requires precision. By carving the deceased names into a marker, each job reminded the teen of how fleeting life is. Some marble cutters found the work was satisfying because it was a service to a grieving family.

Frank returned to Mt. Sterling in the late 1870s to work with John Klass (18??-18??) in a clothing store known as “Cheap John”. In the spring of 1880, the store’s cellar caught fire. Later it was discovered that the fire was intentionally started the blaze with a hat covered in oil. The fire didn’t make it to upper stories, but did end the store.

Cheap John Proprietor Sells Out After Arson Disaster, Source: Mt. Sterling Sentinel-Democrat, 21 May 1880

This event may have pushed Frank back into stone masonry with John Kearns (1813-1893), who ran the Mt. Sterling Marble Works. When he sold the business, Frank became the owner. He combined his sales experience and stonemason skills to meet the demands of a growing local market.

Starting a Lifelong Partnership

Several partnerships blossomed from the marble business for the Hollearn family. Frank’s sister, Margaret Hollearn (1872-1965), married John J Kearns, Jr. (1856-1926). Like his father, John Kearns entered the marble business in the late 1880s.

While in Lexington, Frank had the opportunity to meet the Lightner family. They were furniture makers with a storefront near the marble company. It wasn’t uncommon for a cabinet to have a marble top or for furniture makers to build coffins.

The Lightner Family immigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania. Their father, John J Lightner (1830? -1870s?), made his way to Indiana. Eventually the family landed in central Kentucky. After the father’s death, the boys support their mother and sisters with by building furniture. Annie E. Lightner (1855-1918) was one of the sisters.

There were multiple ways the couple crossed paths: maybe a brother introduced them or perhaps they attended the same church. We do know at some point, Frank met and fell in love with Annie. Wedding bells rang in December 1882 when the couple married in Mt. Sterling at the Catholic Church.

While living in Montgomery County, Frank and Anna had three children: Leonard “Len” Hollearn (1883-1971), Loretta Hollearn (1887-1893), and Francis Joseph Hollearn (1889-1969).

Chasing Opportunities to Cincinnati

Frank may have found the marble business in Montgomery County becoming crowded. He sought a fresh line of work, which pulled him to nearby river city of Cincinnati, Ohio. In the 1890s, Walnut Hills[i] was an upcoming section north of Cincinnati. The young couple lived at 178 Chapel Street[ii]. By 1892, his younger brother, James Hollearn (1868-1905), moved in with the family.

Coming from the quiet area of Kentucky, the family must have had mixed emotions about the bustling city of Cincinnati. Since 1850, the city had grown and featured a diverse population, municipal utilities, and public transportation. As the Hollearns arrived, Cincinnati was converting to electrified cable cars.

These cars carried residents into the Walnut Hills area, where the family lived and worked. Early on, Frank had a partner, John M King (18??-18??), in a daily market near downtown. This partnership didn’t last [iii].

His wife, Annie, worked in a grocery closer to the middle of the district. His younger brother, James, was a clerk near Eden Park. In later years, James would open his own grocery with the help of his father-in-law.

The 1892 Cincinnati City Directory is overlaid on an 1895 Cincinnati map with the Hollearn Family locations noted.

Growing Their Family

Within five years, Frank and Annie added three daughters to their family: Genevieve Hollearn (1890-1961), Florence Hollearn (1892-1968) and Marie Hollearn (1893-1950). While these years brought new family members, there were also those who departed.

Frank visited his Kentucky home often. John’s father had a sudden stroke in 1893. His mother moved from the farm into the downtown area of Mt. Sterling, where she lived with his oldest brother, JohnJack” Hollearn (1853–1920) and youngest sister, Ella E Hollearn (1874-1938).

In 1896, his second-born child, Loretta, died of cerebral meningitis. Her family witnessed the bitter, prolonged death of their six-year-old girl. Doctors offered no remedy and only hoped Loretta’s small body could overcome the infection. The family buried her in Mt. Sterling, but her plot was not marked.

Life of a Traveling Salesman

By 1897, Frank returned to the marble business for a Cincinnati Marble House. This time, it was different. He was a wholesaler and the western representative for a Barre, Vermont granite company. As a commercial product, consumers loved this granite because of the beautiful shades and color designations. The stone varied from blueish gray to a minty-black, creating a stylish grave marker to commemorate a loved one. This product had a stately permanence the sandstone commonly used lacked.

Display Ad for F C Hollearn (name misspelled)

In today’s world, a sales associate has multiple methods for contacting prospective customers. In the late 1890s, the telephone service in Cincinnati was barely a common utility. A bicycle was more popular than a car. Frank’s territory is unknown.

Did the western territory mean southern Ohio and Kentucky or was it any state below Ohio? Reaching customers was not quick or easy. A horse and buggy could carry you through many remote areas. The train offered a quicker journey to larger cities. Based on where he was expected to be, he sacrificed long hours away from his family.

Moving to the Growing Second City

Success in business requires access to a growing customer base. It is easy to imagine their move to Chicago around 1903 was motivated by work. At the opening of the 1900s, Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in world history. The city had a large rail hub. The Great Lakes provided a seaport allowing freer movement of materials. Frank had more opportunities to shape his growing business.  

The marble market was competitive. In many trade magazines, Frank’s company has a display ad. In 1917, the Granite Marble & Bronze magazine features one of his fanciful designs. The following figure shows the smooth delicately carved marble bottom with a impressive black granite topper that Frank designed. On the right is the Hollearn stone from the family cemetery in Mt. Sterling, which has a similar shape. The lettering is chiseled from an oval shape and has a decorated cross to symbolize the holiness of the area. This stone is the grave markers for the Hollearn family.

Frank’s monument design in the 1917 issue of Granite, Marble, and Bronze. The one from the Hollearn Family Section in Mt. Sterling.
[Family monument photo courtesy of Susan Cross Shouse]

Frank renamed his business to FC Hollearn & Son Marble. His oldest son, Leonard, joined him as a stonecutter and he expanded roles over the years. His other son, Frank, attended Vincent’s College in Notre Dame to earn a two-year degree. 

The Hollearn Family Prospers in Chicago

In the following years, the children married and started their lives. In 1909, Leonard married Alma Beasley (1886-1971). Three years later, Genevieve married proprietor Ellsworth “Ike” Watson (1889-1942). In 1913, Florence married Robert Baldwin (1889-1953) and moved to Detroit. Marie married the older, Vaudeville actor, George Offerman (1878-1938) and joined him on the Chicago stage. By 1916, Frank Jr. married his first wife, Gracie A. Taylor (1893-19??).

Frank’s mother died in 1913, leaving a small inheritance for her children by auctioning her properties. By the fall of 1918, a heart attack claimed his sixty-one-year-old wife, Annie. They buried her in Mt. Sterling near his parents.

Frank’s Final Years

Each year, Frank visited his siblings in Kentucky. In 1921, while visiting his sister Margaret, the battle with kidney disease was taking hold. He became so ill that Margaret advised his children to come. Florence and Genevieve made the long journey.

Twenty-five years would pass before dialysis machines became available. Frank expected his death to be protracted and painful. He returned to Chicago and prepared his will that June. A year later, he succumbs to the disease in the Lakeview Hospital. The family buried him at St Thomas Cemetery in Mt. Sterling.

Frank and Annie Hollearn’s Headstone, Courtesy of Susan Cross Shouse

In this will, Frank instructs how his life insurance should be distributed. His first concern was the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Lakes, to be given $250 to say prayers for him and his wife.

Frank directs money for the Catholic Church for the “repose of my soul”

His oldest son, Leonard, was repaid for a $950 business loan. For each child, he bequeathed a prized possession except for this youngest daughter, Marie. To her son and his only grandson, George Offerman, Jr., he left a family heirloom, the wedding ring and watch belonging to a grandmother named Elgin. The money from the sale of other items was divided among his children.

As a first generation American, Frank’s life embodies what many characterize as the American dream. All it takes is some grit and willingness to apply yourself, which he did. Raised in a rural area, he took advantage of opportunities the cities offered even though it meant separating from his parents. These choices created a better way of life for his children.



[i] Learn more about Walnut Hills History, “Will Walnut Hills Rise Again” from the Cincinnati Magazine, 25OCT2016.

[ii] Sadly, the home has since been demolished and a highway runs over the street.

[iii] John King was a common name in that area. Being this was a short partnership; it remains unclear who this man was. There was a prominent John King who died around this time, so it is possible it was him and that’s why Frank’s grocery career ended.

Feature image from courtesy of Unsplash photographer Julia Kadel.

About the author

Tricia Aanderud has been researching her Kentucky family since 2008. While the genealogy is interesting, the stories are what makes their lives compelling.

Surnames include Watkins, Hudson, Mann, Payne, Abney, Hollearn, Martin, Salyer, Spencer, and Hadley.

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