Legacy of Princeton pioneer T.H. Caley draws group tour

The old Caley House was located at the intersection of First Street and Seventh Avenue.

A group of about 30 persons arrived in Princeton on a coach bus the afternoon of April 29 to stop at sites related to the late Princeton pioneer Thomas H. Caley and reminisce about his legacy.

Some in the group were descendants of this man known for his enterprise, and being civic minded.

T.H. Caley, is the way his name is often listed in print, the common way that men’s names in Caley’s era were listed.

Caley was born in 1848 and died in 1921. Among Caley’s distinctions is having served in the American Civil War a century and a half ago. The Canadian-born Caley enlisted in the Thirty-Seventh Infantry when he was 16, which would have been 1864, and he stayed with the unit until the war’s end about a year later.

Caley’s obituary lists nearly 10 Civil War engagements that Caley was part of in the Union Army.

Caley arrived in Princeton in 1869 and had a tin shop business with his brother Daniel, under the firm name, Caley Brothers.

Robert G. Dunn, whose first wife (deceased) was a Caley, told the Union-Eagle this week that the first business T.H. Caley was involved in at Princeton was likely tin smithing. That is the making of tin plates, cups and pitchers, Dunn explained.

Caley was in business with brother Daniel for a short time when they dissolved the partnership and Tom Caley started Caley Hardware. The business continued under that name for 52 years and is listed in Princeton history as “one of the most substantial and reliable firms in the village.”

A main part of the Caley Hardware building remains today, with its old yellow brick walls about a half block west of the library and directly behind Princeton Insurance. Princeton Book and Bible is in there and Princeton Insurance is in the part that is a makeover of what was the front of the hardware that faced Rum River Drive. For many years the original Caley Hardware building was the home of Our Own Hardware.

Caley was vice president of the Rudd Lumber Co., a board director with the First National Bank of Princeton, and was “interested in several hardware stores,” his obituary states.

Caley also once owned the Princeton Starch Factory, was president of the village council for 12 years, and a council member for six.

The Princeton Union reported upon Caley’s death by stating: “Thomas H. Caley, prominent businessman, progressive American citizen and veteran of the Civil War, is no more”

It noted that he “passed away suddenly at his home on Friday, Oct. 14, 1921, at 12:30, shortly before the time for his midday meal. He was conversing with his wife and Mrs. Chas. Rines when he collapsed, his head drooped upon his breast and his life went out.”

The obituary reported that Caley “had not been in good health since falling on an icy sidewalk, the fall having incapacitated him for many months. Caley had appeared to be regaining his usual health and was in his usual place at Caley’s Hardware every day, being one of the first to reach there in the morning, He knew, however, that he suffered from an ailment of the heart and more than once expressed a desire to pass from earth in the manner in which he did.”

The news of Caley’s death, the Princeton Union reported, “cast a deep gloom over the village, for Mr. Caley was generally held in the highest esteem, which he well merited for public spirit and generosity which he displayed for 52 years residence in this village. He was at all times progressive and had the interest of the village at heart.

“He did his part, in fact a great share, toward placing Princeton in as prominent position on the map as it is today, advocating and enhancing public improvements which he considered would benefit the village and the surrounding territory.

“He was generous, contributing to the churches and charitable organizations and (was) a hundred percent American citizen. In his home life he was kind and affectionate and at all times strove to make his family happy.”

The Princeton Union concluded that Caley’s memory “will be revered.”

Caley was married twice. He wed Mary Applegate in 1874 and the couple had two children – Clair and Glen. Mary died in 1889. Caley married Mary Ward in 1891 and the couple had  Harold and Thomas.


Tour in Princeton

When the Caley tour group stood below the carport at the Caley House senior apartment building in the early afternoon of April 29, Robert Dunn and his wife Bette were invited to be in a group photo. But the couple declined, Bob Dunn stating that they were not descendants of Caley.

But Bob Dunn’s son, Bill Dunn, of Hudson, Wis., who was in the group photo, is a descendant of Caley. That is because Bob Dunn’s first wife Mary Louise was a Caley. Mary Louise died in the same year that Bette’s husband died – 1969.

The house that Thomas Caley and his family lived in at the corner of First Street and Seventh Avenue (where Elim’s admin officers are now), survived into the early 1960s before being torn down. The original Elim Home was built into the house for a time before the house demolition.

A few items from the old Caley House, such as a door and a mantle piece, are in the Caley House assisted living facility. Following a brief stop at the building’s front, the Caley tour group looked at a stained glass window bearing Thomas Caley’s name inside First Congregational Church. They next visited Caley family grave property at the city’s Oak Knoll Cemetery, before a reception at the Bob and Bette Dunn home.

Some members of the tour group had come from Washington state, California and Wisconsin besides Minnesota for the tour.

Bill Dunn was only age 9, he says, when his mother Mary Louise Caley, granddaughter of Thomas H. Caley, died.

Caley’s prominence in Princeton’s history was enough of a legacy, but another layer is his service in the Civil War, whose 150th anniversary is being observed now.

The Princeton centennial book chronicling the 100th anniversary of Princeton in 1956, includes something on Caley. It has a reference to his military service and states that he had a “strong bond of friendship with all Civil War veterans in the community.” Furthermore, it states that Caley was “always ready to befriend any Princeton boy who had served in the Armed Forces.”

It goes on to say that Caley lived to see his eldest son Claire serve as a company captain in the Spanish American War, and younger son Harold serve in the Navy in World War I.

Among the Civil War battles that Thomas Caley fought in were Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg, both in Virginia. Richmond, Va., was the Confederate capital and the Confederate supply line ran through Petersburg to get to Richmond. Union forces waged battles to break that supply line.

The Union forces under the command of Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade, lost in both the Cold Harbor and Petersburg battles. The About.com American History website lists the Cold Harbor casualties at 15,000 (of which 13,000 were Union soldiers) and the Petersburg Battle having 11,386 casualties, of which 8,150 were on the Union side.

Princeton people who are interested in history, especially the Civil War, can think of Thomas H. Caley as one of the local connections to that war that was so costly on both sides and whose outcome kept the United States intact.