208 – William J Riley

The Sedalia Democrat – July 11, 1875

After Antonio Pensa left for Italy in 1888, Josie spent a lot of time at her sister Kate Gardella’s in Sedalia. It’s there that she met Will Riley.

The Gardellas were well known in Sedalia. Andy Gardella had opened a small fruit and produce stand there in 1875.

The fruit stand had developed into a popular restaurant, oyster bar, and ice cream shop. It was a gathering spot for Sedalians.

The Sedalia Democrat – December 2, 1879

Why Sedalia?

Sedalia was founded in 1860. The railroad reached Sedalia in 1861.

Sedalia, Missouri – 1861

Sedalia’s early prosperity was directly related to the railroad industry. Many jobs were associated with men maintaining tracks and operating large and varied machine shops…

For nearly a century, Sedalia’s economy was tied to the railroads. By the end of the 19th century, the MK&T had numerous buildings and a wide variety of workers in the city… 

In the late 19th century, Sedalia was well known as a center of vice, especially prostitution, which accompanied its large floating class of railroad workers and commercial travelers. In 1877 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called Sedalia the “Sodom and Gomorrah of the nineteenth century.”

By 1900 its population of more than 15,000 made it the sixth-largest city in the state. 

As more families settled in the area, they made the culture more stable, creating institutions such as schools and churches.

Wikipedia – Sedalia, Missouri
Missouri Railway Map – 1888

Will Riley

William Joseph Riley was born on a farm three miles north of Sedalia in 1863. Growing up, Will worked on his family’s farm. But he moved to Sedalia for work in 1881 at age 18.

By 1888, Will had become a successful salesman working for his brother-in-law E.G. Cassidy. Cassidy ran a wholesale beer and liquor distributorship, selling to retail stores and bars and restaurants in Sedalia and the surrounding towns.

Will was ambitious, and he was social. He dressed well. He was popular around town. He enjoyed acting in local theater productions and writing poetry.

Will and Josie met

It may not have been predestined, but there’s no way that Will Riley would not have met Josie Pensa.

  • Josie was spending a lot of time at her sister Kate Gardella’s house. Kate’s husband Andy operated Gardella and Airola Restaurant. Will Riley probably called on Andy to sell liquor.
  • Andy Gardella had business dealings with Peter Pehl, a prominent businessman and saloon owner. In fact, Andy Gardella would buy Pehl’s Fulton Market restaurant.
  • Will Riley had business dealings with Peter Pehl. In fact, Will would go into partnership as Pehl and Riley saloon.
  • Josie’s brother John Pensa was becoming prominent in the Missouri Retail Liquor Association. In fact, he would become the association’s president and hold the position almost twenty years. John Pensa would certainly know Will Riley and his mentor Ed Cassidy.
  • Josie’s brothers were in the saloon business in St. Louis. Ed Cassidy and Will Riley were in the saloon business in Sedalia.

Or, maybe Will met Josie quite by accident at the park or ice cream shop. However they met, Will and Josie began a relationship.

Will and Josie to marry

In 1891, Will and Josie decided to get married.

Let’s first take a look at Will Riley’s family history, and then we’ll meet back here for the wedding.

Marriage Licenses – Will Riley and Josie Pensa – St. Louis Post-Dispatch – October 15, 1891


2 thoughts on “208 – William J Riley

  1. Catherine Paul March 26, 2022 / 9:48 am

    Love all this info! Always get excited when I see a new posting. Thank you!


    • Mark Jarvis March 26, 2022 / 11:20 am

      Thanks Catherine. If you enjoying reading the stories that makes it all worthwhile.


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