214 – A New Century

January 1, 1900, rang in a new year and a new century.

Josie and Will Riley were in their forties. They had a lovely home and three children. They had a telephone, and perhaps electric lights.

William Riley celebrated his 18th year working for E.G. Cassidy.

It seemed like a long time ago and a world away when Josie Pensa arrived from Italy with her family forty-one years ago. And Will had been born on his family’s Missouri farm during the Civil War.

Sedalia was a modern city. In 1900 the population was over 15,000.

Sedalia – Ohio Street looking south – c 1900

The 1900 census has lots of information about the Rileys.

William and Josephine Riley family – US Census – 1900

The Rileys lived at 615 West Fifth St. in a house they owned with a mortgage. William was a liquor salesman. Children at home were Irene, 7, Joseph, 5, and William E, 1.

When enumerated on June 14, the census taker didn’t have a place to note that Josephine was six months pregnant.

Catherine Rose Riley

The new century brought another gift. Catherine Rose Riley, our great-grandmother, was born Thursday, August 16, 1900. She was the Riley’s fourth child.

There were a lot of ancestors named Catherine (Caterina, Kate, Katherine), including Josie’s two grandmothers (Caterina Pensa and Caterina Gardella). Also, both Will and Josie had siblings named Catherine (Catherine Riley Cassidy and Catherine Pensa Gardella).

The middle name Rose was taken after Josie’s mother Rosa Gardella Pensa and Josie’s sister Rose.

The Sedalia Democrat – August 16, 1900

Catherine Rose’s baptism

The Sedalia Democrat – August 27, 1900

Josie’s niece Kate Cassidy and some friends made a baptismal gown and presented it to her. Catherine Rose was baptized in that gown on August 26.

It became a tradition to use the baptismal gown for baptisms. Two more Riley children were baptized in the gown.

Cathy Teply baptism – 1953

Dozens of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have been baptized in the gown.

Here’s Cathy Teply (Jarvis) baptized in the same gown fifty-three years later in 1953.

Here’s the history of the baptismal gown, written by Mary Agnes “Aggie” Riley Gallagher, who was also baptized in the gown in 1904.

Baptism gown history – Mary Agnes Gallagher – 1982

Fell into a well

The Sedalia Democrat – June 4, 1900

1900 was the year of a well-known family story. Irene Riley fell into a well.

But the year 1900 held lots of other not-so-famous stories too.

W.J. Riley & Company Bar

Will was still traveling regularly to the surrounding towns as the sales rep for Cassidy and Lemp Beer. He had sold his share in the Pehl & Riley Bar but had bought it again in 1900 without a partner. It operated as W.J. Riley & Company.

John Pensa Riley

John Pensa Riley was born Sunday, December 22, 1901, the fifth child of Will and Josie Riley.

He’s obviously the namesake of Josie’s older brother John Pensa. The forename John also honors Will’s dad John Riley. And Josie’s grandfather was Giovanni (John) Pensa.

The Sedalia Democrat – December 24, 1901

Lost and found

Josie lost her wedding ring nine years ago. It was found.

Will got pickpocketed. His money wasn’t found.

The saloon business

William J. Riley & Company saloon sponsored occasional promotions, like a raffle for a silver set.

The Sedalia Democrat – March 16, 1902

In 1903, Will and Josie sold the saloon to G.N. Boutell and Graham, who continued to operate for many years. Will Riley would open several more saloons in the coming years.

The Sedalia Democrat – January 7, 1903

There are lots of stories. We’ve reported just a few of them here. The first few years of the new century were good to the family.

Will continued to entertain and act in community and church theater productions. The family continued to have bouts of illness. Will Jr. got pneumonia. Will Sr. had cholera morbus. Family visits continued.

The Sedalia Democrat – various dates 1902 and 1903

1904 brought a notable death and a birth…

Antonio Pensa died

Antonio Pensa died July 16, 1904. What a long life and legacy he left. He was honored by friends and family.

Josie’s mother Rosa had died in 1873 in her late 30s. Will’s parents died in the 1880s, ages 57 and 60. Antonio was the last of their parents to go. He lived to age of 79.

St. Louis Republic – July 18, 1904

Antonio Pensa was buried July 18 in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Section 18, Lot 232, Grave 1. Sons John and Stephen and Andrew purchased the lot, and they were buried here in later years. Antonio’s wife Rosa Gardella was honored with her name on the headstone, but she wasn’t moved here from her 1873 grave in Lot X.

The Gardella family plot isn’t far from the Pensas. It’s in Section 17, Lot 156. Kate Pensa Gardella and some of her children are buried here, but not Kate’s husband Andy Gardella.

Mary Agnes Riley

The Riley’s sixth and final child, Mary Agnes Riley, was born Thursday, November 10, 1904. She became known as “Aggie,” our step-great-grandmother. She was a character.

The name Mary could have been for Will Riley’s grandmother, or from Will Riley’s sister Mary Ann. Agnes honors Will Riley’s sister Agnes.


By 1905, Will and Josie Riley had six kids, ages 13 to newborn. They’ve had a few ups and downs, but a good life.

Will was a junior partner in E.G. Cassidy Mercantile. In 1905, The Sedalia Democrat did a story about Cassidy and Riley and the company. It’s amazing what they had been able to achieve selling beer, liquor, and ice.

The Sedalia Democrat – December 17, 1905

Ed Cassidy was 10 years Will’s senior. He had mentored him, and Will had performed. And remember that Will Riley’s sister Kate was Cassidy’s wife.

To be continued…

We’ll continue the Pensa and Riley stories in the first decade of the 1900s.



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