Tom Kelly’s Bottle House
Tom Kelly’s Bottle House Overview
While structures found in the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada are crumbling over the years, the bottle house Tom Kelly built, is still standing (with a few renovations).
Rhyolite was not short on saloons in the early 1800s but was short on building materials so the nearly 80-year-old Australian native Tom Kelly used over 50,000 glass bottles (consisting mostly of Adolphus Busch beer bottles [marked with AB] with a few mineral water bottles and medicine bottles sprinkled into the walls) and adobe to build the three-room home that he collected from the saloons over a period of six months. The cost to build the home was about $2,500 which was mostly used for wood and fixtures.
Bottle homes were popular during that time in mining towns because there were always a lot of saloons to provide a lot of drinking, which provided bottles. Supposedly, there were two other bottle homes in Rhyolite, Nevada but there is no evidence of them today.
Construction was completed in February 1906 and instead of living in the home himself, he raffled the new home at $5 a pop with the Bennet family being the lucky winners who lived there until 1914.
Bureau of Land Management.
- September 1905 – Construction begins
- February 1906 – Construction completed and new homeowners, the Bennet family, live in the home
- 1914 – The Bennet family leaves the home
- 1914 – 1925 – The bottle home is empty
- 1920 – Rhyolite has a population of about 20 residents
- 1925 – The bottle home receives a new roof and restoration from Paramount Pictures when it was used as a movie set for a few movies (The bottle house was featured in the movies The Airmail and Wanderers of the Wasteland and once completed, was turned over to the Beatty Improvement Association for maintenance as a historical site
- 1936 – 1954 – Louis J. Murphy and Bessie Stratton Moffat, caretakers of the bottle home, maintained it as a museum with a “gift shop” and provided tours until the Thompson family calls it home
- 1954 – 1969 – Tommy Thompson and his family live in the home and built miniature buildings around it. He also tried to repair the home but because he used concrete, the desert head caused many of the bottles to crack.
- 2005 – The home was repaired and a new roof installed
A Look at Thomas T. Kelly
Being a family history fanatic, I went to Ancestry.com to see what I could find on Tom Kelly, and below is a timeline of who I THINK is “our” Thomas “Tom” Kelly.
I tried to find the immigration record, military records, and who he married but there are too many Thomas Kellys from this time period to accurately identify this information. I found references that he lived in Oregon before coming to Nevada so I looked there too. Below is a work in progress as I really feel the Oregon reference could be wrong.
- May 22, 1833 – Thomas T. Kelly was born in Melbourne, Australia to Irish parents (Obituary lists 1832 as the birth year)
- 1849 – Immigrated to the United States through San Francisco
- 1858 – Moved to work in the Comstock mines
- 1864 – Naturalized citizen
- 1869 – Moved to Eureka, Nevada and “lived there for a number of years”
- 1880 – Census for El Dorado, Baker County, Oregon shows a Thomas Kelly, aged 46. Key points from the census are that he was born about 1834 in Ireland and that he is a gold miner. It shows both of his parents were born in Ireland and that he is single.
- 1890 – The census for this year burned so no information is available
- 1900 – Census for North Sumpter, Baker County, Oregon shows Thomas T. Kelly, aged 67. Key points from the census are that he was born in May 1833 in Austria, lived on Granite Street in a boarding home, that is widowed, and employment is listed as a bricklayer. It also says he immigrated to the United States in 1870, which is after other dates for immigration and naturalization.
- 1910 – Census for Rhyolite, Nye County, Nevada shows Thomas Kelly, aged 76. Key points from the census are that he was born in 1834 in Australia, lived on Golden Street, was listed as a stone mason, naturalized citizen, was widowed, and both his parents were born in Ireland. There is a notation by Australia and Ireland for the birthplaces that is “Eng.”
- 1920 – Census for Spragg, Lyon County, Nevada shows Thomas Kelly, aged 88. Key points from the census are that he was born in 1832 in Australia, immigrated to the United States in 1849, was widowed, his parents were born in Ireland, and he was renting his home.
- 1924 – 1928: “Confined” to a Yerington, Lyon County, Nevada hospital.
- November 25, 1928 – The death certificate (issued for Yerington, Lyon County, Nevada death) for Thomas T. Kelly shows that he was born May 22, 1833, in Australia with the information about his parents blank. The death certificate states that he was buried in the Yerington Memorial (but I do not find him registered in a cemetery anywhere in the United States).
The last four years of his life were spent in a Yerington hospital or medical facility according to his obit.
Unfortunately, searching for records for an ole Irish Tom is like looking for a John Smith in the United States. (But I will keep searching!)