Six Generations Make Potrero Hill Home

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It’s rare for a single family line to reside in the same home for more than century. It’s even more unusual for such continual occupancy to occur in the City and County of San Francisco, which was founded less than 300 years ago. Yet members of the Gallagher-McCarthy-Bray family have resided at 567-569 Mississippi Street for 110 years.

Annie Ferry Gallagher, a 26-year-old widow, emigrated from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, Ireland to the United States in 1876 with three small children. Barney, who was seven years old, was temporarily left in Pennsylvania with an uncle to attend school and work. Annie journeyed to San Francisco to setup life with Margaret, four, and William, three.  Barney soon followed.

As the 19th Century drew to a close, Annie and her now adult sons were well established South-of-Market, on 10th Street. Margaret had married and move to the Peninsula.  The family were active members of St. Joseph’s parish; the church just a block from their home.  Their neighborhood was devastated on April 18, 1906 by the Great Earthquake and Fire.  The conflagration lasted for days, destroying upwards of 80 percent of San Francisco. The Gallagher’s lost their home.

Not long after the earthquake, Barney and Annie made their way to Potrero Hill. William moved to the Sacramento area to start a family. The pair lived for a short while at 510 Missouri Street. Within the year, Barney married Grace McFadden, another Donegal immigrant who’d been living in Philadelphia. Barney’s uncle Morris, with whom he lived 30 years earlier, was married to Grace’s aunt Mary.

The newlyweds and Annie moved to 567-569 Mississippi Street, which ultimately became home to six generations of the family. The building is a duplex, but to the family it’s always been a big multi-generational home. When Barney, Grace, and Annie first moved there they lived in one unit; another family occupied the other. As the Gallagher family grew it took over both spaces.

Barney and Grace had three girls. All were born in the home, Eileen in 1908, Ann in 1910, and Grace in 1912. Barney was a hard-working man; Grace a strong mother. The girls attended St. Teresa’s school and enjoyed a good life on Mississippi Street playing with neighborhood children.  Ann, the middle sister, was my grandmother.

Soon after the devastation of the 1906 fire, the world experienced the greatest pandemic in recorded history. Grace was a nurse during the tragic “Spanish Flu” of 1918/1919. She volunteered to help as suffering gripped the City.  More than 3,000 San Franciscans died of influenza, including Grace.

Barney was left with three girls, ages eight, 10, and 12. Many suggested he put them in an orphanage, since he worked six days a week as a boilermaker, but he refused. He’d take care of them. The three girls idolized their father, later reminiscing about the fantastic job he did raising them. 

Before Barney wed he gave his paycheck to his mother, keeping a bit to bet on boxing.  When he married Grace, she got the paycheck; when Grace died, young Ann took over managing household finances, often treating her sisters and young friends to ice cream. It was a challenging situation for the three girls. After a few years at St. Teresa’s, they eventually graduated from Daniel Webster School and went on to Girls’ High School.

In 1933, Ann married Pete McCarthy II. Pete was born in San Francisco in 1908; his parents were from Cork, Ireland. The young couple settled in one half of the duplex, while Barney, Eileen and Grace lived on the other side. Pete worked for Southern Pacific Railroad, and later joined the San Francisco Police Department. Sergeant McCarthy spent many years at the now derelict Potrero Station on Third Street.

Ann and Pete had two children, Grace in 1935 and Peter III in 1937, who grew up in a household of adoring adults:  their parents, two aunts, their grandfather Barney, and Pete’s father, who moved in downstairs when his second wife passed. Grace and Peter went to St. Teresa’s school. Grace graduated from Notre Dame des Victoires, and attended Lone Mountain College, now part of the University of San Francisco. Peter went to Sacred Heart High School, and later joined the U.S. Army.

While raising two children, Ann engaged in volunteer activities, including involvement with St. Teresa’s school and church, as well as with the American Red Cross, especially during World War II. Eileen worked for many years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Future generations enjoyed adventurous company picnics with her on Angel Island before it became touristy. Grace worked at Schmidt Lithograph, on Second and Bryant streets. She’d often bring home boxes of imperfect greeting cards and labels for younger family members to use for craft projects.

While taking classes at City College of San Francisco, Grace met her future husband, Phil Bray. He grew up in Glen Park, attended St. John’s, St. Ignatius, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Grace and Phil settled in San Jose to raise their family of seven children:  Bernard, Peter, Erin, Philip, Eileen, Mary, and Florence. Almost all of them lived at Mississippi Street, while they were students, working in San Francisco, or between homes.

While Grace’s children were growing up in San Jose, the house was alive with the comings and goings of multiple generations. Eileen and Grace eventually retired. Peter III was a Potrero Hill fixture, working at such local businesses as Chip’s Liquors and Joe’s Place, now Bloom’s, on 18th Street, as well as Moscone and Civic centers.

Ann, the family matriarch, continued to volunteer, with St. Teresa’s, Martin de Porres, Hospice by the Bay, and Coming Home Hospice, as well as many other organizations. When the HIV/AIDS crisis began, San Francisco was hit hard, and Ann became a beloved volunteer at more than one hospice. She’d visit with AIDS patients and others who were in their final chapter of life, becoming a surrogate grandmother to young men who’d become disconnected from their families. In 2000, Mayor Willie Brown proclaimed August 7 “Ann McCarthy Day” for her volunteer contributions to the City. 

In the 1980s, the sixth generation of the family to live on Potrero Hill began, a group made up of Kristine, Corey, Mikaela, McCarthy, Grace, Sheena, Ethan, and Aidan. Since the turn of the century, almost all the members of this youngest generation have called Mississippi Street home for some duration. The oldest three lived there for years during their young adulthood; others stayed for summers and different periods.

More than two dozen relatives over six generations of the Gallagher-McCarthy-Bray family have called 567-569 Mississippi Street their residence over the last 110 years. Ann was the longest, at 94 years!

The story is now coming to a close.  Phil passed in 2005, Grace in 2012.  Ownership of the house transferredº to me and my two sisters, who live in Texas and Pacifica.  After waiting five years before making any decisions, it makes most sense for us to let it go. The house is now on the market, ready for another family to start their own history on the Hill.