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Mathias Breen

Mathias Breen was born in Lackyle, County Clare in 1833.

He was the son of Thomas Breen and Mary Maroney.  He worked on his father's farm and left for America with his sister when he was 18.

He worked first in the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Cumberland.  He then went to Washington city and Richmond Virginia where he learned the trade of stonecutter and mason.

Further information on his early life is available in the History of St. Paul.

He married in 1858 to Miss Eliza Howard.  They had five children.

Thomas M. Breen

Mary L. Quinlan

Annie Breen


By 1868, he had settled in St. Paul and was a partner in the contract for cutting granite used in the erection of the United States Custom House and Post Office building.

His company built the St. Paul city and county court house which is a monument to Mathias Breen's skill and intelligence - a building that will stand for centuries - a credit to the city and the county.

His company employed about 100 men and owned two stone quarries, did all the stone work on New York Life Insurance Company in St. Paul.


Here is a quotation from his descendant William Prendergast.

"Interestingly, you will notice that he is not credited with a stone railroad bridge over the Mississippi.  But St. Paul, or rather its twin city, Minneapolis, just up the river has such a bridge still, the "Stone Arch Bridge," built in the early 1880s—a long, beautiful series of Roman arches carrying the roadbed across the river!   That is a whole separate story, and in dispute in that I have one theory and the conventional historians have another.  But suffice it to say that Matt Breen just MIGHT have been involved in that bridge and had his credit erased because of a dispute with the famous railroad tycoon, James J. Hill ("The Empire Builder"), who owned the railroad and paid for the bridge.  Hill was a hard character and a notorious sharp businessman (also, from Belfast!).  None of the Hill historians I have spoken with has doubted that Hill could be vindictive and harsh if someone wasn't compliant in a business deal.  But no one knows any history about Breen and Hill.  I, however, have found one letter in the Historical Society collection of Hill papers that MAY be an attempt to smear the reputation of Matt Breen (the person in the letter to the Governor of Minnesota says only "Breen" and implies the Governor knows who is being spoken of.)  Maybe, maybe not, but I have this one small clues that it might be true.  If Matt Breen was not connected to this bridge, I don't know how the family story got started!?


In any case, though Matt Breen was hardly a "Civil Engineer," he was an accomplished "engineer" of many civil structures, and I've often wondered if he just got there simply by a few years as an apprentice stone cutter, or if there was SOME background in Ireland that might have, at least, pointed him in that direction."






Location in USA: 
St. Paul