About John Timon Reily

Who was John Timon Reily?

The John Timon Reily Historical Society, founded in 1968, is named for this venerable local historian who was known for his writings on the early days of Conewago, McSherrystown, New Oxford, Littlestown and many other nearby places. Not only did he compile enough history for more than a dozen volumes, he wrote, edited and even printed his books on his own printing press.

Excerpted from Reily’s obituary in the September 18, 1924 edition of The Gettysburg Times, here’s a bit of his life story…

“John Timon Reily was a son of the late Daniel and Lydia (Kuhn) Reily and was born and spent his boyhood days on the old Reily homestead, near Mt. Rock, Adams County. In 1871 when a boy of 14 years, he took private instruction under Rev. Fr. Denecker, a French Jesuit Priest at old Conewago Chapel. He contemplated studying for the priesthood, but on account of ill health was compelled to give up that ambition. Three years later, he entered the office of the Hanover Weekly Herald as an apprentice under the late M. O. Smith, editor and publisher. He completed his trade and remained in the employ of Mr. Smith for seven years.

On August 15, 1881, Mr. Reily went to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he and the late A. S. Goulden, of Adams County, began the publication of the Martinsburg Herald, the first Republican newspaper published in that section of the state.

Compiles Local History

Always a lover of historic lore and a great student and reader, he began the work of compiling historic data of Conewago, McSherrystown, New Oxford, Littlestown and other local places. These histories are today the most authentic and in many cases the only records of persons and events that can be referred to for local historical facts. His writings consist of about 14 large volumes, and covers a period from the earliest settlers to about ten years ago when he published his last volume. One series of books is entitled “Collections in the Life and Times of Cardinal Gibbons.”

Prints Own Works 

All of his works were written, edited and printed by himself in his own little print shop. He then had the volumes bound and they were sold to interested persons. Unfortunately, but a limited number of these books were printed and many efforts to obtain complete sets of his works today are of no avail. A volume or two placed on the market at public sales lately found ready buyers. While Mr. Reily spent his best years in the preparation of these valuable books, he never realized sufficient remuneration to pay for the printing.

After his marriage in 1882, Mr. Reily erected a house in Martinsburg, where he lived and several of his children were born. In 1893, he returned to McSherrystown with his family and erected the Reily home on Third street, where he conducted a grocery and notion store and spent his spare time in writing and printing his books in his small printing office in the rear of the store.

In January 1889, while residing in Martinsburg, Mr. Reily was made Stamp Deputy at that city and held that office for a period of four years. During that time, nearly $1,000,000 in internal revenue receipts was credited to the revenue officials.

Mr. Reily was married to Miss Susie Beckman, a daughter of the late John and Elizabeth Beckman, of near Lilly’s Mill, in October 1882. The ceremony took place at Conewago Chapel and the nuptial mass celebrated by the late Rev. Joseph Enders, S. J., Miss Mary E. Reily, now Mrs. E. A. Noel, a sister, being the bridesmaid and John Weaver best man.

Of a most charitable frame of mind, Mr. Reily, while not a wealthy man himself, found time and money to do many acts of kindness to tramps and befriended many during his long life, and among whom he was probably more widely known than any man in this vicinity.”