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  • Town Historian

The Donnelly House Yesterday and Today

The Donnelly House on George Street in the hamlet of Mumford has an interesting and colorful history. It was built in the popular Federal style around 1830 and was probably an inn or hotel where travelers could rest overnight and board their horses as they journeyed from place to place visiting relatives or seeking new homes on what was then the frontier. The typical inn of the day had dining rooms on the main floor and a large open space on the second floor for public meetings and dancing.

John McKenzie was the owner of the house in the 1860s and into the 70s. He was the son of Donald McKenzie, a truly remarkable man who had come to Mumford about 1806 and built the first sawmill in the area. Donald McKenzie was also a writer and inventor. He had learned to process wool and started a woolen mill in Mumford which later became the Oliver Allen Mill and was operated by that family for three generations. For a time Mumford was known as McKenzie’s Corners, named for the talented Donald McKenzie.

John McKenzie apparently inherited some of his father’s ingenuity and spunk. When the village of Mumford went “dry,” and liquor licenses were no longer being issued, John McKenzie opened his “temperance house.” Local folklore has it that McKenzie served a drink called “bitters” which contained an amount of whiskey that gradually increased over time. John sold the establishment in 1876, and he died just two years later.

William Donnelly came to Mumford from Connecticut in 1876 and became the owner of the hotel. By then liquor licenses were again available. He successfully ran the Donnelly House as a hotel and bar until his death in 1904. Donnelly and his wife Mary Malady had ten children. Their eldest son William II took over the hotel after his father’s death and was able to continue in business for a few years. The photo here, taken about 1910, shows young William tending the bar at the Donnelly House.

William Gougherty bought the property about 1914 but died a short time later. In 1916 the building was sold in foreclosure, and from then until the 1970s the Donnelly House had several owners who used it as a family dwelling or rented out the rooms as a boarding house.

In 1971 the Town of Wheatland purchased the Donnelly House from Clara McCombs Johnson. Many Wheatland residents were involved in a huge fund raising effort over the next two years to restore the house. At last the renovations were complete, and the Mumford Library was moved to its new quarters. The town historian’s office was also on the first floor, and the Senior Center was located in the upstairs room. A gala Grand Opening was held on October 14, 1973.

Stay tuned for additional information regarding recent building improvements incorporated at the Donnelly House and a Grand Re-Opening coming in the near future.

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