Nestled among Salt Lake’s urban commercial infrastructure, the old Mary Donahoue House (sometimes spelled Donahue) located at 141 S 200 East is a reminder that downtown Salt Lake was once primarily residential property. Now it is an isolated historic mansion surrounded by urban commercial buildings and parking structures.
The Mary Donahoue House is unique in Salt Lake history as being primarily associated with a business women of the early twentieth century. Yes, she was a married woman and the mother of three children but she was the residential property owner and a business owner central to commercial dealings of Salt Lake City and the Tintic Mining District.
Mary was born in Texas and in 1862, at the age of 11 she traveled to Salt Lake City with her parents and older half-brothers, who were all converts to the Mormon Church. They traveled across the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River, and then by wagon from Kepkuk, Iowa, to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Initially, Mary followed the typical path of a young Mormon women; she married Robert Morris Wilkinson at the age of 17 and bore three sons. However, at the age of 32 and with her children ranging in age from 2 to 10 years old, she divorced her husband. A few years later, in 1886, she married her second husband James Thomas Donahoue, who was 10 years her junior.
During the 1890s, Mary became a prominent business woman. She became associated with the Mammoth Mine (a large silver mine) in Juab County that her half-brothers, Sam and William McIntyre who held the largest share of the mine. Mary primarily operated a general store that was described in 1902 as “one of the largest establishments for the furnishing of supplies for the miners in [the Tintic mining] district. This is one of the famous mines of Utah, and one which has proved as profitable as any mine which has ever been developed in this State.
Her husband was co-owner of a hotel and saloon near the Mammoth mine, but his business was not nearly as successful as Mary’s and he generally wavered through several jobs and business opportunities of variable success and failures.
In 1898, Mary Donahoue bought the property located at 141 S 200 East from Margaret Moody, her mother, for $10 and soon thereafter obtained a building permit to construct the house. Although George Morrow was listed as architect of the house in the building permit record, Mary is said to have designed the house herself and supervised its construction, including the interior details and furnishings.
At the time Mary had built her fabulous new home she was the primary breadwinner of the family and was even identified as head of household in the 1900 Census. Also by this time, Mary had abandoned her membership in the Mormon Church and was publically not identified as a member of any church. In 1902 she was described as “believing in helping [people] in their work and in doing the greatest good to the greatest number of people who are deserving of charity or need of help.”
Unfortunately, after a brutal attack in her house, Mary soon sold her beloved dream house and lived the rest of her days in various hotels that she was the proprietor.
In 1906, Mary filed for divorce from her husband James T. Donahoue on the grounds of cruelty. He was arrested for assault on his wife, who sustained a broken arm and a bruised and battered face and body. Mary’s son, Robert Wilkinson, was also injured with two broken ribs, one of which had penetrated his right lung.
According to newspaper accounts, James Donahoe assaulted his wife and stepson at a very early hour of the morning; he came home at about 2 o’clock on a Friday morning. He had been drinking and woke up members of the household when he staggered into the house. His futile attempt to undress himself and when is wife, Mary, tried to assist him but he became angry and knocked her down with a blow over the left eye. Mary scrambled to her feet and ran from the room but he grabbed her at the head of the stairway and choked her. Her screams brought her son to her assistance. All three struggled at the head of the stairway James became unbalanced dragging his wife and stepson with him as they rolled down the stairs to the landing.
Mary and her son fled to the house of neighbor who called the police. Mary’s son was taken to the hospital via ambulance and was operated on immediately. Mary also received medical treatment for her broken arm and bruises.
James returned home and locked himself in the bedroom and refused to surrender. The police could not enter the home without a warrant to arrest him. Many of the neighbors wanted to forcefully pull James out of the house but the police forbade that action.
Early the next morning, James slipped out of his house and went into town. He sent a messenger boy back to house to fetch some of his clothing. The police followed the messenger boy to the Sanitarium rooming house was James Donahoe was finally arrested.
Mary was easily granted a divorce. James must have cleaned up his act because Mary remarried him just over a year later, in January 1907.
They remained remarried until Jame’s death in 1923; he is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Mary died in California at the home of her son William in 1935; she is buried next to her son Robert Wilkinson in Salt Lake City Cemetery. Perhaps, although Mary had forgiven her husband for the brutal attack, her sons never did and this may be why she is not buried in the same cemetery.