I must have been to the Bonelli House half a dozen times, most of the trips coming when I was in elementary school and field trips downtown were a frequent thing. It wasn't one of my favorite field trips (to a kid, a house is a house), but I did enjoy looking at one of the few two-story homes in Kingman and seeing all the cool "old stuff" they had inside.
It is almost mandatory to look into the Bonelli House in 2015. The site is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the building and, along with the Mohave County Courthouse, will be having a ceremony to commemorate the milestone sometime this summer.
I toured the house earlier this week with Cathy Kreis, an employee of the Mohave Museum and someone who arguably knows more about the Bonellis than the Bonellis. She offers donation-based guided tours from 11 a.m.to 3 p.m. during the week.
Listening to Kreis will make you fascinated less by the house and more by the Bonellis and the lives they led. Thinking about George Bonelli coming in after working on his 250,000-acre ranch, or his eight kids gathered on the staircase telling ghost stories, or Effie decorating the living room after her shift at the train station, really brought the house to life. This was a family home, and a very active one at that
The Bonellis were quite established in Kingman. Effie played the piano at the Methodist church across the street. The family operated a few stores around town. George made the paper in 1905 for putting on the city's Fourth of July celebration, which was regarded as "one of the best celebrations in years." He also ran for supervisor of the county's Third District, running on the campaign "honest business administration and good roads." They were wealthy, but grounded.
Their home was a reflection of their family and was built with safety in mind because, in 1915, their home of nearly 20 years burned to the ground:
Jan. 29, 1915 - Mohave County Miner
Last Monday evening, about six o'clock, the home of George A. Bonelli caught fire from some unknown cause and was totally destroyed. So fast was the fire ravage that nothing was saved. The family was at the evening meal when the fire was discovered and nothing could be done to save the building, the fire having eaten its way into the upper story before discovery. Owing to the calmness of the evening the adjoining buildings were easily saved from destruction, but had there been the usual wind a large section of the town would have been burned away.
The residence was erected about twenty years ago and was one of the most substantial houses in the town. It was insured, but the total loss will be considerable. Mr. Bonelli is to at once begin the erection of another building on the site of the old one.
They would find out later that the DC wiring in the house caused the fire. The wood house burned quickly, and it was fortunate that the family escaped unharmed.
George had an insurance policy and almost immediately began building a new home for his family. Their new home, and the one that stands today, was constructed with stone and lime (fire retardant), and every room had an exit door. The second story rooms all exited to the veranda and had ladders in the closets so that the children could escape if needed.
Construction was quick, and the family moved in by the end of 1915. A Bonelli occupied the house through the 1970s. It was eventually sold to the city of Kingman and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, with the house opening up for tours in 1978.
According to Kreis, the bottom floor has kept most of the original furniture and décor from when the Bonellis lived there. Certain pieces have been restored, and others are in line to be, but everything else is very much the way they left it. The top floor features furniture donated by local antique shops that would have fit during the period.
Some of the more interesting features include an 1875 Seth Thomas Regulator wall clock that once was used in the Santa Fe Railroad depot as its official timepiece (and is still accurate today) and the home's "passive air conditioning," taking cold air from the cellar and funneling it throughout the home.
The home is very well maintained, and if you've never toured the place it's definitely worth taking a look and seeing what 1915 Kingman home life looked like. A box in the Mohave Museum has even more information on the family and the lives they led. Start there, because they're the ones who made the Bonelli House a home.