A step back in time, a chance to see early life in Kingman

Who were the Bonellis?

Photos courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

It’s a rather unassuming home on the corner of Spring and Fifth streets, the stone facade a stark contrast to the white picket fence, yet the Bonelli House holds a key to early life in Kingman.

Who were the Bonellis?

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Kingman circa 1895. The Bonellli House can be seen across the street from the church where Georg Bonelli married Effie Tarr. The pastor’s house was right next door.

The Bonelli family, originally the Bommeli family in Switzerland, was established in St. Thomas, Nevada. Seven children were born to Hans Daniel Bonelli, a Swiss man, and Ann Haigh Bonelli, an Englishwoman, both pioneers and immigrants to America. Hans owned and operated a ferry on the Colorado River, supplied miners and residents of the area with food, and created a 100,000-acre cattle ranch.

It was George Bonelli, the fourth child, who came to Kingman.

George was college-educated and, like his father, entrepreneurial by nature; he became a major cattle rancher in Mohave County with 250,000 acres of spring-fed grassland to graze his herds.

While visiting Kingman in 1892, he met Effie Ellen Tarr at the home of Pastor William Blakely. Effie – the daughter of W.A.L. Tarr, station master of the Santa Fe Railroad – worked in the telegraph office. Cathy R. Kreis, a historian with the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, said Effie was the middle child of 16 children.

“There were plenty of other children to do the household chores, so she went out and earned her way,” Kreis said.

George and Effie were married Jan. 1, 1895, and moved into their newly built home. The couple became parents of nine children while living in their first house, one of whom died in 1905 (Alfred) during a scarlet fever epidemic.

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The Bonelli family, with children standing in chronological order. The space in front of Effie was where Alfred Bonelli would have stood.

The eight remaining children each have their own unique story, Kreis said. The eldest son was an ace pilot in World War I. He trained other pilots as well and moved to the Glendale area. Clara, the eldest daughter, went on to become a professional concert pianist, and had a 30-year career. She returned home because she suffered from severe asthma. Most of the eight children moved away from Kingman, but the Bonelli House remained the center of family gatherings for two generations.

The Bonelli’s seventh child, Joseph (1907-1974) was the last of the family to live in the house. With the help of his nephew Ben Bonelli, Joseph and the City of Kingman reached an agreement for the sale of the Bonelli property, which was an entire city block. The contract stipulated that the house and its quarter of the block would be maintained as an historical site.

The Bonelli family lives on to this day. Kreis said they often donate items that have been handed down through the family such as beds, carpets and Clara’s organ.

“The Bonelli family is full of encouragement and enthusiasm,” Kreis said.

The Bonelli House

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The Bonellis standing in front of their original home which burned down in 1915.

The original Bonelli House took 30 days to complete at the end of 1894. It took a month to complete because of what has been called a “brilliant contract.” George told the builder what his desired completion date was, and the builder would have to pay George for each day it took to complete past that date.

The Bonelli house took up one quarter of the large parcel of land, which is where the city complex has since been built. In 1915, a fire destroyed the original house. The fire, which reputedly started due to an electrical short, reduced the 20-year-old home to ashes in a matter of minutes. None of the family was lost in the fire, but almost all of their possessions were destroyed with the exception of a steamer trunk full of valuable documents and photographs.

“The children had been taught that, in the event of a fire, the trunk was to leave the house with them,” Kreis said.

George immediately began constructing the home that exists now. He allowed more time for the second house in order to ensure four main things: the outside was made of stone from a local quarry, fire-resistant plaster lined the inside walls, there was at least one exit door in almost every room, and a large, heavy, fire-proof safe was installed into the wall.

That safe sits behind a tapestry in the main entry room. Kreis said she used to open the safe on tours, but part of the steel plating has slipped which makes it nearly impossible to open.

The house was a modern miracle at the time. It had passive air conditioning, indoor plumbing and hot water throughout the entire house.

Still in the house are the old iron stove where Effie baked, a hot water heater in the kitchen, three rare clocks fully restored, a Regina music box, clothing and several mementos that have been donated by surviving family.

The Bonelli House is owned by the City of Kingman, after Joseph Bonelli agreed to the contract to sell. The sale of the land was completed in 1973, but it took two years for the house to be cleaned and restored in order to meet the National Register of Historic Places standards. It then opened the first floor to the public in 1978. The second floor wasn’t open until 10 years later, in 1988.

Kreis said Joseph used the second floor for a warehouse and storage space for his collections, which is why it took 10 additional years to open the second floor.

Guided tours of the Bonelli House are offered to the public Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Passes are $4 for adults and $3 for seniors. Children under the age of 12, volunteers and members of the museum get free entry. Passes can be purchased at the house or at either the Route 66 Museum or the Mohave Museum of History and Arts. Passes can be used at all three locations.

“(The Bonelli House) is a place where you can learn the history of the region,” Kreis said. “You can learn the life of a dynamic family … and appreciate the innovations people were making. If you don’t come, you’re missing out.”