When the Lebanon Catholic High School property went on the market for $2.45 million at the end of May, some Lebanon history lovers noted that, in addition to the school buildings, the 14-acre area contained one of Lebanon’s historic houses: the Donaghmore Mansion.
The mansion, built in the mid-1800s as an iron furnace manager’s residence, has also been home to the Patch family, one of Lebanon’s best-known military families. Since the Lebanon Catholic High School bought it in 1949, its use has been adapted for the operation of the school, and it remains intact behind the main building off of Chestnut Street.
From Dudley to Donaghmore
The land that would come to be occupied by the Donaghmore Mansion began as part of the Dudley Furnace. The furnace, an 1855 venture developed by the then-new Dudley Iron Company, was situated between Cumberland Street and Chestnut Street, just west of the Cornwall Railroad (today, the Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail). The company operated the furnace until 1857, when it was sold to Robert W. Coleman for $85,000.
Coleman brought in Colonel David S. Hammond, a manager from Cornwall, made some changes to the business, and renamed the operation Donaghmore Furnace, possibly in connection with the family’s Irish ancestry. The Donaghmore name became attached to the general area, as evidenced by old maps of Lebanon and North Cornwall towns and landmarks.
Just down the northern side of Chestnut Street was Donaghmore Station, which was demolished in 1974. The office building of the Cornwall Railroad still sits intact on the opposite side of the street, at the intersection of the Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail.
A year after Coleman’s purchase, the furnace was producing 125 tons of iron a week. The property was sold in 1882 to Anne C. Alden, Margaret C. Freeman, and Sarah H. Coleman, and four years later was sold again to the Cornwall Iron Company Limited. Another four years passed, and by 1890 the furnace was abandoned.
The iron master’s residence, however, still stood. Even after the closing of the furnace, former manager David Hammond and his family lived in the house. Hammond was also a colonel, a president of the Cornwall Railroad company, and a direct descendant of George Steitz, Lebanon’s founder. Thanks to his father’s friendship with James Buchanan, he had secured his first furnace job at Colebrook at the age of 16.
Read more on James Buchanan’s connection to Lebanon: [Column] Our town: A love story lost in time
According to Hammond’s 1897 obituary, the “handsome residence” was in fact built for him, and it housed his family for the decades that followed his transfer from Cornwall.
The Patch family moves in
By 1900, the estate was occupied by the Patch family. The Patch patriarch, Captain Alexander M. Patch, was also Hammond’s immediate successor as the president of the Cornwall Railroad. Patch was well-known in the Lebanon area for his military background. He had graduated from West Point in 1877 and had lost a leg as a result of a fight with a Comanche man in the western United States before he moved to the Cornwall area in 1890.
Captain Patch’s children included Lt. General Alexander M. Patch Jr. and Major General Joseph D. Patch, both of whom followed in their father’s military footsteps. The former was another beloved local figure, known affectionately as “Sandy,” and was greeted with a hero’s welcome upon his return from World War II, where he played a role in Guadalcanal as part of the South Pacific campaign.
His brother Joseph acted as commander of Fort Lewis in Washington, and both Sandy and Joseph had served in World War I. The family also included daughter Lida W. Gordon, and another brother, William Moore Patch, who fell into disgrace in the late 1920s and was imprisoned on charges of forgery and fraud in Philadelphia.
The Patch family lived in the house until 1924, when Captain Patch died. Months later, the mansion and adjoining property was purchased by Charles O. Bressler, who owned Bressler Sheet Metal Works at Third Street and Willow Street and was eager to take advantage of its industrial potential. At the time of the sale, the Daily News described the estate as “probably the largest and most beautiful residential [plot] within the city limits.”
The mansion of Lebanon Catholic
The William H. Bollman Post American Legion bought the mansion property from Bressler in 1940 and initially planned to construct a post home there, alongside a Patch Memorial Park. However, the plan never got off the ground.
In late 1949, the Lebanon Catholic High School bought the site from the Post for a reported $17,500, intending to use the area as a new athletic field. Whether or not this plan originally called for the demolition of the mansion is unclear, but fortunately for local history lovers, the mansion stayed intact by the time construction of the high school finished in the fall of 1959 (the athletic field came to be situated on the other side of the school grounds).
The school has since used the property as a convent, until the 6,124-square-foot building went up for sale in late May along with the rest of the school’s facilities.
In addition to being an distinguished feature of the campus for thousands of Lebanon Catholic students, the Donaghmore Mansion is important as a landmark from a different era of Lebanon, one of furnaces and railroads, and whoever ends up as the owner of the campus would do well to consider its place in history.
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