Opening doors on history

The first time Sherri Johns walked up the staircase of the Donaca house 26 years ago, all she could think about was all the women who had climbed those stairs before her.

“All I felt was family,” Johns said. “The very first time I walked into the house, I didn’t feel anything but love and comfort and calm.”

The Donaca house, a two-story Italianate-style home located at 764 S. Second St., was built in 1886 for William Donaca and his wife, Lenora. Donaca, a prominent Lebanon businessman and respected leader in the community, raised his six children in that house, the eldest of whom also raised his own family there.

The house had since been used for apartments, Masonic Lodge meetings, and offices until the Johnses took residence in 1990, living there until this year. The Donaca house was recently acquired by Corey and Sara McEldowney, who plan to make the house more available to the community.

But first, it needs a little TLC.

Aside from removing decades-old carpeting, paneling and wallpaper, the roof and electrical components must be updated, Sara said.
The McEldowneys have a five-year plan to restore the house, including bringing it back to an original interior design, and ultimately turning it into an office space or Air Bed and Breakfast.

Corey McEldowney specializes in historic restoration of 1800s buildings in Portland, so for him, the most exciting part of this whole process is being able to work his passion right here in Lebanon.

“I love bringing life back to old buildings, putting new spaces into old buildings, and putting them on the map,” he said.

The couple purchased the property just a couple months shy of it being torn down, Corey said. He wanted Sara to expand her business, Eastern Flow Massage, and they had been eyeing the house for a few years.

The property includes a one-story building that sits in front of the Donaca house, which is where Eastern Flow Massage now is located.

To help hasten the renovation process, the McEldowneys will host several fund-raiser events for the house, which already started with haunted house tours.
“This is just the first of many events we want to bring the town into to enjoy this house,” Sara said.

She envisions cello players, wine tastings, theater and costumed Christmas carolers as possibilities for the future.

“This house needs to have events,” she said. “This needs to be shared with people and opened up for everyone to enjoy.”

The haunted tour, hosted by RIP Paranormal Investigating, has expanded into a horror movie night followed by a paranormal investigation, and the McEldowneys will have a haunted house event Oct. 29 to 31.

The imagination doesn’t need to be stretched much for those who like to ghost hunt, according to Johns, who believes they weren’t the only ones living in the house during their 26-year stay.

“We believe there are spirits in that house,” she said.

She recalls several incidents when her children said they saw things like a man in an old farmer’s hat walk down the hall, girls with “pilgrim” hats, and a girl sits on the bed next to them. One grandchild couldn’t sleep in her room because, she reported, people with white hats were making too much noise as they bustled around.

“In the garage, that’s where the mischievous guy is,” Johns said. “He flicks you on the back of the head, and he takes stuff.”

A few times the family experienced a very loud noise – like a piano dropping – coming from upstairs. Johns said her husband eventually went into the room and announced that the noise had to stop. It did.

Other than that, the family learned to live with the strange events.

“After 26 years you learn to ignore it,” Johns said.

By Sarah Brown
For Lebanon Local