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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 27 - Donald McDonald


Donald McDonald, the sixth son of Angus W. McDonald and Cornelia Peake (his wife), was born in Winchester September 5th, 1858, and was given a name which had been in the family for many generations. [When Donald was a boy some one asked him where he got his pretty name from, and he replied, that he supposed the family names had run out when it came his turn and they had to begin doubling.]

His mother being compelled to leave Winchester during its occupation by the Yankees, moved to Lexington, Virginia, with her family, where Donald attended a private school until the Fall of 1873, when he entered Washington and Lee University, being not quite fifteen years of age. He remained there for three years, obtaining distinctions in mathematics, chemistry and physics.

He was fond of all athletic sports and the last year of his stay at College he was captain and oarsman in the boat race which took place that year, the record reading: "Donald McDonald, Oar No. 3. Age, 16; height, 6 feet, 3 inches; weight, 175 lbs."

He came to Louisville at the age of seventeen and was employed in various capacities for the next two years. He finally entered the mechanical department of the L. & N. R. R., where he evinced such especial fitness for the work that he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Machinery. He resigned this position in 1881 and joined the firm of "McDonald Brothers," who at that time were among the most successful architects in Kentucky. They did not confine themselves to the State limits, however, as many handsome and substantial buildings were erected by them in other localities.

Donald remained with this firm for ten years, traveling around a great deal and superintending the work on many of their contracts.

He was located at Mt. Sterling, at one time, on business of this character, where quite an exciting occurrence took place in which Donald unwittingly took a very prominent part, and by fearlessly asserting his independent judgment, calmed a lawless mob and turned them completely from their bloodthirsty intentions.

He was attracted one night, by loud cries and noises on the street, and running out, saw a crowd of men and boys, many of whom he knew. Joining them, he soon discovered that they were leading a negro by a rope, and dragging him rapidly through the streets. On reaching the outskirts of the town the mob halted and about thirty of them, Donald among them, went forward to a railroad trestle nearby. He there found that they had placed the negro on a barrel and thrown the rope over a beam of the trestle. And he realized that these grim preparations could mean but one thing.

The leader now came forward and went through the form of questioning the terror-stricken negro, who protested that his only intention of trying to force his way into the house, where the lady had been so badly scared, was to visit the cook. His story seemed plausible enough to Donald, but did not appear to have any weight whatever with the excited crowd. Presently, a voice cried out:

"You have talked long enough. Hang him! Hang him!"

Whereupon the leader promptly announced: "Those in favor of hanging, say aye." "Aye, Aye, Aye," rang out in almost a simultaneous chorus.

"Those opposed, say No," again yelled the spokesman.

For one brief moment there was an impressive silence, when Donald, realizing that he was a part of the crowd, and necessarily sharing its responsibilities, called out, "No, No."

An indignant voice inquired insolently: "Who in h--- are you?"

"I am Donald McDonald, of Louisville," he responded, "and don't propose to see a man hung on such evidence as this, if I can prevent it."

After some parleying, a voice suggested that the vote be taken again, and the leader cried out once more: "Those in favor of hanging this marl say `Aye.' " Not a sound carne from the crowd. "Those opposed say, `No.' " And the air resounded with "Noes." The poor creature was then taken from his perch and returned to the gaol, and his trial resulted in nothing more serious than to crack rocks on the streets for two weeks. The result proving the value of even one cool head in an excited crowd.

It is often asserted that success in one's business is largely a matter of luck, but the following little episode will, I think, show that pluck and persistence are the main factors after all in any successful achievement. Knowing that a big building contract was to be let by Jackson County, Donald started out one Sunday morning, in order to be present at the meeting of the County Court the following day. _McKee, the County seat, was his objective point, but finding that it was some distance from the railroad, lie bought a ticket to Livingston, that being the nearest station to McKee, on the railroad. Reaching Livingston, he inquired when the stage would leave for McKee, to which the agent politely responded, "Where in h--- is McKee?"

After a short conversation with his assistant, the gent told Donald that he should have gotten off at Richmond instead of Livingston, and that there would be no more trains in the direction of Richmond before Monday at noon. This announcement was calculated to discourage a less courageous soul than Donald's, but nothing daunted, he asked if he couldn't hire a buggy.

"Buggy!" exclaimed the man, with a smile of pity, "there's no sich thing in this town."

When Donald then proposed to compromise on a horse, he returned, "Why, Mister, they ain't any road."

"Then," exclaimed Donald, not to be thwarted, "I'll walk! if you will only give me some idea of the direction."

"Why, man, it is twenty-seven mile acrost them mountains!"

"All right," returned Donald, "if you will be so good as to keep my valise, I'll be off right away."

The agent, much amazed, finally gave the desired directions and off Donald started. For quite a distance he found a well defined path, but on reaching the river about noon he discovered, to his consternation, that the boat was tied up on the opposite side, and only after considerable shouting, did he succeed in getting a response from the ferryman, who was on a hill, some distance away engaged in ploughing; but said he would come clown at sun-set and put him, over. Donald was unwilling to trust to such a contingency, and though it was early in December, he at once decided to swim to the other shore, and removing his clothes he tied them securely with his drawings and swam safely to the opposite bank.

The darkness soon overtook him and he wandered about for some time trying to find a human habitation. Finally he heard the welcome cry of a child, and his shouts penetrating to the cabin in the distance, a friendly door was seen to open and he made his way towards it. Upon inquiring if he was anywhere near the town of McKee, the man replied: "You are in the very heart of it right now, sir."

And with a few more directions, Donald soon found the hotel, which was crowded with the mountaineers who had come to attend the session of the Court. The next morning he overheard two of them conversing earnestly about the big contract which the Court was to consider. One of them said: "I am not at all in favor of giving this job of ours to any damn city man. I want to give it to a mountain man." To which the other man replied:

"This fellow ain't no city chap. Them city fellows all come over from Richmond in buggies, and this one walked over the mountains from Livingston and swum Roundstone river in the winter time."

This conclusive testimony practically settled the question and secured the contract to his firm, which eventually proved a very lucrative one.

In 1890, Donald was employed to do some engineering by the Kentucky Rock Gas Co., and afterwards, when this company gent into bankruptcy, he was appointed its receiver. Finally, when it was reorganized, he was made chief engineer. In 1892, he became the president of the Kentucky Heating Company, which position he still holds.

The company under his management has prospered greatly. Beginning as a small concern with only 200 customers, and losing money, it has grown to be the largest gas company in Kentucky, with more than 20,000 customers. The problem presented was a new one—that of supplementing natural gas with artificial gas—and everyone said that it could not be done. It was worked out by the Kentucky Heating Company, and worked out very successfully.

Donald was also one of the organizers of the Kentucky Electric Company, and was the president of that company during the first two years of its existence. He is generally given the credit for the excellent location and good general plans under which the works of that company were constructed, and its dealings with the public inaugurated. The Kentucky Electric Company has also been very successful.

In 1910, Donald was elected President of the American Gas Institute, an organization comprising practically all of the gas engineers and managers of gas companies in the United States. He was also a director of the Louisville Board of Trade and a member of the Pendennis Club, and of the Country Club in the city of Louisville, and is a member, too, of Cavalry Episcopal Church.

On October 26th, 1887, he was married to Miss Betsy Breckinridge Carr, of "Oaklands," at St. John's Church, Roanoke, Virginia. Their children are, Laetitia Sorrell, Donald, Jr., Maria Carr, Cornelia and Angus.


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