Downsville couple ready to have weekends off

January 02, 1998

Downsville couple ready to have weekends off


Staff Writer

DOWNSVILLE - For more than 20 years, the restaurant at McMahon's Mill Recreation Area has been a well-known dining spot for those seeking home-style meals in a rustic, if slightly out-of-the-way, setting.

They come for the fried chicken and spaghetti, or perhaps to hear Bill McMahon tell one of his many stories about the history behind the log cabin building and its eclectic collections, among them antique guns and Washington Redskins souvenirs.

But soon, the cabin will no longer be used as a restaurant. McMahon and his wife, Isabelle, will continue to run the accompanying campground and keep the cabin open for private parties, weddings, anniversaries and other events, but they know it won't be the same.


"We have enjoyed the people. We met so many good people," Bill McMahon said.

Like the customer who anonymously mailed them a $10 bill earlier this month, saying he wasn't charged for two glasses of wine during a recent meal at the cabin. It was quite a gesture, considering two glasses of wine cost about $3.

Closing the restaurant was a difficult decision, they said, but they wanted to spend more time with their family. Bill is 67 and Isabelle is 66, and they said running a restaurant, even one that is open only on weekends, is quite an undertaking

"We want to be free on weekends because we're always working on weekends," Bill McMahon said.

Both natives of Alfred, N.Y., the McMahons came to Washington County in the early 1960s and bought a cabin that they used as a vacation home from their residence in Kensington, Md. Then they bought a historic mill on the Potomac River, which became their full-time home.

In 1977, Bill McMahon and a man he hired spent the year building the 8,000-square-foot cabin. In December of that year the restaurant opened, with plates of Bill McMahon's spaghetti served on plastic dishes.

The plastic eventually was replaced by china, but McMahon's spaghetti recipe remained. Waitresses were brought in and a cook was hired to prepare the meals, but the McMahons have always been there working, greeting guests, serving drinks and playing host.

"We are what they call 'mom and pop,'" Bill McMahon said.

The customers came from all over - local residents who became regulars over the years, out-of-towners visiting nearby Antietam National Battlefield, families celebrating birthdays. Somehow they have managed to find the place, tucked away in a quiet corner of the county near the C&O Canal.

"When you come here, you have to want to come here," Bill McMahon said.

If they don't come for the food, they come for the ambiance. The restaurant features items from the historic to the kitschy, collected by the McMahons in their travels and given to them by friends and family. Where else can a person find an authentic London bobby uniform in the same room with an Indianapolis Colts baseball hat?

The numerous Redskins pieces come courtesy of Isabelle, a rabid fan of the team.

"We don't throw anything away," she said.

And they aren't going anywhere, either, as the McMahons start a new chapter in their lives in 1998.

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