Inside the Sears Magnolia: In 1918 and 1985

Last week, I did a blog on the lost Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of only eight known Magnolias in the country, the Sears House in Lincoln was torn down in 1985.

Fortunately, the Magnolia in Lincoln was extensively photographed a few months before it was razed. The photos were then archived and saved by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

And nearly 30 years later, the folks at NSHS were kind enough to share these wonderful photos with me.

After studying their photos, I realized that those historically minded folks at Nebraska State Historical Society had photographed the Magnolia’s interiors from the same angle shown in a special fold-out offered in a 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

I’m in possession of two 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and yet this “special fold out” is not present in either catalog. I suspect that there were two or more revisions of the 1918 catalog, and the catalog that featured the “interior views” (shown below) was a very rare catalog.

For several years, friend and fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker has been collecting these old catalogs, and she was kind enough to share her copy of this rare 1918 catalog.

A big thank you to Rachel and also to the kind souls at the Nebraska State Historical Society. Because of them, I’m able to put together these 30-year-old photos with the 90-year-old drawings featured in the old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And a little hint for today’s blog: Take an extra moment and read the captions thoroughly. While I was going through these images, I learned some fascinating things about old houses in general and the Magnolia in particular.

Please share the link with your old-house loving friends!  🙂



This fold-out appeared in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've been playing with Sears Homes for 15 years, and yet I'd never seen this page - anytime anywhere. When the Nebraska State Historical Society sent me their files on the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, they included a faded (and repeatedly xeroxed) copy of this very same page. And it was this page that they apparently used as a guide when they took *their* photos.



Close-up of the text box in the fold-out (1918).


house house

If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll see a second set of stairs off the kitchen. In tiny print, it says, "To servants' room." Remember that detail. If you look at the back wall of the kitchen, you'll also see the words, "Ice box door." This feature enabled the ice man to place 25 or 50 pounds of ice directly into the ice box - from the back porch - without entering the house. It was also known as the "Jealous Husband's Door."


house showing

Those kitchen stairs lead into a small hallway that opens up right into a small bedroom, which leads to a bathroom. The servants' area was purposefully isolated from the rest of the family. The servants' bathroom was also smaller and more modest. Remember that detail, too. The family bathroom has a sink that says, "MC" (medicine chest). The servants' bathroom does not say MC. The poor Irish servant girl didn't even have a place to store her toiletries.


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Close-up of the Magnolia's 20-foot long living room.


banana house living room

And here it is in real life. Those folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society did a fine job, didn't they? The fireplace mantel is not a perfect match, which is a puzzler. Notice also that the home's original owners went for the Hercules Steam Heating Outfit (which was the most expensive heating option available). Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


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The Magnolia had a grand entry hall. The French doors at the top of the landing lead to a small balcony outside.


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The Magnolia was an elegant home with classic lines and aristocratic airs, and despite the deterioration occasioned by decades of neglect, its timeless elegance was still apparent. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


house upstairs

The photographer was standing in front of the dressing room looking toward the rear of the house on the 2nd floor. These are the same French doors shown in the prior photo, which lead out to that small balcony. If you look close, you can see the balcony's railing. I believe the door on the left leads to that servants' staircase. It's an interesting arrangement, because the balcony and that door are both on a lower level than the rest of the 2nd floor. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.



My favorite image: The kitchen. Look at that darling little breakfast nook sitting in the coolest spot in the house, with pretty casement windows on all three sides. The door on the right leads to the ice box (with the "Jealous Husband's Door"). And the door on the right leads to the back porch.


house house kitchen

The NSHS photographers outdid themselves on this image. Nice match to the picture above! The door that's partially open leads to the servants' staircase. The nook is still intact, but the little dinette is gone. The sink has been moved from the right side to the left. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


kitchen floorplan

Here's a close-up of the Magnolia's kitchen and surrounding area. This is a very complicated space! And there's a Butler's Pantry (with a sink) between the dining room and kitchen.


the den the den

Most post-1950s homes feature a "den," but this wasn't a common concept in the late 1910s (when the Magnolia was first offered). Another unusual concept was the two fireplaces (in the living room and den). By the 1910s, wood-burning fireplaces had fallen from favor because they were considered primitive and old-fashioned. Most houses had a single fireplace so that the family could burn an occasional fire on a cold-winter evening, just for ambiance, but two? Definitely not typical. Plus, it was getting harder and harder to find cheap firewood in the cities, due to the explosive growth of residential and commercial construction.


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Now this mantel is a good match to the image above (minus the cracked mirror)! The floor tile wasn't original, but was probably added in the 1940s or 50s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


house bathroom

This was not the maid's bathroom. This was the FAMILY'S bathroom. How do I know this? Let me count the ways. First, it has that niche created by the chimney (left corner). And it has a shower. Yes, a shower. And while we're in the bathroom, look at the subway tile on the walls and diagonal tiles on the floor. Nice, isn't it?



The shower was a pretty fancy deal for 1918. I don't know of any other pre-1930 Sears Homes that were offered *with* showers. And this isn't your typical shower. This one sits at the far end of the tub, away from the tub's drain and supply lines. Now that's curious. I wish I knew when showers came into vogue in typical American homes. If a reader could answer that, I'd be tickled pink.


house in Benson

This is *not* the Magnolia in Lincoln, but it's another Magnolia with a "Family Bathroom" that's in original condition. When I first saw this bathroom, I was utterly mystified by the hose bibs on the lower right. There's a bedroom on the other side of that wall. Why would there be plumbing on the far side of the tub? And I have thought about this curious plumbing arrangement ever since. Thanks to Rachel's 1918 "interior views," I think the puzzle is solved. I suspect that these water lines supplied water to that funky shower at the far end of the tub. The house bibs may have been added for a washer hook-up later on, but look at the plumbing lines that snake around the back of the tub and (perhaps) to the side where that shower once was.


house shower

It's a not-so-great photo, but you can see the two hose bibs with two lines coming off and snaking around the back and side of the tub. And if you look close, you'll see a piece of that old subway tile behind the tub.


house tub

If you look at the front of the tub, you see the lines here (for the bathtub faucets) are original and in use. In fact, judging from the paint, they haven't been disturbed in a very long time.


house bathroom

The contemporary photo of the bathtub (with those awesome swans on the side) was taken almost four years ago, and yet it's only in the last 24 hours, when I saw this vintage image, that I was able to surmise why there were pipes behind the tub. Who says history isn't fun? 🙂


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How many Magnolias are out there? Thus far, we know of eight that were built, and seven are still standing.


house in Nebraska

The grand old Magnolia in Nebraska was torn down in 1985 due to decades of neglect. These photos are bittersweet, because this house should have been salvaged. Instead, it's now just another pile of construction debris in a local landfill. Nonetheless, I'm unspeakably grateful for these many wonderful images. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


house in neb

This framing members used in the construction of this house were first-growth lumber, #1 Southern Yellow Pine, harvested from the virgin forests of Louisiana. The exterior (siding, trim and balustrades) is Cypress, once lauded as "The Wood Eternal," because of its natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. The two-story columns were Yellow Poplar. Inside, the entire house had oak trim and mill work, with tongue-and-groove oak floors. The kitchen floor was maple. This house was built with a quality of building materials we will never again see in this country. RIP, Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


Many thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society for sharing these photos, and thanks also to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the vintage images from that rare 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Read more  the “Jealous Husband’s Door” click here.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Want to see more photos of the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska? Click here.

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  1. Rachel Shoemaker

    Wow, deja vu! Awesome blog!

    As you know I collect Sears amongst other catalogs, trade journals, books etc. I even have multiple copies of some years to see what differences there are.

    I have two 1918 catalogs. One of mine does not have the fold out but should.

    This is how you tell, look at your index and see what page the Carlton is on. The Carlton was only offered in the 1918 catalog. The index will say Carlton, “Facing Page 1.”

    The Aurora is listed as “Page 1” in the index. The Carlton is a two-page spread on the reverse of the Magnolia interior foldout. If you are completely missing the Carlton you know why now.

    My second 1918 has the exact index but no Carlton anywhere.

    Check your 1918 catalogs, folks!

    And that IS a two page layout; I scanned both sides and very carefully edited it to one layout so the crease was not so obvious.

  2. ShariD

    The comment about the “WC” is doubly interesting – a “WC” was the old-time terminology for “Water Closet” – aka toilet!

    I can’t imagine what that had to do with the sink!

  3. ShariD

    There is a similar labeling on the sink of the lavatory/half bath in the back in the rear hall close to the kitchen.

    I can’t get a really clear look at it even without my glasses (which works like magnifying glasses for my eyes – without the glasses that is, not with them).

    It looks like a “WC” but that doesn’t makes sense there either. Why would someone feel the need to label the sink? Or the toilet for that matter?

    Are those little window-paned-looking doors over the backs of the breakfast nook seats actually windows?

    They seem to be a good bit higher than the windows in the back wall.

    Looking at the floor plan, especially on the right side of the wall behind the seat, it shares the other side of the wall with the ice-box nook. And the middle of the “window” seems to be split by the doorway into it.

    Also looking at the actual photograph, there is what appears to be an open cabinet on the left side over the seat on that side, with a closed drawer underneath it, and what looks like the barest edge of a drawer on the right side.

    Could these be those little wall-mounted china cabinets, maybe to hold the breakfast dishes and silver? Just a thought.

    Great blog post!! I know this one and the last couple on the Maggies has taken a good bit of time, and it shows!

  4. Jan

    Do you know if any of the pieces of this grand house were saved? I know that is big right now to strip out pieces of a home that is going to be torn down.

    I don’t think that was the trend 30 years ago when this one was razed, but I would love to know if someone saved anything and how it was re-purposed.

  5. Sears Homes

    Hi Jan,

    Sadly, based on my very limited knowledge, nothing from the house was salvaged. The house had been through some very, very hard times and these photos were taken just a few weeks before the house was demolished.

    And then just before the demolition, the house caught fire and was severely damaged.

  6. Angie

    So nice to see interior shots of an actual home!! Thank you!! I would love to be able to tour a Sears Magnolia!!

    I live in the “Colonial” by Aladdin homes.

  7. Macia Toncray

    My mother in law lives in a Sears Home. It has many similarities to the Sears Magnolia. It does not have grand entrance and although the exterior is very similar, the house has a small front porch, short columns with no elaborate front porch and columns. It may be a Magnolia home with some omissions/alterations. This is all so interesting to me. They lived in the home since 1971 and I just learned today of its history.

  8. Rick S

    I noticed a difference between the actual house and the floorplans shown.

    The house shows the upstairs outside balcony/porch outside the plain of the back wall, instead of recessed into the house. It looks like they did not recess the porch off the kitchen and extended the stair landing even with the outside wall and built the balcony on brackets on the back wall.

    The servant’s room is usually accessed at a lower level that the family.

    The door on the landing would allow the servant to assist the family quicker without having to go down through the kitchen and also not be seen using the family stairs in the front entry.

    The difference between the brochure and the fixtures or millwork could be due to availability at the time of ordering or a personal preference to a style.


  9. Joe Dorenbach

    This home was purchased and built by my great grandfather John English. He and Delia farmed and raised their family in this majestic home north of Lincoln. You should have seen this place when I was growing up.

    It was really something ! I spent summers staying there and working on the farm which was located on what is now the Highlands Golf Course.

  10. Joe Dorenbach

    My phone number is 402-310-2452 if anyone wants to know some of the history of this house.