Sometime in the late 1910s, someone in Lincoln, Nebraska sat down with a specialty catalog from Sears & Roebuck and ordered a kit house called, “The Magnolia.” It was the grandest kit home that Sears offered, with almost 3,000 square feet, 2-1/2 baths, four spacious bedrooms, a porte cochere, a couple sunporches, kitchen nook, fireside inglenook, butler’s pantry, servant’s quarters annd much more.
As the decades rolled by, the house fell into disrepair. In 1985, it suffered a fire and was then razed.
Today, all that first-quality lumber (Oak, Cypress and #1 Southern Yellow Pine from the virgin forests of Louisiana) is sitting in a landfill somewhere in Lincoln.
And someone’s much-loved “Dream Home” is nothing but a sorrowful memory.
About the same time, someone in West Virginia sat down and ordered a Sears Magnolia, and as the decades rolled by, that house also fell into disrepair.
In 2003, it was purchased by someone who loved and respected old houses and they spent the next three years doing a thorough restoration of the 3,000-square foot manse. They did a beautiful job. Some folks who saw the restoration (and it was a true restoration) estimate that the cost of the work hit the seven-digit mark.
And someone’s much loved Magnolia is now a historical treasure in West Virginia.
The photos below come from the two Magnolias: The black and white photos are of the house in Nebraska, gone for 28 years now.
Thanks so much to the wonderful folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society for having the presence of mind to document this wonderful old house before it was razed, and so generously sharing these wonderful photos with me, three decades later.
It’s so tragic that this historically significant house is now a pile of rubble in a landfill, but at least we can get a good look at our “Maggy,” and remember, this was a house that someone carefully selected from the pages of a Sears Roebuck catalog and then painstakingly erected, more than nine decades ago.
“The Tale of Two Maggies,” is the story of two Sears kit homes purchased about the same time (late 1910s/early 1920s); same model house with a radically different outcome.
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To learn more about the Magnolia that lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.
To read about the Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.
In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln Nebraska was razed after a fire. Prior to this, it had suffered from many years of neglect. And yet, I'm surely grateful that the Nebraska Historical Society had the foresight to photograph the house and then save those photos for posterity. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
By contrast, this Magnolia (in West Virginia) did *not* suffer from years of neglect. And yet - being a 90-year-old house - it came to its own crossroads in 2003, and was faithfully restored to its former grandeur.
The Tale of Two Maggies; quite a contrast in the "caretaking" of old homes.
Before the fire and subsequent razing, the Magnolia in Lincoln was in dire need of some basic maintenance. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
The Magnolia in West Virginia is the picture of perfection, and thanks to the restoration, will probably live on for another 100 years or more.
Going through these photos, I found it remarkable how similar these homes are. They almost look like "before and after" photos of the same house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
Both houses began at the same starting point: Identical building materials and similar climate conditions, but the Magnolia in WV looks fantastic today - thanks to the restoration work.
Of all the pictures I reviewed in preparing this blog, these side-by-side contrasts were the most haunting.
Thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society, we have several interior photos of the Nebraskan Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
The breathtakingly beautiful reception hall in the West Virginia Magnolia.
The side-by-side pictures show a striking contrast.
The simple elegance of the Magnolia still shines through in these living room photos. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
Note, the fireplace mantel is the same (as shown above in the Lincoln Magnolia) but the frieze is a little different.
These pictures really showcase what a loss this was, don't they?
Two unnamed ladies in front of the Maggie's fireplace. Notice the brick hearth and brick trim around the firebox. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
The marble hearth and surround were added during the restoration work. It's not original to the house, but it sure is a lovely addition and very nicely done.
The notes that accompanied these Nebraska photos state that the mantel and trim (and floor) in living room were solid oak. Based on the info in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, I'd say those notes are right.
A view of the upstairs hallway. See the little bit of balcony through the French doors? A lot of fine details on this house survived the many decades. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
And the same hallway in the West Virginia Magnolia.
Side-by-side views of the two Magnolias.
The mantel in the den was quite simple for such a grand house. This den fireplace (which backed up to the living room fireplace) appears to be a coal-burner, very common in this era and more efficient than a wood-burning fireplace. The 12" square floor tiles are not original to the house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
The original den in the Magnolia was a mere eight feet deep. The den (and the kitchen) in the WV Magnolia were both enlarged with a 40-foot wide addition across the back of the house.
The kitchen in the Nebraska Magnolia was mighty close to original. According to a rough sketch of the floor plan, provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Butler's Pantry was removed to create additional space in the kitchen. In the background, you can see three casement windows, and if you look closely, you'll see two benches, the remnants of a built-in dining nook. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
The kitchen in the West Virginia Magnolia is quite different!
All in all, it's pretty impressive that this house stood so square and true for so long sans maintenance.
And yet it sure is gorgeous when a little tender loving care is applied.
About 90 years ago, two hopeful wanna-be homeowners pored over the pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog, counting their dollars and studying their budget and decided upon the Sears Magnolia. It pains my heart to think that the Magnolia in Nebraska - someone's cherished and much-loved home - is now gone.
To buy Rose’s book, click here.
To read more about the Magnolia, click here.
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Nicely done article. The lure of pictures is always too strong for me, so I went through them first.
I truly thought they might be the befores of the WV home ! Yes, they are just THAT close.
It always pains me to see fire take a house. And it begs the question, was the fire really all that bad considering the loss of such a piece of history? As you said, at least we have the photos to remember it by.
It is almost as tho this WV discovery was made to help us ease the pain of the Nebraska loss. I’m curious about what time the lost Magnolia was discovered.
It feels almost like being a trespasser through someone else’s home to look through the pictures. Did anyone notice a ghost or two tip-toeing through the rooms in any of those pictures. 🙂
RIP Maggy, you are not forgotten.
Wonderful example of why we need to start taking care of our architecture and stop razing our history.
Beautifully written, Rose.
The before and after photos of these Magnolias are truly remarkable.
I have a quick question relating to safety while working with these older type of homes.
Could you please email me? Thanks!
I am sad the Nebraska Magnolia is gone. The pictures of it are incredible.
l wish I had a few spare billion dollars to save all the old houses and homeless pets.
The house pictured here and captioned as the Lincoln Nebraska Magnolia is not the one that was located north of the Lincoln Municipal Airport runways.
That house featured a carport that was located on the right side (front view) of the house. The one pictured here features the carport and second floor balcony on the opposite side of the house.
Rose, is there any way to acquire original floor plans, material listings, etc, for the Magnolia?
I’m very much interested in one day building my own and would love to do it the right way.
Thanks for your time.
Hey there. I am restoring what I think is a Magnolia. I have a pic but don’t see how to attach it.
My primary question is what were the types of lighting and mantles. They have been removed.
Clients claim it is 1903, but I have my doubts. Help!!
I was talking to my neighbor this evening and he mentioned that my 1910 house was in fact a Sears kit house. I had not heard this before so I happened on your site. I see some similarities with the magnolia, but it is not exact. My house is on the national and state historic registries. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance from Altamont, NY.