During the Republic of Texas this grand ole’ building began it’s place in history in 1840 as a 2 room log cabin with a breezeway down the middle built out of wood that was designated for a fort. Built by the higly respected James Campbell who was one of the original Dewitt Colonists, co-founder of Seguin and an amazing Texas Ranger. Then it was purchased by Joseph F. Johnson 1844 who turned the 2 room cabin into a stagecoach station. A separte concrete building was added in the back in 1844 creating the FIRST hotel in Seguin and naming it the Magnolia Hotel. Then a larger, two-story frame building was added in the middle in 1853 connecting the 2 buildings.
The Magnolia Hotel was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (H.A.B.S.) in 1934, and contributes to the downtown Commercial District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The Magnolia’s limecrete section was built by John Park, a chemist and doctor who experimented with concrete after moving to Seguin in 1846. The hotel was probably the first ‘Park’s concrete’ building in town, and is surely the oldest still standing.
John Park’s work, with his imitators and rivals, led to Seguin having the largest concentration of mid-19th-Century concrete structures in America
The dating of the concrete hotel is established because the formidable Captain Jack Hays, “perhaps the most famous Texas Ranger” according to Willie Mae Weinert’s ‘ ‘Authentic History of Guadalupe County’ and the State Archives’, married Susan Calvert, daughter of Jeremiah Calvert, the hotel’s owner, “in the south room of the concrete portion of the hotel on April 29, 1847, Rev. John M. McCulloch presiding.” The bride’s family traced back to Lord Baltimore, who had launched a colony in Maryland, while Rachel and Andrew Jackson were aunt and uncle of the groom.
Park’s concrete building was next to a two-room cabin built of logs originally gathered by Seguin citizens to build a stockade as defense against possible Indian raids. Instead, the logs were sold to Texas Ranger James Campbell, and his cabin became the point of defense: A pioneer child later recalled being among frightened women and children taking shelter in the basement when an Indian raiding party neared town.
James Campbell had been one of the 33 signers of the Charter that established Seguin in August, 1838. The next year he was second to Capt. Matthew Caldwell in his Gonzales-based Ranger Company; as 1st Lieutenant, Campbell led the Ranger forces based in Seguin.
The two-story frame building that now sits atop the large basement, replacing the Campbell cabin, dates from the early 1850s. It shows graceful Greek Revival symmetry and detailing around the door, and a roof line similar to that of the concrete house known as Sebastopol built 1854-56.
Frederick Law Olmsted passed through Texas writing dispatches to the New York Times, some years before his design for New York’s Central Park made him famous as “the Father of American Landscape Architecture”. He visited Seguin in February, 1854, and wrote with surprise about its many concrete buildings. And he noted, “The hotel is large and good.” That he made no mention of the hotel itself being of concrete implies that he was referring to the much larger wooden building, dating it to about 1853.
Jeremiah Calvert sold the property to Dr. William Reid, who operated the hotel from 1850 to 1860, then Thomas Dickey Johnson owned it until 1900. Together they encompassed the years when the Magnolia served as an overnight stop for stagecoaches making their runs from the coastal ports to San Antonio and points west. A young slave had the honor of ringing the bell to announce the stage’s arrival, and to summon guests at mealtime, and in emergencies. The stone the youngster stood on remains in place.
The story is told that the bell came from the Alamo, having been found in the San Antonio River in 1845, and was used at the Magnolia until about 1900. Later Mrs. Joseph (Ella Peyton Dancy) Dibrell of Seguin purchased and donated the bell to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, managers of the Alamo shrine.
During the stagecoach years, from 1848 to about 1880, the most important event of the day, as in every small town, was the arrival of the stage. It brought family, friends, tired and hungry visitors, salesmen, settlers, investors. And it delivered the mail; newspapers and magazines with articles on news, science, or ladies fashions; special-ordered merchandise; sometimes even cash. So the Magnolia was the center of the town’s social life, serving food and drink, and it had a ballroom for dancing. Records show that Joseph Zorn, who lived in the grand concrete house called Sebastopol, had his wedding reception at the Magnolia, before he was elected mayor in 1890 to serve for 20 years.
A rival, the Grand Central Hotel, opened about 1890 in a brick building. Then the Aumont in 1916, and the Plaza in 1917, began heavily advertising their “fire-proof” brick construction. The Magnolia lost its position as the town’s premier lodging.
When the Great Depression and the Darst Creek Oil Field arrived in the county almost simultaneously in the 1930s, the property was bought by the Lannom family. They lived downstairs and operated with small apartments upstairs for another 65 years or so. In recent years, the Lannom heirs struggled to come up with a plan for the Magnolia. They decided to sell to the right buyer.
With the heirs’ agreement, Preservation Texas listed the Magnolia Hotel among the state’s “Most Endangered Places” in March, 2012. The resultant publicity attracted rescuers. The hotel is now being restored to serve as the home of new owners. Though much of the building remains a work in progress, two front rooms have been fully renovated. The ancient floors and woodwork gleam, transoms again swing above the doors. A porcelain sign found in the abandoned rooms now hangs over the front door again, reading, “Magnolia”.
The owners of the Magnolia Hotel over the past 150 years:
Joseph F. Johnson
Dr William Reid, 1850
Thomas Dickey Johnson, 1860 to 1900
Hilmar Weinert, 1911
Herman Herzog and Eddie Wahl, 1916
C.H. Trott/Mattie Dalchau, 1925
Sons of Hermann of San Antonio, 1932
Edgar and Virginia Lannom, 1934
Lannom Estate, 1994
Erin O. Wallace and Jim Ghedi, 2013