Magnolia was a bustling place in early 1900s
The town of Magnolia thrived and was hatched from the construction of the B&O Railroad Magnolia Cutoff bypass, former resident Paul “Sonny” Zorich said.
“The inception of Magnolia was a construction camp. They had electric there,” he said.
The train used to stop at Magnolia several three times a day going East and West. Many residents worked for the railroad.
Canal & railroad workers
Brown Norton’s great-great grandfather Timothy Norton was an Irish immigrant that worked for the B&O Railroad, along with several of his sons—Tom, Michael and John Norton.
Timothy Norton came to America to work on a Pennsylvania canal tunnel, said Barbara Norton. When it was finished, he moved here to work on the C&O Canal tunnel and after its completion worked for the railroad.
Timothy Norton was the father of Maggie Norton Johnston and Nora Norton for whom the town of Magnolia (originally called Magnora) was named. Johnston ran a boarding house in Magnolia in the early 1900s.
Brown Norton’s great-grandfather James Malcom Norton married Mary Louise Wenner and moved his family from Magnolia to Paw Paw, she said. Brown Norton’s grandfather James Henry (Henry) Norton operated the J. H. Norton and Sons store in Paw Paw for many years.
Denny Avers, Brown Norton’s second cousin, said his great-great grandmother Rosanna (Steele) Wenner ran a boarding house in Magnolia. The family was in Magnolia for at least three generations.
Rosanna’s son William Henry Wenner married Mary Ellen (Biggerstaff) Wenner, daughter of Isaac Biggerstaff. The Biggerstaffs were farmers and owned the land where the Cherry Orchard Cemetery is located, Avers said.
From the census records, it appeared that both families were gone from Magnolia by the 1900s, he said. A couple of them married McDonalds and stayed in the county and raised families.
Some of the McDonalds and Nortons were very skilled in Morse code and became telegraphers for the railroad in Morgan, Allegany and Berkeley Counties, Avers said. Others were involved
in building the railroad.
Avers found the marked graves of his great-great grandmother Rosanna Wenner and Mary Ellen (Biggerstaff) Wenner’s mother Elizabeth at Cherry Orchard Cemetery.
Brown Norton recalled taking his mother Patty J. Norton to work at a health clinic in Magnolia that was held once a month in the home of Helen and Lindy Shambaugh in the 1950’s. His mom was a public heath nurse.
Families would come from all around the area for care and to get their immunization shots up to date, Norton said. Sometimes Tiny Delawder, who assisted his mother at the health clinic, would drive.
They would bring along scales, supplies and an autoclave to sterilize the needles from his mom’s Paw Paw office, he said. Often families would bring food and have a meal afterwards. It was an all-day affair.
Donna Shambaugh recalled growing up in Magnolia in the early 1950’s. Shambaugh went to school in Magnolia and her mother Norma Appold was a schoolteacher there. The school closed in 1951 and is now a rod and gun club.
Shambaugh said her mom taught tap dance in Paw Paw. Her mother and her mother’s sisters and brothers had stage shows and tap danced and sang. They also had church festivals every year.
Shambaugh also remembered they went swimming and played baseball in front of the Magnolia store. Ladies got together once a month.
“We stayed home a lot and made our own fun,” she said.
After its peak
Magnolia’s prime was during the construction of the railroad’s high line from 1910-1914. Jobs dwindled afterwards and fires, the 1936 flood and the loss of businesses and passenger train service all took their toll on the town and its population. Several families still reside within what was once the town’s borders.
Many return to Magnolia for a reunion gathering that occurs every two years. The first Magnolia Days reunion took place in 1992 at Shock’s Hill. Hundreds of people attended the first event.
Former and current residents get together for food and entertainment and share memories of their Magnolia years. Magnolia Days is scheduled for Saturday, September 8 beginning at noon.