If you don’t know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are then you must live under a rock or have no connection to the outside world. Chip and Joanna Gaines are the hosts of HGTV’s television show Fixer Upper. Over the past few years they have charmed their way into the hearts and homes of America with their amazing, head turning house transformations. Their comedic and heart-warming personalities each week make you feel like you have gained two new best friends and give you the feeling like they are visiting you for an hour in your own living room.
In their process of transforming one home at a time, they have also managed to transform the city of Waco during this process. With Magnolia Market being a major Waco tourist attraction, in addition to the other components of their brand drawing people in from all over the world (and yes I mean world); the Gaines continue to bring new life, imagination, and inspiration to the community. In the spring of 2015, Chip and Joanna undertook one of their biggest fixer uppers known to date; the renovation of the Silos, located at the corner of Webster and 8th Street, as their new location of Magnolia Market. With this new business venture that ranges from their store front, food trucks, open lawn and games concept, and their soon to be bakery, Flour, opening this spring; the Silos have become one of the most recognizable structures and locations to not only the community of Waco, but everyone who passes through.
When people visit the Silos, what they might not know is that Magnolia is not the beginning for the Silos; but a mere continuation of its own long-lasting history in Waco. Behind the rust and the chipping paint lies the story of what is often times referred to as the “white gold” of the South and how the buildings the Gaines Family have incorporated into their story, have their own historic tale dating back to before the 20th century, allowing the stories of our past to be in our present.
During the 1900’s, in the state of Texas, cottonseed was the second cash crop in comparison to lumber. The benefits of cotton not only helped the state of Texas but allowed Waco to flourish after some difficult times in recent past years. Before the Great Depression, Waco was known as the “King of Cotton.” It not only raised the economy but it also provided employment and at the time put Waco on the map. In 1910, J.T. Davis took an empty lot of land and established the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company. This complex went from being dirt and gravel and transformed into an economic explosion. The location for a company like this was ideal. This open area of land allowed an entire complex to be constructed along with having the railroad adjacent to the property bringing in even more shipments of cotton from local gins; increasing production, money, and business for Waco.
The Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company employed over 75 men and purchased thousands of tons of cottonseed from local farmers providing opportunities for the community. The complex and business continued to flourish until the Great Depression which began the decline of the cotton industry. From an open lot in 1893 to an entire complex consisting of two 120 ft. metal seed storage tanks, an office, warehouses, and all the other necessary structures seen in 1926; the Silos transformed the Waco landscape. Between a fire in the 1940’s and a flood which lead to damage; the business changed ownership during the 1960’s. During the 1990’s, the Silos remained vacant until the Gaines purchased it as part of their own business vision.
With the help of Sanborn maps, which are Fire Insurance Maps used during the late 19th and early 20th century, we can see how the area has transitioned over time. Sanborn maps are like a giant puzzle. It takes a bird’s eye view approach of a town or city showing the footprints of structures and the layout of a city in a particular year. There are symbols on each structure which can tell you materials the structure was built out of, its use of space, and other important components used by fire insurance companies at the time. Now, during the present day, it allows you to examine the same area over a span of time indicating how the structures and areas have changed. By using these symbols, it helps to examine the overall building footprint of each structure and its transformation overtime. It enables you to play detective for a day and put the puzzle pieces together which can teach you the history of not only a particular structure but your community as well.
For the Silos, we have three maps that were examined; 1893, 1899, and 1926. Based on the maps (shown below) it shows that between 1893 and 1899 the structure on the corner lot (which today is being used as the upcoming location for Magnolia’s bakery Flour), was actually built in the 1890’s. The symbols on the map indicate that the structure's original use was a store built of brick with a shingle roof. If you have drove by this building recently, you might notice that construction has already begun on this building. Joanna has brought the structure back to it’s original roofing material, the shingle roof. This allows the structure to be updated to today’s standards but still maintains the character defining features of the original structure. The structure was one story high and constructed with reinforced concrete frame, columns, and beams; based on the 1899 Sanborn map. It also appears that part of the current Magnolia Market adjacent to S. 7th St. was also partially constructed during that time as well. It’s original use was a Planing Mill and Wood Working Machinery with the name The Burr-Lake Wood Manufacturing Company, as indicated on the map. When you jump to the 1926 map it is evident that a lot of construction and change has occurred since 1899 up until 1926.
What we can gather is that the two 120 ft. Silos were constructed during this time span of 1899 to 1926. The current Magnolia Market structure was built to the footprint we are familiar with today and was used as a “house” designated as a warehouse. It is listed as being a tile building with concrete pilasters. The front part of the complex where the store front is was 2-3 stories high at the time and the back part of the market was 1-2 stories. Where the games lawn, food trucks, and garden area are now located, originally had two other structures as part of the complex but have been torn down since the 1926 Sanborn map. Magnolia “Flour” during this time had a drive or passage way located on the left side of the structure (which has since been torn down) and was designated as an office with some other additions added on the back.
With the help of resources such as Sanborn maps, it allows us to see how these Waco landmarks have evolved but, at the same time, have not really changed that much over time. The beauty behind it is when people from the community and outside visitors, come to Magnolia Market and go inside to marvel at Chip and Joanna’s store and bakery; they can know that they are sitting within a piece of Waco history. And with the help of the Gaines, they have taken these historic buildings and brought them back to life again allowing people to enjoy it in a new found light.