Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let Me Take You To Magnolia

Recently went back east to see Mom and have some genealogy fun. Mom dreams of life in a town called Magnolia in West Virginia, hard against the side of a steep mountain and pressed against the Potomac River. She dreams of what the simple life would have been like for our ancestors around the late 1800s in the small neighborly town of Magnolia where everbody knew everybody and went by train to the big town of Cumberland, Maryland for a day trip to shop. We went to see it, Mom, Brother and his wife, and me.

Magnolia is really hard to get to. The paved road, Route 12, twists and turns on a steep mountain side with so many switchbacks I lost count. It runs through a deep dense forest, up and down the mountainside so steep you'd likely slide on slippery layers of leaves all the way down to the Potomac River if you tried climbing it. Must be close to impossible to pass in a snowy winter... but this is West By-God Virginia where the people are tough! For the trip back we took the gravel road that sits on the old railroad bed, and straight as an arrow... but bumpy.

Let me tell you a little about the history of Magnolia and you'll see why this is interesting. Here's the link to Wikipedia and below a photo of the B&O bridge nearing completion back in the day, also from Wikipedia:,_West_Virginia


Magnolia was a railroad town, started about 1850. Around 1842 it was just known as Water Station Number 12. More people moved in to work on the rail road. Then stores came to service those families and the town grew. During 1910 the population reached about 2000 strong but by 1919 the population was recorded at just 50 souls. The flood of 1936 drove the final nail in the coffin of little Magnolia and only a hand full of families remained, mostly locating on the high ground. Today you can count the number of occupied homes on one hand. Magnolia, for all practical purposes is no more: no post office, no town, not even on Google Maps or your GPS. The area that was Magnolia is all woods and gone wild. It has returned to nature.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia. Thanks Wikipedia!

See that photo above of the bridge being built? Brother and I got out of the car and braved the onslaught of bugs to stand near the Potomac as it runs to the left of this bridge view. Here's the photo we took and we can tell you for sure there's not a building to be seen in the area! It's gone all wild.

Next we were off to find the Cherry Orchard Cemetery where some of our ancestors are buried. We didn't hold out too much hope of finding it and if we did, we expected that the old cemetery would be a mess of weeds, snakes, and of course bugs-a-plenty! Back on Route 12 and looking for the cemetery, we passed a nice historic house, unoccupied but posted with Keep Out signs.

I'm willing to bet that somewhere, someone, or on some web site or other there's an expert who can approximate the age of this house by the structure of it:)

Here's a good view of Magnolia around 1900 to 1910. I think that might be Route 12 running up the hillside, maybe?

Also from Wikipedia.

Below is Route 12 that runs through the area that was Magnolia. Here's what we saw: all wild and woods. Nothing left!

We drove mile after lonely mile through dense woods and didn't see another person. Saw a house or two that looked like it might be occupied... but no people at all and no cars passed us on the way. Saw three mailboxes but who knows if they are currently in use.

On to Cherry Orchard Cemetery! WOW! Were we shocked! Some one or group is lovingly taking care of it! See for yourself.

The picture above is the area of the Cherry Orchard Cemetery
where our House ancestors rest.

So Magnolia is gone but not forgotten. How many other places have joined its ranks as not even ghost towns but simply not there at all?

Want to go to Magnolia? Make your way in your 4-wheel drive vehicle to Paw Paw, West Virginia. Stop at the gas station and fill up, then look across the street and see the old abandoned rail road station. There's a gravel road right in front of it. Take that until you see the second rail road bridge over the Potomac. If you want to find the old Cherry Orchard Cemetery, find Route 12, Old Magnolia Road, next to the old gravel rail road bed at the second bridge. Take that in the direction away from the second bridge... you'll find the cemetery.

Or you can ask the nice lady in the gas station how to get to Magnolia on Route 12. She'll tell you. People are pretty friendly here:)

Other posts to this blog about our Magnolia ancestors are:

And this one about James Snider, a Civil War ancestor... and a drinking man:

The grave of James Snider as we found it in
Cherry Orchard Cemetery on Sunday June 10, 2012.

The URL for this post is:

UPDATE: 5/15/2016


  1. Thanks Sierra! It was magical and so much fun:)

  2. Great post! Thanks for letting me know about it.

  3. My father grew up in Magnolia. He may know who built the house...if he doesn't know, my uncle may know.

    1. Hi Tina-- If you read this please email me at
      You have any Shambaughs on your tree? We might share an ancestor:)
      Cheers, Diane

    2. I just saw your post. I am emailing you now :)

  4. Thank you for posting this blog.... I was doing some research on the daughter of my second great grandfather Nicholas T. Ambrose ~ Anna Jane Ambrose-House, looking for her grave site. Cherry Orchard Cemetery in Magnolia is where she and her family are buried. With your driving instructions, I hope to make that trip; as a remembrance to her. Thanks and best regards, Cindy

  5. Yes, I think that you'll find Ambrose graves there. Look above. I'm adding a photo of one stone with Ambrose on it. Good luck in your search!