As early as 1700 there was a growing community in Duplin county by the name of Stricklandsville.
Absolom Strickland and his wife, Tobitha and son Richard lived there during 1700. Not an easy life, but they were persevering folks and among the earliest settlers in the community. It is recorded that they operated the first known commercial business, a small general store.
The Strickland names are imprinted for time on the earliest records of Duplin and are still scattered throughout the area today. Tradition says this was why and by whom the name was given to the community, that was described as being; “ strong in spirit and growing by leaps and bounds.”
Soon after the town was incorporated as Stricklandsville. In 1855, an act of legislature changed the name to “Magnolia. It was said this was to honor Miss Maggie Monk, a native who lived there during her young days and who took great pride in the magnolia trees and various flowers that grew in her yard. Miss Maggie blessed the area with her grace and beauty.
Miss Mag, familiarly called by her friends, married Dr. C.H. Harris, and moved to Savannah, Ga. They became the parents of; P.C. Harris, a major general and adjutant general of the United States army during WWI; also Commissioner of Education of the United States, another son, Hon. William Harris.
During the 1800s, Magnolia was considered to be the most important town between Wilmington and Goldsboro. It was on the main route from New Bern to Fayetteville, and its markets attracted many people from Southeastern, North Carolina.
The hotels in Magnolia were a southern sight. One of the most prosperous, was operated by the Monk family. The other, equally picturesque, was operated by the Hannaford family. They stayed occupied, for travel was bustling and Magnolia was part of the center of it all. Ladies and gentlemen rode the rails in great numbers.
Exotic bulbs and flowers were known to have been first introduced and grown by the Strickland family, and later, by Thomas Rivenbark and then by John F. Croom and son, John Robert Croom. They were shipped by rail to all parts of the United States and Europe. Which was no problem since the A.C.L Railroad (chartered in 1833 as the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad) brought the world of progress to Magnolia’s door.
“The Stricklands” as the depot was called, served not only Magnolia and the surrounding community but a wide area on the east to Kinston, and on the west to Fayetteville; and north and south for a good distance, which included a part of Onslow County. So, the buyers and sellers came, and life was good and prosperous. The Stricklands bragged it was the only brick depot from Wilmington to Weldon, as it was.
Cotton was ginned and marketed here from a wide area; (turpentine was already a growing market). A turpentine distillery was operated near the site of the present Methodist Church.
Strawberries were grown on almost every farm and with the crate factories, tobacco and other natural grown local crops; Magnolia prospered and continued to grow.
There was even a bar, operated for a number of years by J.A. Mathis and F.D. Scott, which was eventually sold out to Mr. Mathis who wisely converted it into a general mercantile store. Matthis, however, operated the bar until 1900, when the town held an election and voted it out.
Miss Macy Cox was one of the residents who was not sad to see the bar close. “Miss Macy” as she was fondly called with her spritely ways, and determination, worked untiringly for the betterment of her town and community. She began a successful millinery store about 1897 and she stayed in business for over 60 years. Her artistic creations were quite popular and she drew a clientele from many other areas. Her generous home-spun knowledge was recorded by many.
One of the first “graded” schools and colleges of this section was located in Magnolia. The school operated from 1877 until 1895. Here, within reach of many Duplin/Sampson citizens was a real chance for higher learning in a thriving community. The Rev. John Nick Stallings, pastor of the Magnolia Baptist Church was the first teacher.
The school, built in the center of an old oak grove near the present Methodist church, was later purchased by John F. Croom, who moved the then –failing school and converted it into a residence.
The Beaver-Dam School was also one of the early schools of the town, operating in the 1800s. Later Gum School, a two-room house, located on Carlton Chapel Road served as a public and private school until 1907.
Today, many of the old homes and businesses have disappeared, bowing to time and economy; the ghosts of their prosperity still walk the streets, still whistle near the old railroad; and the older buildings wait, resolutely, perhaps for their resurrection.
Magnolia today, no longer sings the loud bustling songs of the 1800s. Her melody is softer, and the strain of time, change, and voices of another century echo softly in the air. Still, Magnolia holds the distinction of being one of Duplin/Sampson’s strongest links in the history of the country’s beginnings.