Magnolia Manor: as rich in history as it is in beauty

Settled along Hollywood Road and surrounded by trees stands a house rooted in history. Magnolia Manor, which was built in 1854, is among one of the most historic landmarks in Arkadelphia and is also home to OBU’s very own Bill and Sherri Phelps.

After meeting during their freshman year at Ouachita, the Phelps became friends and later started dating right before their junior year.

They were married during their senior year and considered moving to Little Rock. However, this was not the Lord’s plan for them, and they ended up staying in Arkadelphia.

“It’s where we wanted to raise our family and it’s been the right place for us… We have this sense of family and community that sometimes in a large city you don’t get,” Sherri said.

When it came to choosing a home, Bill had known for quite some time where he wanted to live. A history major and an architecture enthusiast, Bill had previously been fascinated by Magnolia Manor.

“[In] one of our classes, we actually took a driving tour of Arkadelphia and looked at various homes. This was one of the houses we drove by, and I loved it when we came by,” Bill said.

So one day while on another drive with Sherri, he showed her the home.

“I pointed to this house and I said, ‘we’re going to live there some day,’” Bill said.

Little did either of them know that over 30 years later, in 2005, they would gain the opportunity to not only buy, but also restore this historic site.

“We restored the house. It’s still a work in progress. We still have lots of things we want to do and can do,” Bill said.

While they “preserved” the historical elements of the home, they did have to do a great deal of work to make the house livable for them and their daughter Blaire. This included an addition so that they could have bathrooms, closets and a laundry room.

Originally, Magnolia Manor, which was named for the huge magnolia tree in the front yard, sat on a plantation that harvested cotton and raised cattle.

The home, which has stood for over a century, survived the Civil War despite being raided and looted by Union Soldiers on their way to the Confederate’s capital at the time– Washington, Arkansas.

Although the history is a very important part of the home to the Phelps, it is not Sherri’s favorite part if she could name one.

“The rooms in it are so big and inviting and it sounds really crazy because big and inviting usually do not go together, but there’s something about the house that just says ‘come in,’” Sherri said.

The large rooms and the openness of the home aid in making Magnolia Manor a place of community. Bill and Sherri both have large families, so Magnolia Manor has proven to be the perfect place to host holidays.

The Phelps also enjoy hosting Ouachita and Arkadelphia events and even inviting strangers interested in the history of their home to tour.

“When you walk upstairs and when you get to the top landing, you’ll see dents all in the floor, and it just makes me think of how many hundreds and even thousands of people have walked up those stairs in a hundred and sixty years and how many boots have made prints in those stairs,” Bill said.

This is what makes the home special for Bill, who loves opening up Magnolia Manor to the community of Arkadelphia.

“Really in the end, this house is part of all of our history. Not just our history but everybody’s history. And so, in a way, everybody is kind of a stakeholder in a house like this,” Bill said.

Living in such a historic place, the Phelps feel honored that they can call Magnolia Manor their home.

“I don’t feel like we own this house; I feel like we bought the privilege to live here and take care of it during our lifetime,” Bill said.

By Ethan Dial, online editor

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