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Posted: December 27, 2008 9:34 p.m.

A new beginning

Historic Magnolia Hall has undergone many transformations, faces new chapter

Mandi Singer/

The front door of Magnolia Hall greets guests with a National Register of Historic Places marker.

Nestled in downtown historic Social Circle is beautiful Magnolia Hall, which was built in 1912.With its tall white columns and arching, brick driveway, you can stand in front on the wide veranda, close your eyes, and picture a Southern plantation with horse-drawn carriages bringing guests for afternoon tea. Enter the front door, and you are enveloped with a sense of Southern hospitality as you roam through the drawing room or gaze at the grand piano in the music room.

Like the popular children’s transformer toy that can change shape and identity from one object to the next, over the last century, the Greek Revival manor has transformed many times. It began as a private home. During hard times, it was converted to a rooming house called The Colonial Inn and later turned into an apartment house. It finally completed the circle back into a single family dwelling.

The mansion appears as fresh and beautiful as when it was first built almost a century ago. Its most recent owners, Billie and Louis Van Dyke, who also own the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, spent a great deal of time renovating, expanding, and just plain loving it back to the grandeur in which it was initially created. But as of October, in order for the Van Dykes to concentrate on the new Blue Willow Village, the facility closed its doors and ended another chapter in the life of the mansion. Magnolia Hall is now for sale.

When they first bought the home in 1995, the Van Dykes lived there for a year before transforming it once again into a catering and special events facility, attracting among others, many brides who wanted a special place to begin their new lives with their husbands.

Peggy Hawkins managed the special events business for many years and said it was an exceptional time in her life.

"We worked very hard not to let it feel like a wedding factory," she said as we sat across the booth at Lou’s Soda Fountain and Grill that she now manages behind the Blue Willow Inn. "Those of us working there were more like a family and less like a business. We created a special day unique for the wedding couple or for the guests of honor for other events like 50th anniversaries or birthdays or reunions. Whatever the event, we worked hard to make people feel special. There was great pleasure in being present and responsible for such joyous occasions. Maybe that’s why those days felt so wonderful."

Soda Fountain employee Gail Crowe slid into the booth next to Hawkins. "I like to say that it’s the hardest I ever worked and the most rewarding job I ever had," she said as she smiled remembering her many years helping to create those special times.

People from South Carolina to California to New York have gathered for events in the hall. There have been wedding parties from Africa, Pakistan, and even Scotland, complete with groom, groomsmen and the minister dressed in kilts. Mostly, the hall has hosted locals and their families, opening their doors to neighbors and friends alike.

Hawkins and Crowe recalled tales of sewing a bride into her dress, homing pigeons that the bride’s father insisted on calling white doves, and even a marriage so short-lived that the bride never picked up her wedding album.

Storied past

The Greek Revival manor was built almost a century ago by Prestley Stanton. He and his wife, "Miss Annie," enjoyed the home for many years before his death in the 1930s. Not long after his death, Mrs. Stanton fell onto hard times, and the bank took possession of the property. Mrs. Stanton was an industrious woman who sold pecans on the grounds, raised cows and chickens, and even sold eggs and butter to raise money to live. Through these efforts she was finally able to get her home back.

During WWII, the home was converted into a rooming house called The Colonial Inn. Many people came and went during those booming days for Social Circle, and the inn prospered. Business declined after the war, and the inn became an apartment house. Miss Annie continued to live in the house while cooking for the tenants. After her death in 1965, the home changed hands from William Stewart of Chapel Hill, N.C., who sold it to Eidson family, who promptly converted it back to a single family home, adding larger windows and French doors, paneling the study, and paved a curved asphalt drive in the front.

The mansion changed hands again in 1975 when Marice and Helen Sinberg purchased it, and again in 1983 when Clafton Snyder and her husband moved in.

By now, the home was in poor condition, and the Snyders planned to restore the house to its original grandeur. Sadly, Mr. Snyder died shortly after the purchase, and Mrs. Snyder continued to live there until 1995. That’s when the Van Dykes stepped into the picture and purchased the property.

The home and its once beautiful gardens were a mess. Grass was knee high, paint was peeling, and woodwork was in disrepair. With great care, the Van Dykes set to work and the stately home was resurrected and Billie proudly named it Magnolia Hall.

The Van Dykes lived there for a year before transforming it once again into a catering and special events facility. Besides completely restoring the inside and outside of the house, the kitchen and back porch were expanded. An 1,800-square foot deck on the rear of the home was added to accommodate large groups and parties. The asphalt drive was replaced with a brick drive. Completing the special events package, the back yard was fenced and landscaped with formal gardens, patios, and fountains. The hall has attracted among others, many brides who wanted a special place to begin their new lives with their husbands. It was a place of beginnings.

When asked if anyone famous ever visited, Louis said, "Winston Churchill slept there." Of course, he said it hiding a smile, and finally grinned as he waved, "Not really… I just like to say it."

Everything has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Over the past century as the mansion lived its life, it went through the process of beginning again over and over. What will Magnolia Hall become now? Only time will tell.

The home is listed at $1.1 million on the Coldwell Banker Jackson Realty website.

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