Chip and Joanna Gaines on Friday continued their buying spree of historic properties with the purchase of the 151-year-old Fort House from Historic Waco Foundation.
The founders of the Magnolia TV and retail empire have not disclosed their plans for the house museum at 503 S. Fourth St., two blocks from their flagship Magnolia Market at the Silos.
But Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano said the Gaineses intend to “maintain the home in a way that carefully honors and thoughtfully celebrates its heritage.”
“Fort House is a cornerstone of this city, and we intend to keep it that way for years to come,” Marsicano said in a statement Friday.
Historic Waco Foundation director Jill Barrow declined to disclose the sale price of the historic home, but she said the proceeds would strengthen the nonprofit’s endowment and further its mission of education and preservation. The sale will help the organization repair and maintain its other four historic homes, among other goals, she said.
“This has not been an easy decision,” she said. “It’s a part of Waco’s history. But we have worked extremely closely with Magnolia, and we have put a ton of deed restrictions on it. It’s going to look very much like it is now. Magnolia has bought into maintaining the historical integrity of the house.”
The Fort House has a state historic marker, and major changes to the house’s appearance would require approval by the Texas Historical Commission.
The Gaineses, who gained fame as hosts of HGTV’s hit “Fixer Upper” series from 2014 to 2018, have continued to invest in Waco real estate. In addition to the silo complex and two historic homes operated as vacation rentals, Magnolia-related companies have bought the former Grand Karem Shrine building at 701 Washington Ave. from McLennan County. Last month, they purchased a building near the Silos for a coffee shop, and historic castle on Austin Avenue, which also has a historical marker.
The Fort House is by far the oldest structure the Gaineses have bought. William Fort, a prominent planter and businessman from Alabama, built the house with his wife, Dionita, in 1868, just after the Civil War. The two-story house was built in the Greek Revival style using local brick and cypress columns hauled here from New Orleans by boat and oxcart. The house originally stood on a six-acre site that was reduced to its current corner lot as Waco grew, according to an article from Baylor University’s wacohistory.org website.
William Fort, who had come to the area in 1854 with a caravan that included slaves for the cotton plantation south of town, prospered after the Civil War, becoming president of Waco National Bank and owner of the city’s first transit system. After Dionitia Fort died in 1910, the house passed to a series of owners who rented it out. It was in decline when the Junior League bought it in 1956 and hired a firm to restore it as the organization’s headquarters. But the Junior League soon decided to deed the house to the Waco Society for Historic Preservation, now Historic Waco Foundation. The house won a historic marker in 1970.
The foundation has long operated the Fort House as a museum, along with three other house museums, with recent exhibits on black history, baseball and other topics. However, in the past year it has been closed for repairs after a tree fell on the house, Barrow said.
In the meantime, Historic Waco Foundation officials have held community meetings to develop a strategic plan for the organization to make it more relevant to a broader audience.
“One of the overwhelming messages was that ‘You have too many old houses that tell the same story, and you need to sell off some of the homes,’ ” she said. “The sale of the house is going along with what the community was telling us to do.”