Oliver N. and Nellie (Thorp) Magee, 6 North 51 West
Magee's old downtown retailer now but a memory
By JIM McKEE / Column Nov 30, 2014
Until the 1960s virtually all of Lincoln’s retail stores were located “downtown,” with local merchants as the builders, movers and shakers of the entire community -- with names such as Gold, Hovland-Swanson, Wells & Frost, Rudge & Guenzel, Herpolsheimer and Miller & Paine.
One of the foremost, and now gone from all but memories, was Magee’s Clothing, whose white, terra-cotta, three-story building still stands on the southeast corner of 12th and O streets.
In 1868, using veterans scrip, John L. Magee acquired a tract of farm land on Rock Creek near Valparaiso, Nebraska. On that farm Oliver N. Magee was born in the early 1870s.
Nellie Throop also was born on her father’s farm near Valparaiso in 1874, her father and grandfather having had the contract to furnish the windows and doors for the first Nebraska state Capitol in 1867-68.
John Magee moved into the village of Valparaiso in 1881 where, with his son Oliver as manager, established Magee & Sons Dry Goods. Thirteen years later Nellie Throop married Oliver Magee in Valparaiso. A year later, in 1895, Oliver and Nellie moved to Seneca, Kansas, where they opened O.N. Magee Clothing Co., and their son Oliver Harold Magee was born. The big city beckoned and, in the early spring of 1902, the Seneca store was sold. The Magee family moved to Lincoln, living at 1521 D St., where the senior Magee immediately went to work for Maurice Newmark, manager of the Globe Clothing Store, owned by the Friedlich brothers at 1009 O St. Oliver promptly informed Newmark that he would have to resign if the job included working on Sundays, and though Newmark did acquiesce, his employment lasted only a few months.
In late 1902, Magee partnered with Robert E. Deemer, opening Magee & Deemer at 1109 O St., which featured a men’s clothing department on the second floor. One of the first business ads announced that future advertisements would never exaggerate, there would be no misrepresentations, they would sell only reliable brands and every sale would be completely guaranteed.
On March 1, 1918, the Alexander Block was razed. With construction underway, Magee was stricken first with acute appendicitis but then died on March of influenza in the pandemic epidemic. Although only the first three stories of the building were completed, the extant white terra-cotta structure opened as Magee’s that year with Nellie as president.
In the 1930s, Nellie, still president of Magee’s Inc. and Magee Shoe Co., established a boy’s vocational camp on 160 acres of the original Throop family farm about 10 miles from Ceresco. Camp KinniKinnik, purposely misspelled to form a palindrome, featured a swimming pool, museum, cabins, picnic grounds, fishing ponds and tennis courts, and was financed entirely by Nellie’s sale of Bible cards. The camp ultimately also became her summer home.
In 1939, Nellie turned over the management of Magee’s to her sons, passing away in 1964 at 89, the year that Magee’s opened its Gateway Shopping Center store. Magee’s in Omaha’s Crossroads Center opened in 1968, and although branches were opened in Aurora and Sterling, Colorado, through the years, like many of Lincoln’s locally owned downtown stores, all outlets are now closed but not forgotten.
The boys' camp is gone, farmed over, but the 12th and O streets building still stands, looking almost exactly as it did in 1918, is well tenanted and, if you look down from any nearby building, you will see that it now sports a true penthouse atop the original three-story structure.