Maag Farmhouse

The Story of, and Vision for,
the Maag Family Farmhouse at Heritage Museum of Orange County

For over 125 years, the Maag Farmhouse has stood as a symbol of Orange County’s booming agriculture industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. John A. Maag, a citrus and nut grower, was instrumental in organizing members of the citrus community from Santa Ana to Redlands into growers associations and cooperatives, so it’s only fitting that his home be preserved and renovated into a present day community hub.

As a centerpiece of Orange County history, HMOC strives to bring the Maag and Kellogg family histories to life, while also looking to the future. This future will not only tell the stories of these families, and of Orange County itself; but also provide an immersive educational experience space for students and community members to learn from, and engage with, one another while connecting the past, present, and times to come.

Explore more of the Maag Family and Farmhouse history; and our vision for the restoration and renovation plans detailing where HMOC will guide the story next, with your help!

Maag Farmhouse family historical photo
Mr John Anton Maag
John Anton Maag
Mrs Catherine Steffes Maag
Catherine Maag

Meet the Maag Family

From an immigrant’s beginning, to becoming one of Orange County’s pioneering economic leaders, this is the story of John Maag and his family.

Born in Deitmecke, Westphalia, Germany on October 31, 1851, John Anton Maag’s father Frank was a tenant farmer who died when he was two, leaving his mother to raise him and his elder brother Frank Jr.  The Maag matriarch emigrated the family to the United States in 1865, at the end of the U. S. Civil War, first living in Michigan before settling in Columbus, Nebraska in 1871. His mother became the first white woman settler in Platte County, Nebraska successfully homesteading a 160-acre parcel.

As an adult, John homesteaded his own parcel of land in Nebraska, marrying Catherine Steffes, a native of Michigan in 1884. They lived on the homestead for the next seven years, during which time they had six children, with two of the sons dying very young during this period.

In 1889, John toured the Pacific Coast and was impressed enough to return, relocating his family to Southern California. He and Catherine bought a horse and buggy in Los Angeles to search Orange County for the ideal location for a farm. In the fall of 1891, they decided on and purchased 31 acres of farmland in the area now known as Santa Ana and became local orange growers.

Catherine and John soon added six more children to their burgeoning household having 12 children total, with 10 surviving to adulthood. The living children’s names were: Frank Peter, John William, Mary Elizabeth (Altmiller), Joseph Anton, Henry Joseph, William Henry, George William, Charles Edward, Elizabeth Mary (Brock), and Clarence. 

When the Maag family moved to California from Nebraska in 1891, they first settled in a small house that pre-existed on their property near Fairhaven Memorial Park. Around 1895, John and Catherine Maag started building a larger home and the twelve-room Maag Farmhouse was custom built from 1895 to 1899 to accommodate their family. It was expected that all eight boys would help John on the ranch when they were not in school and in return, when a son turned twenty-one years of age they were given a team of horses and a parcel of land so each of the Maag sons could establish his own ranch. For this purpose, several of them took business courses at local colleges and they became orange and avocado farmers.  In a true sign of the times the family lived in, when the girls came of age they received a piano. 

Catherine Maag was a strong woman just like her husband. While John was developing the ranch, she was busy taking care of the children and creating a warm, friendly home. Catherine worked constantly to keep the house clean and organized. Until the family bought a washing machine, clothes were washed outside in a washtub and hung outside on the clotheslines to dry. With such a large family Catherine did a lot of sewing and had a tiny room that had her sewing machine set up, ready to go. Catherine loved to cook and had a large wood burning stove. She especially liked baking pies, cakes, and cookies. When Catherine became a grandmother, she established a tradition of sending cookies home with the grandchildren after their Sunday visits.

The Maag daughters helped their mother around the house. This was especially true of eldest daughter Mary. Mary also helped Catherine with the raising of the younger children and Mary never received a formal education. However, second daughter Elizabeth, who was twelve years younger than Mary, was sent to private school. Both girls learned to play the piano.  Mary Maag stayed in her parents’ home for thirty-eight years until her marriage. After her wedding she moved with her husband to the town of Taft in Kern County, California, but she still visited her parents regularly, about every two weeks.

Soon after the Maags became established, an overabundance of oranges created such a strong buyer’s market that the local farmers could not earn enough to make a profit. As a successful citrus and walnut farmer in early Orange County with a keen business sense, John Maag saw a need to collaborate with his fellow orange growers to establish fair prices for agricultural products. To accomplish this, he organized a co-op with the orange growers between Santa Ana and Redlands and formed the Santiago Orange Growers Association. Under Maag’s President and Directorship of the association for over 20 years this foundation is what eventually became the well-known Sunkist Growers. He was also instrumental in the creation of several other produce growing associations: Central Lemon Growers; the Olive Heights Orange Growers; Richland Walnut Growers Association; and the Orange County Fumigating Association. Memberships in these associations led to his involvement in the development of Sunkist Growers.

Over time John bought several more ranches, which made him a very prosperous man. In 1917, John Maag owned one of the few Sampson tractors in Orange County. He purchased the tractor for $1,400 which is about $29,000 in today’s money.  He applied these experiences towards helping organize the Citizens Commercial and Savings Bank of Santa Ana, now known as the California National Bank, cementing his already impressive involvement as an Orange County pioneer creating and raising OC’s economic stability. 

The Maags were devoutly religious. They were parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church in Santa Ana where John participated in the Altar Society, an organization that collected funds for the church and maintained the altar vessels for Mass. He was also a member of the Holy Family Catholic Church, Santa Ana Order of the Elks, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.  

Although devout, the Maags were a buoyant and active family. They liked visiting the beach at Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. They enjoyed hiking and camping in local places such as Mount Lowe, the San Gabriel Mountains or Matilija Hot Springs in Ventura County. They visited their relatives in Santa Paula, Ventura County and traveled farther north to San Francisco. In 1915, the family even took a return trip to Columbus, Nebraska to visit relatives.

John and Catherine Maag enjoyed a happy and loving marriage, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The celebration included a musical program of organ selections and vocal solos from family and friends. After attendance at the church, 250 guests were invited to the Maag home for a celebratory dinner.

John was remembered by a Maag granddaughter, Lucina Maag Considine as a “German authoritarian, firm but fair” and by others as a staunch family man, remaining on his family ranch until his death on the property in 1931 at the age of 80. Catherine remained on the family ranch until her own death in 1955.

For firsthand accounts and remembrances of life on the Maag Farmhouse Ranch from some of the Maag grandchildren, view this 2001 HMOC Maag article (then Discovery Museum of OC).

MAAG FAMILY HISTORY (sources: HMOC Board notes, 2009; County Courier Newsletter, 2005; Discovery Museum of Orange County Teletype, 2001; HMOC Archives)

Get to Know the Maag Farmhouse History

Moving the 1899 Maag Farmhouse to HMOC in 1981 cropped

Although not as prominently well-known or as widely recognized as our Kellogg House, the nearly 6,000 square foot 1899 Maag Family Farmhouse, along with two of its original outbuildings: the water tower (tank house/pump room) now used as the HMOC giftshop, and the Carriage Barn housing HMOC offices and conference space, all make up important pieces of Heritage Museum of Orange County’s historic museum plaza and have provided the backdrop to thousands of public events and wedding ceremonies held on our gazebo lawn.

In 1895, after relocating from Nebraska to Orange County, John and Catherine Maag had started building a large home on their recently purchased 31 acre farmland for themselves and their 10 surviving children. The asymmetrically designed two story, 12 room Colonial Revival custom built farmhouse was completed in 1899 at a cost of $10,000 (approximately $377,800 in 2024 money).

Exterior features of the house include a hipped roof with three gables, one on the front of the house and one on each side; an L-shaped porch with decorative wooden trims and railings wrapping around the corner between the front and main side entries, with its roof supported on Tuscan columns; a long porch on the east side; and a screened-in porch next to the kitchen. Pediments enhanced by frieze style scroll work accent these entries. The house had both forward and rear interior stairways.

Since the driveway was located at the side of the house, not the front, the front entrance of the house was rarely used, with grandchildren using the back door off the kitchen after working on the farm; and arriving guests departing their coaches, and later cars, at the side entrance. Because of this preferred method the Maag Farmhouse has been situated on HMOC grounds to reflect this arrangement and maintain historical authenticity.

The original floor plan of the house included six bedrooms; a grand paneled entry hall; a large parlour; a music room/study; a dining room capable of seating up to 24 people with a tiled fireplace, built in cabinets and bay windows; a spacious kitchen; a butler’s pantry; and one and a half bathrooms. John Maag was the first locally outside of large cities to have his home wired for electricity in 1900.

John was a German immigrant who made his fortune as a citrus and nut grower, renowned for his collectivization of the OC farming community and efforts to maintain a fair price for produce, which led to the founding of the “Sunkist” Growers Association. The size of the family and Maag’s success in his agriculture and business ventures are reflected in the size and stature of this historic home. Members of the Maag family lived in the house past John’s death on the property in 1931 until Catherine died in 1955. The 31 acre ranch on which it stood was then purchased by the adjacent Fairhaven Cemetery, which put the house to use as a caretaker’s residence before selling the land to a mobile home developer in the 1970s.

Originally located on Fairhaven near the city limits of Orange, the Maag Farmhouse and two of its extant structures were disassembled and moved across town in 1981, to join the Kellogg House at their new home at Heritage Museum of Orange County (previously Discovery Museum of Orange County). The home was saved from demolition with the intention of providing the community with a space to connect the past, present and future. The restoration of the Maag Farmhouse will not only allow visitors to learn from, and engage with, one another, but will also make immersive, educational experiences available to students and community members.

For firsthand accounts and remembrances of life on the Maag Farmhouse Ranch from some of the Maag grandchildren, view this 2001 HMOC article (then Discovery Museum of OC). View descriptions of each room and the historic Maag Farmhouse floorplans.  

MAAG FAMILY HISTORY (sources: HMOC Board notes, 2009; County Courier Newsletter, 2005; Discovery Museum of Orange County Teletype, 2001)

View a collection of Maag Family Farmhouse photographs showcasing:

  1. A sampling of Maag Farmhouse exterior photos
  2. The historic process of moving the Maag Farmhouse and two of its extant buildings (the Water Tower now used as HMOC Giftshop, and the Carriage Barn now used as HMOC offices and Conference Space) from its original location in Santa Ana to Heritage Museum of Orange County in 1981
  3. Historic Photos of the Maag Family
  4. The interior over the years of the 1899 Colonial Revival Maag Farmhouse
  5. The Maag Farmhouse used as an exhibition space

(Click the gallery images to view larger)

The Maag Farmhouse Project: A home for community memory keeping

Amanda and Nico Maag Exterior Heritage Museum OC
There are few participatory spaces available within Orange County dedicated to preserving and sharing the narratives of community members. The restoration of the Maag Farmhouse will provide a platform to foster intercultural and intergenerational dialogue and understanding through community memory keeping.
A Space for Storytelling

At the heart of community memory keeping is the art of storytelling. Restoration plans include lecture, presentation, and meeting room space which will allow community members to share their research and personal stories with both large and small audiences. Additionally, a recording room will be available for HMOC staff to record oral histories and interviews with community members for digital preservation.

A Public Research Center

Private archives and collections are often viewed as exclusive and off-limits to those without official credentials. Through the restoration project and inclusion of a public research center, Heritage Museum of Orange County will provide equitable access to the community history it preserves. Visitors will have the opportunity to browse the digital collection and seek consultation from the onsite archivist.

A Platform for Local Voice and Vision

In addition to exhibitions curated from Museum collections, space will be available for community members to share their work. Local creators will have the opportunity to install their content for display and lecture space will provide a stage for live presentations and community discussions.

Helping to develop the next generation of leaders, archivists, educators and supporters of the museum industry is high on the priority list at Heritage Museum. By providing internship and fieldwork opportunities, local high school, undergraduate and graduate students gain hands-on experience in archive work, exhibition design, program development, story telling and preservation, community engagement, and much more.

With the restoration of the Maag Farmhouse, Heritage Museum will be able to provide more opportunities like this for the community. With designated workstations, access to historical resources and museum collections, and guidance from industry professionals, students and interns will receive quality training and experience to apply in their future professional endeavors.

The Maag Farmhouse Restoration Plans and Costs

(all costs are estimates and subject to change)
1st Floor proposal
1st Floor proposed Maag Farmhouse Restoration_floorplan exhibit space

The first floor of the Maag Farmhouse will be multifunctional. Serving as exhibition, gallery, lecture, and meeting space, the four large rooms downstairs will be accessible to the public during regular museum public hours. The foyer of the home will serve as the reception area for visitors to purchase admission and learn about the current offerings at HMOC. Additionally, the gift shop will be relocated from the water tower to what was once the Maag family kitchen.

The layout of the first floor creates a nice flow of traffic for guests to view our unique offerings and encourages further support of the museum with purchases at the gift shop and space rental.

2nd Floor proposal
2nd Floor proposed Maag Farmhouse Restoration_floorplan offices

The second floor of the Maag Farmhouse will serve as the official archive and collection space of Heritage Museum. Two of the rooms will be utilized as office space for museum staff, two adjoining rooms will serve as the archive/collection space, one room will be setup to accommodate digital content development including recording videos and podcasts, and one room will serve as a public research space. As the second floor will house HMOC collections, it is essential that security of the area be considered. For this reason, the second floor of the home will be accessible to the public by appointment only.

2nd Floor Maag Farmhouse proposed Restoration prices

Get Involved in the HMOC Maag Farmhouse Restoration Project!

This year we are going to raise $2 million to begin the renovation of the beautiful Maag Farmhouse at Heritage Museum of Orange County! Join us as we preserve the history and protect the future of this local treasure.

In addition to being tax deductible, donations over $60 will receive a 1 year Individual HMOC Membership, and donations over $100 will get a Family HMOC Membership!

Want to donate your time, talent, or goods instead? Interested in a larger sponsorship of the project?  We’d love to talk! 

Download or share the Project PDF

Our sponsors and donors are integral to our mission and we look forward to speaking to you about it!

There are so many ways to help with the restoration of the Maag Farmhouse! From monetary gifts to specialized skills, Heritage Museum of Orange County needs your help to continue this important work for the community.

Sponsorships/funding opportunities can include:

Individual Rooms; the Entire Farmhouse; Donations of Material and/or Labor; Corporate Service Projects; and more!

For sponsorship inquiries and opportunities please contact our Executive Director Candace Chromy at:

Or, fill out this brief inquiry form to have your message sent directly to her.

To reach a specific department, please visit our up to date Staff contact information page.