• photography by Andrea Zucker •
C ollierville won Parade magazine’s 2014 award for the best Main Street in America with the town receiving praise for its vintage charm, picturesque square, sense of community, “smart” development, and promising future. With this in mind, now seemed the perfect time to take a trip out to Collierville to photograph the charming home of Sally and Lyman Aldrich.
Interestingly enough, Lyman was an early booster of Mississippi riverfront living, having developed and lived in the River Row Condominiums on Front Street in Memphis in 1979. He also had helped shape the future of downtown through his early leadership of what became the Memphis in May International Festival, being the group’s first president in 1977. (See “Birth of a Tradition,” Memphis magazine, May 2013 issue.) As it turned out, though, after much searching for just the right house, he and his wife made the move 20 years ago way out east to Collierville. It was here they happily raised their daughter, Kathleen, now in Washington, D.C., working for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and their son, Davenport, a senior at Ole Miss.
The Aldrich home is in the historic district and features prominently in Collierville: A Place Called Home, a book on local history published by The Contemporary Club of Collierville in 1999. In it we are told that this single-story, central-hall, Queen Anne cottage named Homewood dates to 1892 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is described as having a wide front porch decorated with turned spindles and scroll-saw supports and a main entrance accented with double red doors opening into a 35-foot grand hall.
As I toured the home, Lyman explained it had been owned by the Keough family from 1972 until the early 1990s, when he and Sally acquired it. The home is painted in a cheerful, classic white color scheme with green shutters around the windows. Over time, they have significantly remodeled and expanded the place to suit their family’s needs, including adding a master bedroom suite, a keeping room with a kitchen, large fireplace, and a back porch — all of course in keeping with the home’s historic nature. He pointed out to me many of the home’s original features such as the pine floors, old glass in the windows, and 12-foot ceilings.
The property with its main house and several outbuildings is just over one-and-a-half acres, though the sweeping, rural views make it feel like a much larger country estate. The rustic old barn out back was there when they moved in, and of course it was left untouched. There is also a little brick edifice once used to garage the Model T Ford of an earlier owner. A former shed was transformed into a comfortable, cozy guesthouse overlooking the lovely swimming pool that replaced an earlier one situated nearer the house.
In pointing out some of the home’s wonderful heirloom antiques and memorabilia, Lyman recounted a bit about his fascinating family history. One of his forebears, Lyman Godfrey Aldrich, was the Adjutant General of the Confederate Army of Texas in the Civil War and gave the last order of the war. And believe it or not, his own father, Lyman D. Aldrich, was once a vaudeville performer in New York, whose best buddy at the time was Jack Benny’s famous sidekick, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. A framed photograph of Anderson hangs in the family room.
Our homeowner was raised in Natchez, Mississippi, where once had stood a beautiful home in his mother’s family — the original Homewood for which the Collierville house is named. Sadly it burned in 1941 though fortunately some pieces had been removed before that devastation. For example, the enormous four-poster bed in the master suite originally came from there, and as the story goes, it was bought in Europe and came up the river from New Orleans.
Sally Aldrich, currently the administrator and CNO for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Affiliated Services’ Home Care, Hospice and Palliative Service Division, joined our tour when we visited their home for a second time to capture a perfect sunset. And believe me, her family is equally interesting. She is originally from Michigan and her stepgrandfather, Charles Erwin Wilson, was at one time head of General Motors and later Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower. When I noted that one corner of the house had a wildlife theme with pictures of giraffes and trumpeting elephant sculptures, I was told that her stepfather, Charlie Wilson Jr., was an adventure-loving big-game hunter who, with Sally's late mother at his side, went on countless African safaris and visited places most of us only read about in National Geographic; they counted members of Papa Hemingway’s family among their friends. Now, in returning to the present, Lyman says living in a house that is just a short walk from the historic Collierville town square is a step back in time that reminds him of childhood days in Natchez. In addition, I was struck by the fact that even though their home is a short drive from the bustling Poplar corridor, it still has a country “down on the farm” feel. Preserving Collierville’s heritage is important to the couple, as it is to many of the town’s residents, and there is great excitement that the first bed-and-breakfast will be opening soon in a historic home down the road from Sally and Lyman. In a recent Sunday Styles Section of The New York Times, there was a story on the megamansions being built in Los Angeles with the resultant bulldozing of existing residential gems. The cartoon illustration shows a 90,000-square-foot behemoth with five (yes, count them, five) swimming pools contrasted with a sweet, white, traditional-looking house with a red front door surrounded by a white wooden fence. It looks a lot like the Aldrich house, I thought to myself.
Perhaps it’s silly to worry about keeping a megamansion clean, and maybe I just don’t dream big enough, but I’ll take Homewood any day . . . wouldn’t you?
Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts and lifestyle editor of Memphis magazine.