Its dedication to agricultural history is one of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair’s most unique characteristics, and the fairgrounds would not be complete without the rustic Aldrich House and its barnyard attractions.
The house, which was moved to the grounds several decades ago after owner Monroe Aldrich struck a deal with the Kiwanis Club to take and preserve the log house, stands among echoes of the past. Even today, member of the Aldrich family reminisce as they visit the fair.
One of the youngest sons of Monroe Aldrich and his wife R.E., Harold Aldrich, still lives just down the road on the old family home place. Several siblings and other relatives also live nearby. Harold was born in the log home that graces the fairgrounds, but soon afterward the family moved into a larger house that still stands today.
“I can barely remember (living in the original house,) but I am sure my brothers and sisters do,” he said, wondering whether his niece and nephew’s names are still readable where they carved them into the house near the chimney, many years ago.
If so, the names of Todd and Angie Aldrich, cousins, remain etched into the weathered wood.
The house remains much as it was over 55 years ago, but did undergo some renovations this year. Hurricane Matthew left his mark, and the roof was replaced by Republic Roofing, said Statesboro Kiwanis Club member J.D. Dunn. “There were a few leaks.”
Other repairs and improvements were deemed necessary as well.
“The back porch was in very bad shape and we built a deck with a handicap ramp,” he said. “Charlotte Edwards donated the wood to replace the shutters.”
A man named Buzzy Bragg rebuilt a windmill that stands near the house. It was also damaged during the hurricane. It and some other outbuildings accent the farm yard scene, but were not a part of the original Aldrich homestead.
The house stands in the Heritage Village area, across from the music and entertainment stage, within sight of an old country store (where you can still buy Coca Cola in glass bottles), a grist mill, blacksmith shop, and shed full of antique farm implements. Behind it stands a barn usually holding a few animals.
The house sits upon rough-hewn pine log blocks, has an old well casing, and all the other accoutrements of an old family farm house. It is filled with primitive antiques like those used in the past, when the home was alive with family love; chamber pots, old crockery, cane-seated chairs, and hand-sewn quilts made from clothes that had seen better days.
The quiet corner, away from the hustle and bustle of the midway, draws visitors nightly during the week of the fair. Over the years, Kiwanis Club members have added to and improved the display. It has become a mecca for those who need a break from the chaotic excitement of the fair and seek to hear the whispers of days gone by as they roam the rooms of the house and rest on its porches.
Harold Aldrich remembers hearing his family talk about the house being small. It was, for a family as large as theirs; eight children - Margaret, Sylvia, Talmadge, Aubrey, Jerry, Joyce, Harold and Deborah all played and grew up in the house.
The house was crowded, with “a couple of beds in every room,” Aubrey Aldrich said in a past interview about his childhood home. “But it was fun because we had family to back us up and we enjoyed life.”
The late Elbert Deal also talked about memories of the house. He and his family grew up on Josh Deal Road a short distance from the Aldrich family. His memories included tales about how he and his brothers would take turns spending the night with the Aldrich family, and vice versa.
In another interview several years ago, the late Mrs. R. E. Aldrich recalled the Deal boys – five of them - sleeping over in the tiny house. “They were stacked up like logs in the bed,” she said.
According to family history as shared by Aubrey. Aldrich, his father moved from the Barnwell, South Carolina area in the early 1900’s, and lived in a home near Pretoria Rushing Road. His mother’s relatives, the Hendrix family, came from Bulloch and Screven county’s Rocky Ford area. The two met, married and began raising a herd of children while they farmed.
The family raised row crops, produce and helped Statesboro businessman Josh Hagins haul horses and mules in a big truck, he recalled.
Other historical accounts have Monroe Aldrich and a neighbor by the name of Harville bringing the first “corn breaker” into Statesboro from Atlanta.
As they visit the fair each year and see their family home, the Aldrich clan surely enjoys memories of working on the family farm, picking tobacco for other farmers, and living a rough, but enjoyable country life.
Aubrey Aldrich remembered cold nights when the wood stove worked hard to keep the chilly house bearable. “It took a lot of wood to keep it going,” he said, adding that the house also had no electricity.
To see the house kept alive as it is, even if only for a week out of the year, means a great deal to the family, he said.
“It means a lot to me to see it,” he said. “The Kiwanis Club could keep it and restore it so much better than we could. I spent a lot of time there in that house.”
“It is pretty neat to see the old family homestead on display,” he said. “Most people can’t believe we (as a large family of 10) lived in a house so little.”
The Aldrich House is open to the public during all fair hours.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.