The monthly meeting of the Bulloch County Historical Society at Pittman Park United Methodist Church spotlighted the architectural genius of Walter H. Aldred Jr., which is on display in many Statesboro homes and buildings.
Aldred’s work is a living example of the quote from architect Frank Lloyd Wright read by executive director of the Historical Society Virginia Anne Franklin Waters: “If you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”
Aldred’s daughter, Adria Aldred Thompson, and Waters gave the presentation of Aldred’s life and architectural contributions.
Born in Macon, Ga., in 1906, Walter Aldred moved to Statesboro with his family in 1907. With just a few years spent away at college and early in his professional career, Aldred resided in Statesboro until his passing at the age of 82 in 1988.
Walter Aldred Sr opened a dry goods store on North Main Street, and Thompson said Walter Aldred Jr. credited his father for business savvy, while Aldred’s mother influenced his artistic bent.
Aldred graduated from Statesboro High School in 1923, followed by Georgia Tech in 1927 with a degree in architecture. He joined an architectural firm in the Buckhead district in Atlanta after graduation, but when the Great Depression took its toll on the business, Aldred moved back to Statesboro to start his own practice.
Some of Aldred’s early work included designing and building service stations and homes where he served as contractor. By the late 1930s he had proven himself to the point that he gained contracts for major developments, like the Bulloch County Hospital and the Rosenwald Library at Georgia Teachers College, partnered with a firm from Atlanta.
Even during the challenging period of World War II, Aldred successfully competed for business throughout Georgia and the southeast region of the country that included housing projects in North Carolina and Florida.
Post-war years saw some of Aldred’s most beautiful homes built and notable places like the original Statesboro Public Library, Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church Bible Study Annex, Swainsboro’s county courthouse and the Aldred Hotel Court .
Aldred was especially proud of two achievements: his home church, Statesboro First United Methodist Church, and his personal residence, named affectionately “Biddie Hill,” for his wife, Vivian Matthews, whom everyone called “Biddie.” Statesboro First United Methodist Church opened in 1959; Biddie Hill dates back to 1940.
The Methodist Church is a form of gothic architecture, built without exterior buttresses, with the roof supported by two rows of interior arches. The beautiful stained glass windows are the work of Henry Hunt Studios, under the guidance of Georgia Southern College art professor Roxie Remley, according to a plan developed by the pastor Dan H. Williams.
Nave and chancel windows present an outline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Richly carved oak furnishings include symbols of the four evangelists, the shields of 12 apostles and 16 symbols of Christ’s passion.
Called by some “The little cathedral of wiregrass Georgia,” the church was a labor of love for Aldred. His daughter stated that he said, “The church project was a life-changing event for me. In fact, I shed a tear or two during the final architectural drafts. As a nod to time eternal, a teardrop is carved in the top stone of the exterior of the bell tower.”
Biddie Hill, erected just north of town, is neo-classical style. Delicate plaster cornices and fluted pilasters in the formal living room, Chippendale and sparkly crystal in the dining room, poster beds, antique paintings and hand carved wall sconces all contribute to the Old World sense of elegance and give no hint of the fact that the house is solidly built of reinforced concrete.
Savannah Avenue homes
Waters, who addressed the large number of attendees at the meeting, said, “I have always been an admirer of Walter Aldred’s architecture. Living on Savannah Avenue, I’m surrounded by five homes that he designed.” Those homes boast the creativity of such styles as English cottage, minimal traditional, Colonial revival and English Tudor.
“His great talent is prevalent in some of Statesboro’s finest homes built between 1935 and 1963,” Waters continued. “Many of Mr. Aldred’s homes are Colonial revival style. The focus is on entrances, cornices and windows.” The presentation of buildings and homes shown at the meeting through pictures were just a portion of his work. Aldred built homes and apartments on College Boulevard, Park Avenue, South Zetterower, West Inman, South Main Street and many other locations.
One important contribution of the talented architect to the community was the gift of eight acres of land to build Mattie Lively Elementary School.
Besides the beauty of his architectural legacy, Walter Aldred Jr. actively took part in the community, along with his wife, Vivian Matthews, whom he married in 1935. Both of the Aldreds were actively involved in church and community happenings. The couple had two children, W.H. “Skip” Aldred III, husband to Judy Smith Aldred and father of three, and Adria Aldred Thompson, wife of Henry Anthony “Biff” Thompson and mother of two daughters.
Adria and Biff’s daughters, Brooke Thompson Green, along with her husband Boyd and daughter Bryn, and Vivian Amanda Thompson Scott were guests for the presentation.
Waters summed up Aldred’s contributions when she said, “Beauty doesn’t come to us by accident, and Mr. Walter Aldred left an everlasting signature on our town.”