Living on Memory Lane

Four families who went home again

Kenzie Newton and her husband Ryan, along with their two children, Mary Mac and Will, live in Kenzie’s grandparent’s house, built in 1956.

Photography by Robert Clark

They say you can’t go home again, but for many families living in Columbia, that adage couldn’t be further from the truth. These four families have their own reason for returning to the home where they grew up or even, in one case, where their father grew up. From investment to nostalgia, going home can be a rewarding experience.

Kenzie Newton and her husband Ryan, along with their two children, Mary Mac and Will, live in Kenzie’s grandparent’s house, built in 1956. Kenzie’s grandmother died in the late 1990s, and after her grandfather moved to an apartment at Still Hopes, her father and his siblings put the house on the market –– Kenzie knew this was her chance. “This house was so special to me since my grandparents built it. I didn’t want someone else to come in and change it,” she says. With the open floor plan, this was the type of house in which she and Ryan wanted to raise their family.

The family moved in 2010, and while more extensive renovations are planned down the road, they focused on some of the cosmetic changes initially, such as a fresh coat of paint from top to bottom and ripping out the old carpet. “We also redid the front yard with new landscaping and gave the driveway a facelift,” Kenzie adds. “We’re moving toward redoing the kitchen and the bathrooms. When we bought the house, we intended that we would live here forever.”

Kenzie admits that renovations to come make her a little nervous in how she’ll keep the feel of the house. “As we brainstorm about the possibilities, I don’t want to destroy what my grandparents envisioned for it,” she says. There are some things she’ll keep, such as the wallpaper that she loves in the entry hall. More importantly, she has the space she wants for her family. 

“I’m amazed that my grandparents raised five children in the house, but it’s plenty of space for us and two kids,” Kenzie says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share memories, like reminding my children that their grandfather played in this same front yard. They may not grasp the significance yet, but one day they will.” 

Kenzie’s parents live just four houses away. “We’re handing down family traditions,” she says, “and I’d like to think that my grandparents would be happy that we’re raising our family in their home.”

For Cathy and Ken Wingate, moving back to the house where Ken grew up was practical. Three generations have been measured on this wall including their granddaughter, Eliza Ann Wingate. Left: Tommy Trowbridge’s grandfather bought the original lot in the early 1950s where his parents built their home years ago.

For Cathy and Ken Wingate, moving back to the house where Ken grew up was practical. It was 1991, and Cathy and Ken were expecting their third child but their house was bursting at the seams. “My mother was still living in her house, but it was really too much space for her,” recalls Ken. “She still owned her mother’s house, and it was a better size for her, so it made perfect sense for me to buy my family home from her.” 

Ken’s childhood home was originally built in 1954 and had just one owner prior to his family moving in, when Ken was in the second grade, in the mid 1960s. Along with his parents and three siblings, Ken recalls that his neighborhood was always bustling with activity. “We got to know each other and spent a lot of time playing sports. We grew up together,” he says. “In fact, three of the four houses at our intersection are now owned by the kids who grew up there, so we’re still neighbors after all these years.”

Sentimentality aside, Ken recognizes that the house also provided a family financial planning benefit to both him and his mother. As an attorney, he often counsels families on estate planning. “My mother received cash flow from the sale of an asset, and it gave us an opportunity to invest in a nicer home to raise our family,” he says. 

Even Cathy has her memories of the house. She and Ken met when they were 15, and she spent a great deal of time at Ken’s house when they were dating. Keeping up the family traditions means a great deal to her. “I wanted to have the family Christmas and Easter holidays here,” she says. “Even two of our family members were married in our living room.”

There are challenges when moving back into a childhood home. Parents don’t always understand when changes are made — new paint, updated appliances, even new furnishings can cause some angst. “My mother-in-law was very gracious in wanting us to have the house,” she says with a smile. “But on occasion, we’d find something that had been moved to one spot quietly moved back to where it had been originally.”

Older houses may also require some structural repairs. Cathy and Ken had hoped for some aesthetic changes, but they realized after moving in that budgets would have to be redirected for things like a leaky porch. Over the years, they have managed to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms and recently added a swimming pool. “That pool has caused some lamentation,” notes Ken, “because it took the place of my mom’s playhouse that she had since she was a girl. That was difficult for her.”

Still, old memories from the past and the new memories they are now making with their children give Cathy and Ken a sense of continuity. “It’s a very Southern thing,” Ken says. “We have roots.”

Diane Farr’s childhood home had always held a special place in her heart and after her mother passed away, she moved back in 2006.

Tommy Trowbridge’s grandfather bought the original lot in the early 1950s where his family home now stands. When the lot was split among his children, Tommy’s parents built their house. “I even remember when they paved Clemson Avenue and Chicora Street,” he recalls. Like many in the neighborhood, Tommy spent hours upon hours riding bikes with his friends, visiting back and forth. “We were the house everyone came to,” he says.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina, he and Lynne, his wife, the eldest daughter of the late South Carolina State Treasurer Grady Patterson, lived just a few houses away. But when Tommy’s mother became ill, she worried what would happen to the property, so Tommy promised that he would keep it. 

“We had never built a house before,” he says, “and we weren’t sure whether we should knock it down or add on.” The final decision was to add depth to the house without changing the façade. The renovation, which began in February 2015 and took seven months to complete, included altering the roofline to add more attic space and adding additional living space, a screened porch, three-car garage and a master bedroom and ensuite bath. The house nearly doubled in size to around 3,000 square feet. “We basically gutted the entire house to rewire it, replace the plumbing and insulate the walls, but we saved the hardwood floors. Fortunately, we had our previous home to stay in while the renovations were underway,” Tommy says appreciatively.

Tommy has plenty of memories from the house, although only his childhood bedroom remains in its original space. “I can still hear Reveille being played at Fort Jackson,” he says, “and I remember feeling the earthquake in 1971 while sitting in the dining room.” He remembers his neighbor’s father, Jimmy Farr, who had a popular swing band in Columbia, coming outside to play his trumpet. “My grandfather worked for SCE&G laying gas pipe line, and he would build frames for swing sets from the galvanized pipe,” he says. “Several people around here probably still have those swing sets.” And he’s now taking care of the camellia bushes that his grandfather planted.

While the memories mean a great deal, the opportunity for a sound financial investment greatly influenced Tommy’s decision to move back to his childhood home. “It’s crazy what is happening to real estate values in this area. If it had been just a house in a run-down neighborhood, I would have sold it,” he says. 

One of Tommy’s neighbors is Diane Farr, daughter of the aforementioned Jimmy Farr. Her childhood home always held a special place in her heart along with living in Forest Acres. The home came to Diane after her mother passed away, and she moved back in 2006. 

Just as her neighbor Tommy remembered her father playing the trumpet, she has fond memories of the musical entertainment throughout her childhood. One story she recalls occurred when she was born. “To announce my birth, Dad went out on the back steps and began playing a song entitled Diane. That’s how the neighbors learned I had arrived and knew my name.”

Diane feels very comfortable living in the home she grew up in, but she also wanted to make it her own. As is common in older homes, upgrades are usually one of the top priorities. She completely renovated her kitchen with new appliances and granite countertops and added glass cabinetry to display the collection of crystal that her mother purchased piece by piece for her grandmother. She also pulled up the old carpeting to discover beautiful hardwood floors beneath. “I remember Mom saying she put the carpet down to get rid of my brother’s tricycle marks on the floor,” she says with a laugh.

Diane also inherited a large yard full of plantings that hold special memories. She cares for the hydrangeas that her mother planted along with a large assortment of camellia bushes. “There is a pink one that my grandmother gave my mother when I was born,” she says. “Pink is my favorite color, and it blooms every year around my birthday.”

There were some practical reasons for moving home again, such as the ability to move into a larger house with a very convenient location. Diane can now enjoy the things that have been handed down through her family that she wouldn’t have had the space to display in her previous house. “I still have a link to my family.” she says, “I’m fortunate to still feel these family memories and have the opportunity to create new ones.”