Danny and Vicky Gaither renovate their family residence in Fulton and become part of the community.
Written by Sarah Hooper | Photographed by Joe Worthem
For just about as long as Fulton has been a town, some member of the Gaither family has made a home on East Wiygul Street. And as long as Gaithers have been at home on Wiygul Street, they’ve also been contributing members of the community.
Danny Gaither didn’t grow up in the house on Wiygul Street, but he often visited the place built in 1921 by his grandparents, Will and Lillian Gaither. His father, Edwin, grew up there. So, Danny loved the town, the house and the memories.
The original clapboard structure had three bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. There was no electricity or running water right away, but the family had a nice barn, a well with a well shed protecting it, and covered porches on the front and back of the house.
Over the years, necessities and niceties were added. Indoor plumbing made its debut, not a moment too soon. In the 1940s, a fourth bedroom was added, and, in the 1950s, the fireplaces and kitchen stove were converted to gas. After that, little changed except the people. Gaithers, entering and leaving Fulton, moved in and out of the house.
In 1981, after living in Alabama for a number of years, Edwin returned to Fulton, to his family home where he lived until 2009 when he died at the age of 87.
After Edwin’s death, the house sat empty for about a year, while Danny and his siblings struggled with what to do with the old homeplace.
“I always wanted to come back,” Danny said. But at the time, he didn’t think he could talk his wife, Vicky, a native Memphian, into leaving their home in Collierville, Tennessee.
“I had never lived in a small town,” Vicky said. “But I knew he wanted to move here. My thing for 20 years was, they don’t even have a park.
“After his dad died, we started taking the Fulton paper up in Collierville. … One day, on the front was (a story about how) the Waldorfs had donated (a gift) to build the park.”
Vicky laughed and said she knew it was meant to be.
“We’ve never looked back,” Danny said.
In short order, they began renovating the home to update it for their current needs.
The Gaithers preserved as much of the original house as they could, hoping especially to save the original floors, which ultimately proved impossible. They added central heat and air, new gas lines, updated electrical and plumbing, and did extensive foundation work.
In 2010, when they began the first of the major renovations, the couple added one and a half bathrooms and the master bedroom. The result was an interior transformation. Preserving the exterior aesthetic, the interior was essentially a new home with two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a study, living areas, a dining room and a mostly finished kitchen.
Danny and Vicky officially moved from Collierville to Fulton in October 2012.
Soon after, Danny mused, Vicky would realize she needed more space for the grandkids to visit. In 2013, they added the dormitory expansion that includes three additional bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms for their children and grandkids.
In all, they more than doubled the square footage of the Wiygul Street home. While the change is significant, the bones and the character remain intact. In keeping with the context of the original house, Vicky insisted the masonry on the addition use a method of sand and mortar that would give the appearance of aged brick.
Their son-in-law, Chris McGreger, who owns a hardscape company in Collierville, did the work.
The original family fireplace still reaches up through the foundation. The sloping ceiling indicates where the back porch was first enclosed and a “lean-to” bathroom was added back in 1926.
Furniture and photographs from generations of Gaithers color every room. A collection of knee-high ceramic butter churns sits in Danny’s office.
“I have memories of my grandmother with these old butter churns,” he said. “I’d be sitting on her lap. She’d be churning butter and reading a book to me at the same time.”
The home is gracious at every turn. Living space is ample and easy, with places friends or neighbors might sit for tea or stop for a chat. Furnished with memories from both Vicky and Danny’s families, including a Colonial-style sofa from Vicky’s mother, there is an air of approachable elegance.
“It’s very livable,” Vicky said.
Now that the home is complete, Vicky and Danny are both busy building their places in the community. They are members of the United Methodist Church. Danny volunteers with the First United Methodist Food Pantry and with other civic-minded groups. He is a volunteer groundskeeper, mowing the lawn of the historic Cates-Gaither House on Main Street and a nearby cemetery in need of upkeep. And he has worked with the Chamber of Commerce and economic development organizations to encourage volunteerism.
Because, for the Gaithers, their new community is much more than just bricks and mortar, houses and street signs. They are proud of Fulton and the progress the town has made over the years. They see growth nearby and hope to see their hometown forge ahead.
“There are plenty of opportunities for volunteers,” Danny said.