ABOARD THE AMERICAN DUCHESS – The beautiful antebellum house known as “The Towers” doesn’t have any.
Towers, that is.
One of the landmark towers that gave the historic Natchez home its name was destroyed in a 1927 fire. The other tower was taken down that same year.
But Ginger Hyland and her husband James are determined to do something about that lack of towers.
“We’re returning the towers,” she says. “I’m so excited, I can’t stand it.”
One of the towers is expected to be completed by the middle of June. The second one is scheduled for completion this fall.
“So by Christmas, both towers should be back in place,” Ginger says. “The Towers is the only silhouette like it in Natchez so this will bring a whole unique look back that has been gone for 90 years.”
As part of my American Duchess cruise, I visited The Towers and its timeless treasures. The home is open to the public for scheduled tours. One of the American Duchess premium excursion options in Natchez is a home-hosted visit with Ginger and James at The Towers.
For $79, passengers can tour the home and enjoy a lunch of southern comfort food prepared by local chef Rene Adams. I didn’t take that lunch excursion but heard passengers afterwards happily complimenting their hosts, the gorgeous home, the amazing collections and the delicious lunch.
Learning about The Towers
When I visited, workers were busily constructing the first tower under the leadership of James. Ginger showed me around the home and shared stories about her childhood, her father and her surprising collections.
Ginger is the daughter of Lawrence A. Hyland, president of Hughes Aircraft Company and one of the men credited with the invention of radar.
“When I was growing up in California, my parents had friends in Natchez so we could come to visit when I was a little girl,” she says. “I thought these houses were wonderful.”
About 12 years ago, Ginger decided that she and her collections would feel quite at home in one of these historic Natchez houses. She began looking for one to buy and fell in love with The Towers.
That was 11 ½ years ago and Ginger has turned a neglected gem into a real treasure. The Towers was constructed in three phases – 1798, 1826 and 1858. Built in the Italianate style, the house included two third-story rooms – one on either side of the front of the house – the towers for which the home was famous.
“During the Civil War, the house was headquarters for the Union Army and behind the fortification lines of Fort McPherson when the city of Natchez was taken over in 1863,” Ginger says. “Solders camped all around the house here.”
Restoring historic home to its glory
After buying the house in 2006, Ginger has fully restored it to its pre-Civil War glory. She also has landscaped the almost five acres and installed two dozen life-size bronze sculptures of wildlife, including grizzly bears and elk.
Ginger’s extensive collections include antique furniture, lace, glass, costume jewelry, watch fobs, Chinese gaming counters from 1710 to 1840, movie props from the 2004 movie version of “Phantom of the Opera,” hundreds of exquisitely beaded ladies’ purses, and much more.
A lovely collection of inkwells is displayed by a window where sunlight spotlights the diversity of style and color.
“My mother started collecting inkwells and I kept up with it,” Ginger says. “The Internet has made it so much easier to collect because you don’t have to go to every show and every shop to find what you want. I am never bored with it, I will tell you.”
Victorians believed in “form and function,” Ginger adds, which makes Victorian collectibles so fascinating. “Something could be useful and still beautiful.”
One of my favorites was a small 1870 Vienna bronze lion that is actually a cigar cutter. Another small statue of a stag with a bristled back was used to wipe ink off old-fashioned ink pens.
“These are so charming,” Ginger says. “When you see something like this, you want to know what its life was like back then.”
The Towers also has two guest bedrooms where visitors can stay. The Burgundy Suite is on the ground floor and the Green Room is upstairs. Both rooms feature antique furnishings including queen-size half tester beds, armoires and dressers and private baths.
“We live in this home, all of it,” Ginger says. “Even though we have glass collections, we have two kittens and a dog and we welcome guests … I clean all these collectibles. I wouldn’t put that on anyone else for it would scare them to death.”
Ginger made history in American Quarter Horses
Extra tidbit: When I first met Ginger at her Natchez home, I thought I knew her and her name from somewhere. It wasn’t until almost the end of my tour, that I
figured out where and how.
I had never met Ginger. But several years ago, I visited and wrote about the interesting American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum in Amarillo. Ginger’s accomplishments as a horse trainer and breeder are featured in the museum.
Ginger made history in 1997 when she became the first woman president for the American Quarter Horse Association, a position she earned as a result of years serving as a leader in the horse industry. She modestly never shared those accomplishments when I visited her home.
I didn’t mention that to Ginger but she will know when I send her a link to this story. I’m also including a photo I took at the Texas museum. It shows a sculpture outside the museum honoring one of the greatest American Quarter Horses.
The massive horse was named Refrigerator and he earned more than $2 million in his career. I remember a visitor standing next to me at the museum saying, “It just goes to show that you don’t have to have a pretty name to be a winner.”
Small world, Ginger. I’m returning to Amarillo again in a few weeks and will look for your photo and information in the Quarter Horse Museum – now that I’ve met you in person.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch