The Historic Preston House
by Poki Hampton, photos by Thomas B. Growden
AT THE TENDER AGE OF 26, attorney Tom Anderson was elected Mayor of Hammond, the state’s youngest mayor at that time. One of his platform goals was creating what is now Hammond’s Historic District. Years later, in 1999, Tom and his wife, Donna Gay, bought the Preston House, one of Hammond’s grand homes, which is located just a few blocks from the district that Tom’s administration created.
The house was built in 1906 at the end of the Victorian period and the beginning of the Craftsman style. The fanlights above the multi-paned French doors create light-filled rooms in the interior with its soaring ceilings. The front and side porches with curved balustrades, along with the corbels under the eaves and original stained glass, recall a bygone era.
The original owner/builder of the house, who was in the lumber business in the early 1900s, used only select cypress on both the exterior and interior, including the exquisite millwork on the seven fireplace mantels, crown molding, the five panel doors with transoms throughout, and wainscoting in the dining room. Most of the wood flooring is original to the house.
The center hall design with double parlors has not been altered from the original. “When we moved in, the kitchen had not been remodeled since the 1960s. In the 1980s, In the Heat of the Night was filmed here,” says Donna Gay. Previous owner Zoe Hebert, played cards with actor Carrol O’Connor in the kitchen during filming breaks. After moving in, Donna Gay and Tom decided on a much-needed renovation of the kitchen. They gutted the area and began again with new cabinets, beaded-board ceiling, an oversized island with granite countertop where everyone gathers, and new appliances. A butler’s pantry, in the same style, is just around the corner between the kitchen and dining room.
Also on the first floor are a guest room decorated in the period of the house with an antique sleigh bed and antique dresser. The adorable grandchildren’s bedroom has two twin beds, a large world map and is decorated with the children’s favorite things.
Many of the rooms of the house have paintings by artist Bill Hemmerling that the Andersons have collected over the years. Hemmerling created a massive body of work depicting rural African American rituals and spiritual themes before his death in 2009.
Just steps outside the back door is an outbuilding lovingly called Hebert’s Bar. This is Tom’s man cave, complete with
big screen television and comfortable furnishings. The original bar was given to historian C. Howard Nichols by the previous owner Polk Hebert. “Tom spends a great deal of time out there reading and watching football games,” says Donna Gay.
At the rear of the hallway is the original staircase that leads to the oversized master suite in the attic. The master boasts
a luxurious ensuite bath, spacious laundry room and walk-in closets. Bombe chests flank the king bed, while a chaise provides a lovely place to read next to the arched windows.
Over the years, Dona Gay and Tom have shared their home with the community in numerous ways. Because there were
so many Easter egg hunts over the years, the house is known around town to locals as the Easter Egg House. One Halloween, Tom dressed as Dracula. Lying in a wooden coffin by the front door, he rose up, as Dracula does, and scared a woman on the porch. “Expletives could be heard for blocks,” says Donna Gay. Many wedding portraits have been taken under the spreading, centuries-old oak tree in the park-like side yard. Tom’s daughter was married there in 2005.
As founding Artistic Director of the Columbia Theatre and former school teacher, Donna Gay holds close to her heart a book club she began for young girls. Every Monday afternoon, seven girls gather in the dining room to have tea and share their thoughts on their current book selection. “I love that Preston House has become the backdrop for the Neighborhood Book Club. The fact that young girls cultivate a love for books while sitting at my dining table delights me to no end. I think it makes the house happy too,” says Donna Gay.
Since 1906, The Preston House has been a special place for families who have shared its spectacular setting with the local community. Tom and Donna Gay hope to see another generation enjoy it as much as they have.
From the writings of Zoe Hebert
“As the oldest resident of this area, if not in age, then in residency, I am attempting to jot down some of my memories of Banker’s Row, as well as some authentic facts that I have accumulated – published “My neighborhood Banker’s Row.”
“In this book, the following appeared:
Preston/Cook House c1906
“My maternal grandparents, Eli Victor and May Stewart Preston, moved from Michigan to Kentwood Louisiana in the 1890’s via Brookhaven Mississippi. He worked with Brooks Scanlon and the Isabella Lumber Companies. One of these companies owned a wood burning locomotive, the “Zoe Preston,” named for my mother. This narrow gage railroad connected the Illinois Central at Kentwood. Later the Prestons moved to Hammond and while building Preston House, they occupied the home behind the Muncie property. My grandfather worked for a lumber company at Ruddock and put aside each choice cypress log to use in the home he was building in 1907. The mill was demolished in the terrible 1915 hurricane which also wiped out Frenier Beach on Lake Pontchartrain.
“The T.C. Adams’ had sold the Preston’s property they were building in 1906. In the spring of 1919, my parents Zoe Preston and Nathanial Amacker Kent and their 3 children, Marion, Stewart, and Zoe moved to Hammond from Havana, Cuba. In June 1921, they purchased Preston House from my mother’s parents. My father, Nat Kent, died in 1922 of injuries received in an accident. Our family continued to live there until all the children were grown and married. My mother, Zoe Preston Kent, occupied the house until her death in 1956. In 1960, my husband Polk Hebert, and I bought my brothers’ and sisters’ interest in the property. It has been my home since then.”