The History: ‘A Sentimental Journey Retracing A Brotherly Road Trip’

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Pictured above (left to right) brother John Lyons poses in front of the Oakland Plantation in Warm Springs in 1967 and his sister Sally McAlear does so in 2022.

By CLAIRE NIX, Special to The Paper

In 2020, NCHS received a research request from Sally Lyons McAlear, a retired administrative assistant from Missouri State University, asking if we could identify eight Polaroid pictures from the 1960s. The photos were of some of Newnan’s historic homes, taken during her brothers’ 1967 road trip to Warm Springs. 

Sally had seen the pictures in drawers over the years, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, she’d decided to tell her eldest brother’s story and the pictures came up again. At 17, John Lyons was outside of the ‘14 and under’ Missouri guidelines to receive the new polio vaccine, and though the family doctor had said he would vaccinate him anyway, he fell ill the day of his appointment. He was struck with polio and paralyzed from the waist down.

John was taken to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, named for President Franklin Roosevelt who sought relief from the effects of polio there. John was fitted for special leg braces and participated in rehabilitation exercises to assist him in navigating life after paralysis. He returned in 1967 to be refitted for new leg braces, and he was accompanied by his younger brother, Rick. Rick and John drove John’s hand-controlled 1967 Mustang to Warm Springs from Missouri. It seems while they waited on John’s braces to be made, they drove up to Newnan and snapped some Polaroids of the beautiful historic homes. None of the pictures were labeled, and Sally initially thought they were from Warm Springs, but an archivist there told her they looked like Newnan.

It took some time (and eye strain!), but I identified most of the houses in the pictures, except for two. Most of them were on Greenville Street and Temple Avenue. One day, a month or so later, I happened to take a drive down to Warm Springs. The old Oakland Plantation house sits just off the road near the Roosevelt Airport, and a lightbulb went off in my head. I turned around, pulled over, took some pictures, and compared it with the photo from Sally. I was positive I had found one of the two mystery houses! Sally was elated, as this was the lone picture which featured her brother. John was able to pose in front of the Oakland Plantation house, which according to Sally, would have been quite a feat.

“He would have had to have been helped up those steps and use his crutches for support,” she said.

In April 2022, Sally and her husband, John McAlear, were finally able to make it down to Newnan. Sally intended to walk in the footsteps of her brothers and get “then and now” style pictures with each of the houses. After a tour of the McRitchie-Hollis Museum and lunch at Meat N Greet, we set off on a walking tour of downtown Newnan to Greenville Street, where Sally was able to get the rest of the pictures to complete her “then and now” series, which matched the photos her brothers took in 1967. She was able to not only walk in her brothers’ footsteps and see everything they saw, 55 years later, but also identify the one remaining house. They were fascinated by the City of Homes and taken in by its history. The McAlears also visited Warm Springs, where Sally got her picture taken at Oakland Plantation on the same steps as her brother had. 

John Lyons died in 1994. Sally is currently working on an essay detailing her own “sentimental” journey, as she calls it, to Newnan.

Claire Nix was born and raised in Coweta County and is a trained Public Historian with a Master’s degree in Heritage Preservation. She lives in Newnan and is the Museum Assistant for the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society.

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