Monday, December 8, 2014

Richmond Hill, Georgia's waterways and Ford Legacy

      Welcome to Richmond Hill Georgia,  a quintessential old plantation town.  Just 25 miles south of Savannah Georgia, the town is adorned with live oaks and cypress, festooned with Spanish moss and full of great geographical, wildlife and historical gems.  

Strathy Hall Plantation House, circa 1840

   Indicated by the red arrow on the map below,  Richmond Hill is our first stop on the run to Brunswick Georgia that we should have completed by the first of the year.  As you can see below, there are many small islands along the way, and because of inclement weather the last week I have been unable to get out to the three islands just south of Skidaway - Wassaw, Ossabaw and St. Catherine's.  Since they are all nature preserves and hard to get to, making the arrangements to visit them will work better after the first of the year.  Meanwhile, we will cover the towns along the way between Savannah and Brunswick.) 

     This is Ogeechee River country.  The first reports of European activity in the area date back to 1500's, on the island of Ossobaw that lies just off the mouth of the Ogeechee River.  The Ogeechee has a large flood plain to its north but it also has carved high banks of ten or twelve feet along its southern edge, giving higher ground than usual for building.

     This time of year a lot of fog forms in the mornings, and seems to cling until around noon when it reluctantly gives way to the burning of the sun and the tug of the winds.  Here you can see it receding down the river.

     And about ten minutes later, it has cleared away.  

Ogeechee River

     Everywhere you turn there are photo opportunities - with autumn just hitting here the many leaves are just now dappling the earth with their rainbow of colors.

     Black cypress grace the many lowland swamps.

     And I have never seen trees that grow in the unusual patterns of the live oak tree.  This one appears to have been resting for a few centuries . . . 

     Everywhere you look you will find reminders of  the areas reliance upon the sea.

     And of course, no town is truly southern without some white picket fences surrounded with flowers.  Flowers blooming in December, no less.

     And who can resist the allure of a wide ample porch graced with rocking chairs?

     Of course, not all vehicles are designed to go out into the water.  Here is quit a toy.  However, from the appearance of it, it serves more of a cosmetic than a functional purpose.

     Sometimes you see a vehicle in a yard and you just have to scratch your head.  Fire truck maybe?  

     Why am I thinking Chitty-chitty Bang-Bang?  And a flea market - what country town is worth its salt if it doesn't have a flea market?

     Richmond Hill has a deep and diverse history.  Back in the late 1700's, the area that is now downtown Richmond Hill was purchased for $ 24 in order to build a seat for the local county.

  One of the most important things that happened to the area was the development of a canal running from the Savannah River to the Ogeechee River in the early 1800's.  This opened up a way for the area to get agricultural goods to market,   Then in 1856 the railroad built across the river and a depot was installed.  It was dubbed "Way's Station" after a man who owned land nearby, and the name stuck until the 1940's when the name Richmond Hill was selected.

    Another thing that had a profound impact on the area was Henry Ford.  Yes, THE Henry Ford, the car guy.  He seems to have taken this area under his wing back in the 1930's.  He built many schools, community buildings, churches - he even restored the local fort from the civil war.

     He bought up what was three plantations along the river, and built this summer house.

     Beneath the house ran a tunnel to another building that sat a few hundred feet away.  This Ford used for a laboratory.

     Ford worked hard at trying to find new products that utilized local agriculture.  He had some failures - like when he tried to stuff the seats of Ford cars with Spanish Moss for padding.  Anyone who has been around Spanish moss knows about the little bugs that live in it - we call 'em Red Bugs or Chiggers.  The will give you a fit if you get into them.  Here is what they look like . . 

     ...And here is what they do. 

Image Kid

     Now I have heard tell of a few stories about Northern folk bothering their Southern brethern to send them some Spanish moss to use as Christmas decorations.  If they get pesky enough, the Southern folk just might comply . . 

    But Ford also had some successes -  one of his favorites were rayon socks made from the bark of the cypress tree.  Another was a plastic that he developed (Along with Edison and Firestone) that was made from corn cobs.

     Ford believed that if you developed the resources of the land and the talents of the people you would have a self sustaining community rich in culture and material things.

     Now, here is the predecessor to the DVD player.  The machine shown on left played the sound and projected the images from the vynl discs shown on the right.  Ford circulated these to car dealerships to be used to teach folks how to work on the Ford cars.

     Here is one of the many buildings he erected in the area - this one is called Martha - Mary Chapel, named after Ford's mother and his wife Clara's mother. 

     Ford also developed a relationship with George Washington Carver, the African-American inventor who did so much for the South in the early 1900's.  

     They built an industrial school for black youths here - which is pictured below.

     It was furnished with many of the most modern machine tools for that time.  I asked several people about it, but no one was clear on what has become of the old school or the machinery.

     Thanks to the Ford Museum in downtown Richmond Hill for all the great images - shown below is curator Kenneth Dixon holding a print of one of the oldest known houses still standing in Richmond Hill - one built back in the 1730's.

     And today's parting shot - 

     Talk about Sticker Shock !!   Here is the price sheet for new Fords back in the 1920's.  A deluxe Cabriolet sold for $ 600 - just about the top of the price line.

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Have an awesome Tuesday !!

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