The Richmond Hill Historical Society and Museum is well underway for its organization, expansion, and building upon the local history and artifacts that help make up the city’s heritage.
Sarah Volkner, vice president-elect of the museum’s Oversight Committee, and board member Chica Arndt have been working since the spring to get the museum ready for these new changes.
"We decided we were going to tell a story. We wanted it to be a chronological story of agriculture, transportation, education and lifestyles," Volkner said. "Originally, we thought we’d be thinking up the story we wanted to tell and we’d reinforce that with the photographs and artifacts that we had. We’ve now come full circle and we’re in the process of looking at all the artifacts we have to work with."
Arndt said one of the biggest goals of their efforts is to give the museum a more polished, professional look, and get a better inventory and description of what they have.
"We really wanted to take time this year to, in essence, redo the whole museum. It’s been open for years but it’s been tough to get a whole picture of where Richmond Hill has come from," museum President Brad Brookshire said. "We’re in the process now of pulling things together and figuring out what the story we want to tell Richmond Hill is."
The museum contains the city’s old deeds, sales and research papers from Henry Ford and the colonial period, music recordings and sheet music from Ford’s orchestra, genealogical information on local family trees and agricultural and farming equipment ranging from the 1700s to the mid-1900s, among many others. Some small artifacts include a pair of Henry Ford’s own socks and shards of Indian pottery.
"We’re reorganizing in a different, thematic way. We previously had such a wealth of artifacts and information from the Henry Ford period – it was almost a Henry Ford museum," Arndt said. "We branched out from that, because a lot happened here before Henry Ford. So we have a lot now on the Plantation period, Civil War and Indian artifacts."
Volkner said the majority of artifacts and displays have been submitted from the community, and there is still a very strong Ford presence in the museum’s displays.
"Ford was a big believer in the arts and music, and it benefiting your way of life. And one of the things that’s happening – with combining and bringing all this stuff back out for people to look at, and bringing in the arts – we’re reinforcing what he was doing in the 30s and 40s, when he was trying to develop this area into a little utopia," she said.
Another big work in progress for the museum has been to create new displays and ways to pique the community and visitors’ interest in the history of the area.
In that respect, a room in the museum is now dedicated to Arts on the Coast.
"The Arts on the Coast does a revolving art show. But there’s no specific place where our artists could be sure to show their work, over and above rotating through businesses. We decided, if we could open up this room as a small gallery, it would help bring more people into the museum to see what we have, and it would give our artists a venue," Volkner said, noting they have original works as well as prints of the art available.
"We also try to steer visitors to the Bamboo Farm, because there was a connection between it and the research facilities down here, when Ford was working with alternative fuels," she said. "A lot of people also don’t realize this is where March to the Sea ended, and a lot of visitors don’t know that Fort McAllister is here."
Volkner and Arndt ultimately want to make sure the community knows about the wealth of history the area has to offer.
"Richmond Hill and Bryan Neck have a really big, important story to tell about the making of our country. And these are things that we should know and make available to our residents. So one plan for the future is, above and beyond our lecture series, to eventually start bringing in school classes and give tours," Volkner said.
Brookshire said the reorganization of the museum has been a long process.
"Going in, we thought we’d be able to do this in a couple months but we’ve come to find that it’s time consuming to do," he said. "We’ve done it all on a volunteer basis and we’re looking for a full-time employee with curator skills who can go with what we’ve done and take it from there."
The Convention Visitor’s Bureau is also located in the building, making the site the official welcome center for Richmond Hill. The CVB has helped fund the costs of keeping the museum to stay up-and-running.
Along with the expansion of displays, there has also been growth in the gift shop. Volkner said the museum is a great stop for holiday gift giving ideas. The shop includes ornaments, artwork, and local pictorial history books as well as autographed regional fiction books whose authors have been part of the museum’s lecture series. New this year is a regional calendar, featuring 12 works from local artists, and a children’s coloring book.
The museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. The Historical Society meets the first Thursday of every month and the group invites everyone in the community to join them for December’s meeting, which will be their annual Christmas party.
For more information, please call 756-3697.