Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Christy Sherman knows a good opportunity when she sees one. When the possibility of restoring the Ford Bakery presented itself, she fired up the burners.
The original bakery is a small building on Ford Avenue at Ivey Street, between the Coastal Community Christian Church, once the original commissary, and Ford Academy, which sits where the Ways Station now Richmond Hill - Post Office sat.
Sherman calls the area one of historical importance, where children once gathered after school to get ice cream or doughnut, along with being the go-to place for Henry and Clara Ford when they craved something sweet.
Sherman said the CVB currently rents a room from the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce and needed more space.
“We had wanted to expand and get into a larger space. I noticed that the bakery building was for sale and I thought it would be perfect for the CVB and give us a place for visitors to stop and get information about the city. That was in 2015. The CVB can’t buy a building with its money, which comes from the local hotel/motel tax. But the city can. So I approached the city about the possibility of buying the building for the CVB.
“The city was interested. It was a small building. It’s just the right size to start out in.”
Although the building is small, Sherman said, it fronts Ford Avenue and the property extends back to Linwood Avenue. The owner decided to sell the building and property to Ford Academy so they could expand.
“We were disappointed that the building wasn’t sold to the city. We went to the new owners and pleaded our case that this was a Ford building. You had the commissary, bakery and post office there at one time. That was really the shopping hub back then.
“We talked to them about the historical importance of the building to the city’s history. They still wanted to expand their playground and we didn’t need quite that much land. So they split the property in two and we were able to buy the bakery building and a small amount of land from them. We paid $100,000 for the building. The negotiations went on for about a year and we closed the deal in December of 2016. Now we’ve gone another year-and-a-half just figuring out the best way to renovate the building. Sometime back in the 1980s, the previous owner had replaced the big 16-pane windows on the front of the building with aluminum energy efficient windows and added aluminum siding.
“Ford Avenue got widened then and that made the drainage run toward the building. Landscape timbers were brought to try and stop that so a combination of replacement windows and poor drainage made the water run toward the building and it was being hidden inside the aluminum siding and plenty of rot was happening behind the aluminum siding. So we exposed that and saw what we had to work with.
“Then we set out to find the right preservationist to fix it. We ultimately decided on Landmark Preservation. Greg Jacobs, one of the company’s owners, is a historic preservationist. We put the project out for bid in 2017 and we got responses from five companies. We had a committee of seven people who listened to their presentations and the committee decided to go with Landmark and Greg. We were impressed with his experience and the projects he has been involved in.
The CVB director said that initially the contract was based on qualifications and then the cost of the renovation was discussed.
“We came up with a price we could all live with. Ultimately, the cost of renovation will be about $300,000. We applied for three grants but didn’t receive any of that funding. The city is funding the renovation through the hotel/motel tax they receive. There is a tax on each room hotel or motel room visitors on the city use. The city gets a portion and the CVB gets a portion. We’re proud to say that this project is being funded by non-local tax dollars.
It’s not costing the local taxpayer to renovate the building.
She said the goal is to save as much of the original structure as possible. If a board is rotted, for example, and a portion of that board is salvageable or repairable, as much will be kept as is possible. Fortunately, she said, the original quarry tile floor is intact and will look pristine once it is cleaned. Also, for the first time, the building will have central air conditioning.
“The front 16-pane windows are being custom made and it will look like it did when it was built. The original cupola is still in place so we’re pleased about that.”
Sherman said the renovated building will include her office and an art gallery. It will also include the original industrial flour mixer purchased by Henry Ford and used by the Womble family, during their time running the bakery.
“The main part of the building will be a welcome center. The walls will have images of Richmond Hill and information about where to eat and stay, along with historical sites in the city. We’ll be sending people out to local businesses.”
Sherman said parking is limited, but she doesn’t anticipate that to present a problem.
“We shouldn’t have a lot of visitors here at one time so they kind of sprinkle in throughout the day. Also, the church next door has said they would work with us and the daycare center next door has said the same thing. So I think we will be fine.”
She said the support from the community has been outstanding with, for example, RPI Roofing donating the roof and Plantation Lumber offering discounts on materials.
“It’s really an example of people and businesses coming together for the betterment of the community.”
Once complete, the CVB will hold an open house to showcase the renovation.