It once served as a bakery for employees of Henry Ford, but now nearly 80 years later, residents and visitors alike to Richmond Hill can relive that part of the city's history by checking out the new Richmond Hill Visitors Center.
On Saturday, city and business leaders welcomed a large crowd outside of the remodeled and repurposed building at 10750 Ford Avenue, cutting the ceremonial grand opening ribbon, and unveiling a historical marker before ushering in the crowd for a look inside.
The center includes the offices of the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), tourism information, interactive displays and an art gallery by Arts on the Coast.
Ira S. Womble, Sr. managed the bakery during the Ford era, so it was appropriate that his grandson John Womble, would be on hand to take part in this event. John Womble is owner of Georgia Fruitcake Company out of Claxton. He was responsible for returning the original mixer, fan and other historical items to the building.
Mayor Russ Carpenter said the city came "very close" to losing the building and "part of our history," but those on the City Council and CVB "stepped up" to repurpose it. "We look forward to other events like this."
Buddy Sullivan, a local historian, said "a fundamental fact of Richmond Hill and lower Bryan County is the story of Henry Ford." As Ford-era antique cars lined the parking lot, Sullivan emphasized the importance of Ford's legacy on the area and said, "This is where our tourism dollars can be built."
Christy Sherman, executive director of the CVB, recognized partners who provided everything from roofing to heating and air as being instrumental in the restoration of the building.
The historical marker outside of the building, reads as follows:
RICHMOND HILL PLANTATION BAKERY
Henry Ford implemented the construction of the bakery building in 1941 to provide fresh baked goods for the employees of his Richmond Hill plantation. The bakery was operated in tandem with the adjacent commissary and post office buildings. This providing convenient shopping access for Ford employees and other area residents. Ira S. Womble, Sr. managed the bakery during the Ford era at Richmond Hill. A unique aspect of the bakery operation was that soybean flour was provided for experimental purposes by well-known agriculturist and Ford friend George Washington Carver of Tuskegee Institute.