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Old courthouse conintues to serve
Shirley Says
Alton "Cotton" Hope and Brenda Garrett stand in front of the courthouse, which will soon serve as the county senior center - photo by Photo provided.
Old buildings talk – they have stories to tell. They whisper of times long ago and of faces now forgotten. An architectural gem of a bygone era still stands on Ford Avenue – the old courthouse.
Historic buildings have become portals through which we understand other eras and also ourselves. The old courthouse reflects events from a time when Richmond Hill enjoyed a much slower paced lifestyle. Though it was never used as a courthouse per se, it offers a peek into the past. Court was always held at the county seat in Pembroke.
Have you ever driven past the courthouse and wondered about the age of the building and what it was originally used for? Henry Ford had the courthouse built in 1939, so the community could have a place to vote and conduct civic meetings.
One can only imagine the intrigue of the top floor where the local Masonic Lodge No. 303 met. The term “Masonic Lodge” refers to its members, not the building in which they meet. The Order of the Eastern Star met there as well.
The Masons no longer meet in the old courthouse. However, their current hall has permanent fixtures built by the Henry Ford operation. Some are columns, pedestals, gavels and the altar. Masonic members Ivey Spence and Henry Butler agreed, “The craftsmanship is irreplaceable.”   
In the early 1950s, the commissioners of Bryan County made the courthouse available at no cost to the local Catholics. Father Michael Regan came from Savannah every Sunday to hold Mass until a more permanent provision was made.
The old courthouse was also the place Richmond Hill students, grades 1-12, got their annual vaccinations. The county nurse from Pembroke administered the shots.
In the near future, the old courthouse will be “home” for the Richmond Hill Senior Citizens Center. Brenda Garrett, site manager of the center, said the seniors are excited about moving.
“They want a building to call home,” she said. “We have outgrown our current location. Our new ‘home’ is spacious and will allow for more activities.”
The mission of the center is to enrich the lives of active seniors in Richmond Hill. The center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  
The 20 members keep busy with crafts, Movin’ & Groovin’ exercise/dance classes, field trips, shopping, guest speakers, musicians and – most of all – playing bingo! The oldest member is 95 years old. The average age is 70.
Brenda is an enthusiastic hands-on manager. She is very protective of the seniors and explained: “Working with the seniors brings me great pleasure. They make me smile, filling a void from the loss of my mother. In a short time, I’ve built a personal relationship with each of them.”
Alton Hope, better known as Cotton, is a member of the center. He works tirelessly at the old courthouse getting it ready for them. He volunteers his time six days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. cleaning and painting. He has personally bought all the paint for the 9,000-square-foot building.
The center is very important to Cotton, 72. His wife Lois died in January from breast cancer. She worked for the Bryan County School System in Richmond Hill for many years, as well as for PALS Learning Center.
Cotton’s eyes glistened as he softly said, “I’m real particular about the old people. I want to make sure they get what they deserve. Lois would want me to do this.”
He retired from the U.S. Navy after 27 years as a flight engineer. After another 27 years, he retired from Gulfstream as a corporate training manager. No stranger to hard work, Cotton painted the entire second floor of the courthouse in less than three weeks. Not only has he painted all the walls and trim, but he also cleaned the air-conditioners, the water cooler and the elevator until they literally sparkled.
All the walls are painted a beautiful shade of blue. When I commented about them, Cotton smiled and said, “This was Lois’ favorite color. I intend to talk with Mrs. Frances Meeks and get her to tell me what she thinks should go on the walls.” Indeed!
It’s evident Cotton’s hobby is working. “I don’t go to the center any more. I feel it’s more important for me to stay up here (the old courthouse) and get it ready for them.” He’s determined to have it completed by Christmas – sort of his personal gift to his friends.
How will Cotton spend the majority of his time after he completes the old courthouse project? He answered: “After I finish this, I’ll go back and volunteer at Habitat for Humanity in Savannah"
Cotton has another dream for his friends at the center. He explained, “I wish someone in the community would volunteer to build a gazebo out front. The older folks love to sit in the fresh air and watch the traffic go by.”
When Brenda talks about Cotton, her beautiful face lights up. “He’s truly a blessing. We are joined at the hip," she said. "Not only is he doing a professional job painting, he has donated labor and materials. He has also solicited donations…there’s so much we need.”
It’s hard to imagine, but Cotton does have a few hours to do something other than work. A lot of evenings are spent with his good friends, Rusty and Patrice Black. He got close to them when Lois worked at PALS. Cotton often enjoys going to dinner with them. However, before he puts his paintbrushes away, he’s going to paint for Patrice.
Another highlight of his free time is a Chevrolet S10 pickup that he’s “souping up.” Flashing a big smile, he said, “I’m going to make it like the ones the kids have. I’m going to lower it and then paint it red. My license plate will read ‘My-lolo’. That’s what the students use to call Lois – ‘LoLo.’”
Cotton, you are not only a blessing to Brenda, but to all!
If you would like to help the Richmond Hill Senior Citizens Center, please call Brenda Garrett at 756-2783. New members are welcome, so come have fun and build friendships.

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at

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