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The Fords and a school
Guest columnist

Ford’s impact on the community of Ways Station, Georgia during their 25 year reign here is a well-kept secret.

As one of the fastest growing communities in Georgia we have many new residents who have yet to explore the amazing history of our community. I expect, and do frequently get, the same reaction from people when they tour and learn about the long tenure of Henry and Clara Ford here. It is one of surprise. It’s a fascinating story.

In addition to Henry and Clara’s presence here for a combined 25 years there is still another chapter in our state’s history involving the famous couple to be found in Rome, Georgia.

Martha Berry, well educated and the daughter of a very wealthy planter there chose to shun the easy life of an aristocrat to become a hard working educator for the mountain children of that area.

As the story goes she was appalled at the ignorance of the mountain children who came to her Sunday school class. In a deciding moment, she was playing her piano one day when three little boys stopped outside her house to listen.

She was taken aback by their poverty and ignorance. She began to teach the children. The community eventually built her a one room schoolhouse and she became the community educator. Neither she nor the community had the resources to properly meet the increasing demand.

When her father died in 1901 he left her the family farm including 500 acres of land.

She established the Berry School on that property. Everyone including the instructors worked the farmland and took care of the animals as a source of income for the school.

Martha told the following story, “One February night I heard a knock at the door. I went myself and there stood a very small and muddy boy with a pig tied to a rope. He said, “Pease ma’am, I’m Willy Jackson and this is my pig. We’uns has come to school. I done carried the pig here for my tuition.”

In 1909 with Martha Berry spending most of her time raising money for the school, Andrew Carnegie offered to give her $50,000 if she could raise matching funds. She did.

By this time the school was located on 2,000 acres of land.

Henry and Clara Ford met Martha Berry in 1921 when they were introduced to her at the home of Thomas Edison. The meeting was intended to bring them together when Martha went to Edison for help in raising funds for the school.

By that time the school had grown from just a school for boys to a coeducational institution. The Fords were particularly impressed with the required work/study program for the students.

Henry donated a Fordson tractor to the school for their farm as part of many donations of money and equipment over the years.

Today Berry College sits on the largest college campus in the world covering 27,000 acres. The heart of the campus is represented by what is known as the “Ford Quadrangle.” It includes Clara Ford’s “million dollar” girl’s dormitory. The tradition continues today where the students are required to work a certain number of hours in support of the school and to earn tuition money.

Visit the Richmond Hill History Museum for an entertaining tour thru local history.

Hubbard is a local historian and a retired Green Beret.

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