From the reminiscences of of E.D. Mitchum: Mitchum was the father of Dale Mitchum, a current and lifetime resident of Ways Station/Richmond Hill:
“When I first came down here, the men were getting $2 a day for eight hours work. ... at night I would work in the woods as far as I could go and still work the men the next day. There was a lot of night hunting. Mr. Ford didn’t want people hunting on the property because he was trying to raise some deer. All the deer were gone from here in 1932, hunted out. ...we would hide out till the hunters came along and nab them, we would turn them over to the game warden. They would be locals but also from South Carolina and a lot from Savannah ...night hunting with lamps to blind the deer. I did that for four years, (caught poachers) riding in the woods at night and working labor in the daytime. Many a time I worked 24 hours before I saw anything that looked like a bed. I talked to Mr. Ford about the hunting. He said he didn’t want the fellows to hunt anywhere on the property. The reason was he wanted to protect the timber as well as the game. ‘...people were too careless with matches.’” History tells us that at one point in Henry’s life he was an avid bird hunter.
Both he and Clara were proficient with guns. The story is told about Ford and a couple of friends who were bird hunting on his property in Michigan. All three fired at one bird in flight. Henry picked up the ravaged carcass and declared that there were better ways to spend his time.
He eventually was responsible for creating a huge bird sanctuary on land he owned called Black Creek Farm in Michigan. He went so far as to provide feeders and bird baths. He provided the bird baths because “the river was too swift for the little birds to take a bath.”
On making whiskey: The moonshine industry became very active here in Georgia in the late 1700’s. It was accepted as a normal activity. Georgia pro 1919 when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution declared it to be illegal in the entire country for consumption or making of whiskey. Prohibition! There were an estimated 250 whiskey stills on Ford property here in Bryan Neck between 1930 and 1937.
The prohibition of the making and sale of whiskey only accelerated the activity and producing untaxed whiskey grew into a thriving and illegal industry. It was, in many cases, the only source of income for people during hard times like the Great Depression.
E. D. Mitchum: “Mr. Ford gave the folks something else to do to earn a living rather than make moonshine. Some of those fellows (stills supporting two to four men) made as much as $300 or $400 dollars a week ... hard to knock a man making that much money clear in a week and set him down to about $18 or $20 ...they thought that the only thing they could do in this world to make a living was to make whiskey- it was really a blessing when Mr. Ford came in... they took the jobs, appreciated them after they found out how it was going.
Moonshiners were thought of as a bunch of drunks—they made the whiskey and sold it, never drank it...sort of a standing rule.”
In 1933 the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st which allowed the consumption and making of whiskey but with taxes paid on all production.
Folks didn’t like the idea of paying the Federal government for the privilege of making moonshine so the illegal business continued and increased. Folks in Bryan Neck proudly professed that some of the best whiskey in the country came from right here in Bryan Neck. Many folks in every state south of the Mason Dixon line would say the same!
Visit the Richmond Hill History Museum to learn the very personal reasons Henry Ford had no patience for alcohol in any form and the unique steps he took to rid his Bryan Neck property of moonshiners.
Hubbard is a retired Green Beret, Savannah native and environmentalist who lives in South Bryan.