By Georgene Brazer
It’s time has finally come again.
Except for the Ford Mansion the Community House is the most prestigious of all the Ford buildings.
It was used for cultural and educational purposes, and was truly the heart of Richmond Hill. But time passed. The city changed.
Seven years ago Mayor Russ Carpenter realized it was time to form a Downtown Development Authority to revitalize and redevelop the central business district of Richmond Hill and help ensure a healthy, vibrant downtown. From the outset, those of us active in the DDA thought it important to purchase the Community House.
Carpenter’s family has served the city touched by Henry Ford in many ways, for many years, and we spoke of the time the quest began to return the Community House to the city, to living history, with the purchase of this “grand dame.”
“Through many curves and setbacks, the tenacity of (Ms. Brazer) and others, the goal to purchase this landmark has been achieved,” Carpenter said. “Council members Cox, Ward, Scholar, and Fussell were all steadfast in their determination to make this happen which was far from easy. The purchase is complete, refurbishment begins, and we will work to create a building wherein all residents can enjoy part of Henry Ford’s excellent legacy, Richmond Hill.”
As the mayor said, my desire to return the building to good use with a myriad of possibilities was always a goal of his, too. It didn’t happen overnight.
As the building continued to fall into disrepair, I called upon a group of friends to help. The “Kitchen Cabinet” to work on Project Pearl, the Pearl of Richmond Hill, our Community House.
We needed to bring answers to the city on how to proceed. We needed to make a case. The civic leaders involved first found the building sound and have since begun to work on a plan, the strategy to make it happen.
The strategy to think it through unique situations was hashed out by our Kitchen Cabinet of volunteers to bring ideas and options to the mayor, city council and city manager.
The Kitchen Cabinet:
Bill Cunningham, vice president of real estate for Heartwood at Richmond Hill, sees the merit in restoration. His mother was deeply involved in restoration. She was a member of the Mayflower Society among other major programs and called him “Junior Restoration.”
For him, it is important to keep Ford Avenue an integral location of important history.
Anna Chafin, CEO of the Development Authority of Bryan County says, “When we are working with industries to try and recruit their businesses to our community, whether the company is from the U.S. or across the world, most everyone knows about Henry Ford. Our connection to Henry and Clara Ford is such a unique asset. We hope the city’s purchase and planned restoration of the Community House will help preserve that connection for many years to come.”
Mike Hahaj, director of Radiant Places Richmond Hill handled the engineering process to confirm value and what could be done. The work was complex and he donated endless hours to the cause.
Sean Register, was also asked to work with me on making this project a success. Sean is a man always in search of finding a great economic project, making difficult projects a reality. He has played a vital role in Bryan County’s economic growth, and he was a natural to work on the creation and success of this project.
“I personally believe that this house is an asset to the city and its residents. I am honored to be a part of a committee that has been consulting on the finished project. I will devote any and all talents to save this local landmark. This is an integral part of Richmond Hill’s history and it will be saved for future generations.”
Their knowledge, contacts and generous time gave us the information for the first steps for the city and they are prepared to move forward to participate in the special project.
Robbie Ward, member of the city council and its representative on the DDA, said he is honored to be part of a group bringing it back to its “original grandeur.”
“I am excited to see this project become all it can be for the people of Richmond Hill and all who come to visit,” he said.
Congressman Buddy Carter expressed his pleasure as he said “You are on the cusp of breaking loose, recognizing the importance of history and what it will bring to Richmond Hill. As the former mayor of Pooler, I can say I realize how proud Richmond Hill must be with the work it’s doing. It takes time but it’s well worth it.”
State Representative Ron Stephens, with a smile in his voice said, “this is a great day for the citizens of Richmond Hill as they preserve a significant and iconic site that is falling into disrepair.”
Christy Sherman, executive director of the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Center said, “visitors are interested in learning more about the legacy of Henry and Clara Ford In Richmond Hill. Investing in projects like this help create a vibrant historical district and downtown and make us a more competitive destination on the Georgia Coast.”
Gene Brogdon, a businessman who owns shopping centers in the city and has served our community in many capacities, has long wanted to see the House as part of Richmond Hill.
“The Community House is a great addition to our city. It helps assure that our past stays alive. The Community House has been a storied part of the Richmond Hill/Ford experience.”
It’s a building that truly matters but has been gradually falling into disrepair, and this opportunity is what we’ve been waiting for, to salvage as much heritage as possible.
Historic value, new traditions, a new chapter in the Community House and the city.
We Are Richmond Hill.
Brazer is chairman of the Richmond Hill Downtown Development Authority. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.