This past November, I was elected to the Richmond Hill Historical Society. It was, and is, an honor.
So what is a displaced "Yankee" doing on a "local" historical board? The answer is - as much as I possibly can.
Throughout my life, I have tried to be a positive influence in every local community that I’ve ever lived in. For me, it’s both a personal and private obligation. Something I need and want to do. I’ve been on Transit Authorities, Rotary groups, Election Committees, Community Services, private and public Foundations, Town Board of Appeals and numerous historic commissions - to name a few. Out of all of these the most appealing over the years have been the historic commissions.
History is not a "dead" language for me. The old adage rings true, "We can’t know where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been." This familiar saying is more of a truism now than it ever has been. It’s the core of every article I write.
Those of you who have read my columns in the past know that I’m a traditionalist by birth and care about preserving the historical heart in the community in which I live. That’s why I ended up in Richmond Hill and why I bought property at the Henry Ford Plantation.
I read about this place long before I fell off the meat wagon. It wasn’t just happenstance.
Henry Ford intrigued me. He was an American paradox. Not a popular figure, especially with those who initially shunned him - the gaggle of so-called gentlemen, bunkered down on Jekyll Island. The J. P. Morgan’s (et al) proclaiming, "No Ford’s need apply." Even America’s first common-man’s billionaire was snubbed. Hmmm. So Ford said to those who snubbed him, "Okay, fellas. I’ll buy a village just up the coast from you boneheads and rename it, ‘Richmond Hill.’ Why? Because I can."
He did just that, and the rest is - "history."
After arriving and buying at the "Ford," I discovered that this is where all shunned people of paradox need to settle - not necessarily the Ford Plantation, but Richmond Hill itself. Make no mistake about it. Richmond Hill’s MAIN dowry is its history. Period. Lose it and be forced to rename it again - South Savannah - bedroom district.
Since becoming the first full member at the Ford, I’ve covered a lot of my own property. Most recently, I covered it with my metal detector - okay, "relict detector." Remember, I settled here primarily because of the History. Before I could buy, they took an early archeological survey of the piece I had in mind to purchase on an older section of the Ford Plantation called the Silk Hope Plantation.
The results from the State of Georgia: I was in the process of buying property containing a "sensitive settlement" located under two ancient live oaks on a six-acre spread of an old section of an old plantation.
I gathered that the "sensitivity" reference was because of the presence of slave household’s that used to occupy my property. Was this the "history" I wanted to own and pay taxes on? Hmmm. Talk about paradoxes.
But I bought in. I would protect this piece of land and respect it for what it was - history. If there were discoveries there, under the surface, then the artifacts would go to the "local" historic society that I had just become a member of. That seemed fit to me and made sense.
After activating my super-sensitive metal detector, I’ve since "detected" that the area beneath and around those massive oaks was the site of at least two blacksmith shops - one going back almost two hundred years. The audible "hits" from my metal detector are never-ending. Plus, the mere fact that those signals are there gives me a connection and a context with the past - albeit one of remorse. Historically, I purchased well at the Ford, but what about the community? How does this connection to the past translate?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting this community stay exactly as it "was." No one of you out there can find a local blacksmith shop - of any configuration. But I would like more clarity as to what this community "will be." I’m trying to connect with what I’m digging up to where we are going. I’m left with several questions: Where do I find a future plan that connects the pieces? Where is it listed? Where and what is Richmond Hill? What will it look like in 10 or 20 years? Will I need to fall off a meat wagon again, somewhere else?
I already hold in my hand artifacts as to what Richmond Hill looked like 150 years ago - so connect me.
My fear right now is that Richmond Hill is in the throws of an identity crisis. As the past slowly "fades" from view, what indications do we have from any source that something "equally" resourceful or pleasing is about to replace it. In fact, outside of the work of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, there is little indication that there is a "plan" of any kind at all.
The future "look and feel" of Richmond Hill seems to be at the mercy of two sources right now: The commercial developers and the commercial lenders, many from outside this immediate community.
Are there not City preferences and allowances for the local folks? The local banks? The local look and feel, based on a local design and distinct "local" history? Who will define us as a community? Outsiders?
If there is not "better" plan, then why not?
What chance does "tradition" have in this current economic environment? What’s to keep the perpetual sprawl of the urban mall from "growing" down 144 and up the side roads of Richmond Hill? The answer seems to be obvious - "nothing."
I would be willing to wager that local ordinances can be designed to "enhance" the soul of any City while at the same time, protect the historical integrity of the past. Let us grow. But let us grow wisely with a focus on who were we and where we came from. Not just more of the "same."
I inherited a part of history that America was never proud of. But perhaps that was my fate. I can accept that. Nevertheless, I choose to live in Richmond Hill even as "they" maneuver in.
You can quote me: "National chains will lock us up."
Before you let go of Richmond Hill and it’s history to un-tethered commercial development, remember this - it wasn’t without formal objection.