The 2021-22 Guide to Richmond Hill, Georgia 2021-22 - Page 79

“… rows of old live oak trees , their branches and twigs slightly hung with a delicate fringe
of grey moss , and their dark , shining green foliage meeting and intermingling naturally but densely overhead … I stopped my horse , bowed my head , and held my breath . I have hardly in all my life seen anything so impressively grand and beautiful .”

The Fords chose the site of a former rice plantation ,

Richmond-On-Ogeechee ( formerly Dublin ), for their new winter home ; no surprise considering the beauty of the property . Three long , double rows of live oak trees formed the shape of an “ H ,” presumably planted by John Harn , who had received a 500-acre land grant from King George III in 1748 . Frederick Law Olmsted , considered the “ father of landscape architecture ,” visited Richmond in 1853 after taking a wrong turn when trying to find nearby White Hall Plantation . He described Richmond as having
“… rows of old live oak trees , their branches and twigs slightly hung with a delicate fringe
of grey moss , and their dark , shining green foliage meeting and intermingling naturally but densely overhead … I stopped my horse , bowed my head , and held my breath . I have hardly in all my life seen anything so impressively grand and beautiful .”
When the Fords purchased the property over 70 years later , it must have seemed like the promenade of ancient oaks created paths to nowhere . The Richmond Plantation home had been destroyed by Federal troops on December 10 , 1864 , days before their attack on Fort McAllister . Still , the beauty of the site remained . Situated on a high bluff overlooking the Great Ogeechee River , the Richmond site provided abundant flora and fauna , wildlife , history , and the southern charm the Fords were looking for .
Nearby , another example of a bygone era , the Hermitage Plantation , was at the center of a debate between preservationists , the City of Savannah , and the Port Authority . Built in 1820 by Henry McAlpin on the Savannah River , Hermitage was best known for “ Savannah grey ” bricks . City officials accepted Henry Ford ’ s offer to purchase the mansion for $ 10,000 with the promise that he recreate it at the old Richmond Plantation . Brick by brick , or rather Savannah grey by Savannah grey , the Hermitage was dismantled . The mortar was carefully removed and the bricks were cleaned and transported approximately 20 miles to the Richmond site .
Meticulous planning went into every detail of their new southern mansion . Clara had a 1 / 12 scale model home with model furniture constructed to help with the process . With the help of prominent Savannah architect , Cletus W . Bergen , the 1820s Hermitage was reimagined and recreated to include all of the latest conveniences of the 1930s , including an elevator and commercial-grade stainless steel appliances . The 6,900-square-foot home called “ Richmond Hill ” included a drawing room , dining room , library , kitchen , six bedrooms plus a servant ’ s room , and seven bathrooms . Prominent elements such as the “ Temple in the Winds ” columns , colossal portico and a wide main central hall , which spanned the width of the home , were features the Fords maintained in an effort to reflect the Hermitage structure . The Fords also added elements of Federal and Georgian architecture , such as the Federal-inspired entrance door with leaded-glass fanlight . Views of the Ogeechee River were maximized and the home was designed to be light and airy , in contrast to their castle-like Fair Lane estate in Michigan .

Mrs . Ford enjoyed entertaining in her dining room , which was adorned with mural wallpaper depicting landscape and nature scenes . The room was furnished with an oriental rug , custom-scalloped shell corner china cabinets , and antique mahogany Philadelphia-style Chippendale furniture . The Fords often hosted dances on the lawn , bringing an orchestra from Michigan by train to accompany local students and teachers from the nearby Community House , a school built for teaching economics and dancing . The gatherings at Richmond Hill Plantation were understated and simple , unlike some of the fancier events hosted at the Dearborn residence . Dr . Leslie Long , who worked for the Fords for many years , wrote in his book The Ford Era at Richmond Hill , Georgia , “ Mr . Ford did not care for elaborate things- just simple beauty .”

“ Simple beauty ” could also be found in the landscaping . Camellias , magnolias , azaleas , tea olives , dogwoods , and other southern flowers brought colorful life to the property . An ornate garden gate led to a prized rose garden . Gardeners planted winter-blooming annuals and bulbs for the Fords to enjoy when in residence .
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