The 2021-22 Guide to Richmond Hill, Georgia 2021-22 - Page 81

Henry enjoyed his own special features of the estate including his daily walks to the yacht basin , built for his 28-foot cabin cruiser , Little Lulu , and oyster roasts at his very own custom oyster house . He converted the old rice mill on the property , heavily damaged by Federal troops during the Civil War , into a powerhouse . An old generator from a Ford Motor Company plant along with two V-8 motors , a steam engine , and steam boilers supplied steam heat , water , and electricity to the residence . Located in the upstairs room of the powerhouse was Henry ’ s personal laboratory , where he spent time working on watches , car parts , and various other mechanisms . Getting to and from this personal hobby room was easy . An 1100-foot underground tunnel , which housed utility pipes from the powerhouse to the residence , was accessible by the elevator from either floor of the home . Mark Heppner , Vice President for Historic Resources for the Historic Ford Estates in Michigan , says Ford built a similar tunnel at Fair Lane . “ There is a long tunnel ( about 400-500 ft ) from the main residence to the powerhouse . Although certainly convenient for access in bad weather , its main function was for underground utilities . Just like in Richmond Hill , Henry had an experimental laboratory on the top floor of the powerhouse here in Michigan , where he often tinkered and worked on big projects .”

Although the Fords called Richmond Hill their home away from home for almost 25 years , they would enjoy the Richmond Hill house itself for only 11 short years . Henry Ford passed away April 7 , 1947 , days after returning to Dearborn from Richmond Hill . After Clara ’ s death in 1950 , the Richmond Hill estate and approximately 70,000 acres — which included Fort McAllister , community buildings , residential neighborhoods , and plantations — were sold to International Paper Company for $ 5 million . Employee houses and community buildings were sold to those who could buy them . Fort McAllister was given to the state of Georgia , which is now a Georgia State Historic Site . International Paper retained much of the land for timbering .

Richmond Hill Plantation would see many changes in the years following the Fords ’ last visit . The property changed ownership several times and was unoccupied for many years . In 1959 , the house and 1,200 acres were purchased by an industrialist from New Hampshire , Gilbert Verney , who sold it after his wife died to Mr . and Mrs . James McCook of Macon . Mr . McCook died a year later in 1960 . The next year , his widow sold the property to four eager investors from Glynn County , who intended to make it a resort . Kenneth Rogers interviewed one of the investors , Algie Outlaw , for the Atlanta Journal Constitution Magazine in April 1964 : “ We have 475 acres of reclaimed rice land and we already have a contract for growing a winery ,” Mr . Outlaw said . “ Ford grew a lot of experimental things … we ’ ve found things in the woods he set out , including huckleberry bushes and rubber trees … you should have seen how this place had grown up when we got it . We started clearing out underbrush in the woods several months before the sale was completed .” The investors also had plans to build an 18-hole golf course , a yacht club , and to convert the home to an inn and clubhouse . “ For horseback riding we ’ ve got the most beautiful trails you can imagine on the dikes — a good 15 miles of them … Ford ’ s old laboratory will be our golf shop . The players will start and wind up there for both nines .” As it turned out , Mr . Outlaw and the other investors were a little ahead of their time . Their plans fell through , and in 1969 , Richmond Hill Plantation would again go up for sale with an uncertain fate .

By the mid-seventies , Ford ’ s Richmond Hill Plantation was in deplorable condition . According to a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places , “ Bees were boring into the columns , the leaded-glass windows were broken in many places , and the house was open to the elements and vandals . Clogged roof gutters have caused noticeable damage to ceilings and walls ; and the humidity has caused all of the wallpaper to leave the walls , including the scenic wallpaper in the dining room .” At that time , the property was owned by George P . Tobler , an insurance underwriter from Long Island , NY . His plan was to restore the mansion as a community center and develop two golf courses on the grounds , one of which was to be the Ladies Professional Golf Association ’ s ( LPGA ) home course starting in 1975 . Ford historian David Lewis visited Richmond Hill Plantation in 1973 and described what he found for Cars & Parts Magazine , “ Rehabilitation of the mansion will come none too soon , for the structure , with woodwork rotting and doors askew , is in a state of considerable disrepair . Repairs and painting

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