Unexpected stop in Richmond Hill turns into fun adventure

Special to The Bluffton PacketSeptember 5, 2012 

  • From Bluffton, take Interstate 95 south to Georgia exit 90 for GA 144 and turn right toward Richmond Hill. The town is approximately 40 miles from Bluffton and is reachable in less than an hour.

  • The Hill House Coffee Cafè is located at 10610 Ford Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. six days a week. Details: 912-445-5256

  • J.F. Gregory Park and the Rice Dike Trail are located at 521 Cedar St. behind the city hall and are open from dawn to dusk.

  • For more information about Richmond Hill, including events and things to do, contact the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce at 912-756-3444.


    In the early 1920s, America's first billionaire paid the small crossroads village of Ways Station a visit and changed the community forever. Henry Ford, the automotive giant and innovator of such American mainstays as mass production, discovered a winter getaway on the south Atlantic coast and bought property immediately.

    He eventually purchased more than 85,000 acres and brought prosperity to this nearly 150 square miles of community and farmland outside of Savannah. Ford purchased the remains of three plantations that had been burned and devastated during the Civil War and established a Southern home and research laboratory for his growing industrial empire. Ford brought jobs, wealth and growth to the area. When he suggested renaming the town Richmond Hill, the townspeople gladly complied.

    Today, the evidence of Ford's work and philanthropy can still be seen in the form of homes, schools and other works that have survived the years and given Richmond Hill its unique quality of life. For more information, visit the Richmond Hill Museum housed at the Henry Ford Kindergarten located at Ford Avenue and Timber Hill Road in Richmond Hill. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week. It is closed Sundays and holidays.

I knew when the railroad crossing gates went down that we would be delayed. The boys were excited at the prospect of seeing a train, but a detour sign warning of work to be done and an indefinite closure told a different story. As cars behind me turned around to backtrack to a different way out of town, we decided to stay for a visit and see what Richmond Hill had to offer. Little did we know, we would be rewarded with a fine afternoon of good people, good food and a fun, family adventure.

Richmond Hill is 18 miles south and west of Savannah and less than an hour from Bluffton. This inviting little town borders the marsh-lined Ogeechee River on U.S. 17, close to where the coastal road crosses Interstate 95. It was just another coastal settlement until automobile magnate Henry Ford visited in the 1920s. Ford purchased land and invested in the local economy, eventually moving a significant portion of his automotive empire to the town and surrounding community. In his wake is a sporting and residential community at the very gates of Savannah that boasts a unique quality of life.

My family and I retreated from the blocked railway to the Hill House Coffee Cafè. Located on aptly named Ford Avenue, this little shop is housed in an original Henry Ford house built in 1933 as part of the boom surrounding the town's rebirth. Owner Ann Crockett opened the shop in October 2011. "This is just a great place for locals and visitors to gather," she said.

Indeed, the baristas greeted us warmly and soon, hand-spun drinks and homemade muffins in-hand, we plotted our next move. The Richmond Hill Historical Society and Museum was close by, and Fort McAllister was just down the road. This Civil War-era fort was the site of the last battle in Sherman's famous (or infamous) "March to the Sea" and now is a state park. The fort would wait for another day and we instead visited the Rice Dike Trail, a walking and biking nature area located at J.F. Gregory Park in the heart of Richmond Hill. My family and I enjoyed the paved pathways bordering old rice fields and cypress-lined canals along the Ogeechee River. Here, nature and leisure collided and the afternoon was spent among breeze-touched trees and songbird-touched marshes.

When you visit Richmond Hill, you will doubtless discover as we did the variety of places to eat and shop as well as a welcoming community and wildlife events. A large fish hatchery run by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources offers tours and activities for all ages and the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival is held in Gregory Park every October. Whether in search of a relaxing time in nature or a new place to shop, a detour in Richmond Hill will be a welcome change of pace.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username greenkayak73. He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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