Finding 12 historical markers on 1,800 acres has all the makings of a family scavenger hunt. Finding them in order of historic significance poses a bit more of a challenge.
Ford Way Entrance I – Earliest recorded history
People have been living along the fertile Ogeechee River, on what is known today as The Ford Plantation, since prehistoric times. As history unfolded, the land was home to Native Americans from various tribes, European settlers from Spain and France, and was later colonized by England in 1732. Georgia became the fourth American state on January 2, 1788.
Ford Way Entrance II – 1743
Soon after Savannah was established, colonists began branching out to surrounding areas. In 1734, John Harn began developing this land for agriculture under the name Dublin Plantation. Dublin Plantation was just one of more than 20 parcels of land that comprised the 85,000 acres purchased by Henry Ford.
Rice Mill I – Circa mid 1700s
A mill located nearby was used to process the rice harvested from the adjacent rice fields. Destroyed during the Civil War, the mill lay in ruin until Henry Ford restored it as part of the steam powerplant that provided energy for The Main House. A smokestack.
Silk Hope Harbor I – 1753
William Butler was the land baron granted the tract along the Ogeechee Neck that became known as Silk Hope Plantation. Butler’s son-in-law, Thomas Savage managed the operation until being incarcerated in Florida during the Revolutionary War. Over the next century, the property changed hands until ultimately being divided between the owners of neighboring Cherry Hill Plantation.
Rice Mill II – Circa late 1700s
Visible across the Ogeechee River are remnants of the hand-built earthen dikes used to manage the flow of water for the rice crop. Rice cultivation was the basis of a stable local economy until the Civil War severely hampered the ability to harvest and process the crop. Soon thereafter, in 1887, a powerful hurricane wiped out rice production and gave way to a new cash crop—cotton.
Cherry Hill Plantation I – Circa 1764
Around 1764, John Maxwell purchased 300 acres from John Harn to create Cherry Hill Plantation. After the Revolutionary War, the property was sold to Richard James Arnold who cultivated the property to produce rice. By 1840, Arnold was one of the wealthiest individuals in Bryan Country, a fortune that would change during the Civil War.
McAllister Point I – 1817
Named in honor of George W. McAllister, McAllister Point draws its architectural inspiration from two great Southern cities, Savannah and Charleston. McAllister purchased the surrounding area, Strathy Hall Plantation. Many members of the McAllister family held prominent positions including mayor of Savannah and Georgia attorney general. Son Joseph McAllister organized the Hardwicke Mounted Riflemen which was folded into the 7th Georgia Cavalry during the Civil War.
The Main House II – Circa 1860
By 1860, the Clay family amassed 7,700 acres which they used for livestock, and to grow cotton and rice. Henry and Clara Ford’s winter home sits on the original site of a home built by Thomas Savage Clay. On December 12, 1864, the Clay’s home and farm were destroyed like many others in an attempt to cripple the South during the Civil War.
McAllister Point II – 1864
Fort McAllister was a place of strategic significance during the Civil War as it helped the Confederate States Army defend important agricultural sites upriver from coming under attack by Union forces. After failed attempts to dislodge defenders by a naval attack, Fort McAllister was overrun by land forces on December 13, 1864.
Cherry Hill Plantation II – 1864
With the threat of Civil War looming, landowner Richard James Arnold donated funds to the Savannah Militia and returned to the north, leaving behind his two sons to focus on agriculture and fighting the Confederate Army. Despite the destruction of Cherry Hill Plantation on December 12, 1864, son William Eliot Arnold built a dramatic new residence in 1874 that now stands on Cherry Hill lot #1.
Silk Hope Harbor II – 1930s
The Silk Hope Marina was developed by Henry Ford as both a safe harbor for his Ford V-8 powered 28’ cabin cruiser and as a swimming pool. Little LuLu, the Ford family’s yacht, built on-site by local craftsmen, was commandeered during WWII by the Coast Guard as a patrol boat. Eventually, a formal swimming pool was added at The Main House long after the Ford family sold the estate.
The Main House I – 1935
Henry and Clara Ford’s winter home was completed in 1938. The inspiration for the Greek Revival home came from another home they purchased nearby, The Hermitage, which was demolished so the Savannah gray brick could be repurposed for The Main House. Clara Ford had an exact 1/12 scale model replica of The Main House built, which she kept in Dearborn, Michigan, to help determine the placement of furnishings and art.
The rich history at The Ford Plantation extends far beyond the snippets of information highlighted on these historical markers. An underground tunnel, relics from the steam-powered generators, an elevator, rice field and dike remnants, cemeteries, and even Ford family handprints immortalized in concrete are all waiting to be discovered. So grab the kids or grandkids and jump in the golf cart, pedal bicycles, drive the car, ride a horse, or just venture out with a walking stick and map to discover some of the history of this land before it became The Ford Plantation.