Bloomingdale Begins Town Center with New History Museum

January 3, 2013

In 2010, the Bloomingdale Historical Society had an active membership that included the mayor and every member of the city council but it didn’t have a regular place to meet.

“We needed a place to meet and a place to keep our artifacts,” explained City Councilmember Jerry Crosby. “Our history was dying. Every time a senior passed away, we would lose a piece of the history he or she had collected.”

A city purchase shortly before Crosby joined the city council turned out to be a win-win solution.

“The city purchased a 1920s brick home, the second brick home built in the city, out on Highway 80,” Crosby said. “We worked out a deal to lease the building from the city for $10 a year.”

The building however, was far from move-in condition.

“The property was in bad shape,” Crosby said. The Historical Society incorporated as a non-profit and set about raising money for the restoration of the home but with little success.

Bingo was the game
“We tried yard sales and bake sales, and nothing seemed to work,” Crosby said. “Then my wife said, ‘Let’s try Bingo.’”

The city allowed the society to hold Bingo every other Friday evening in the city’s community center. “I never realized so many people over age 50 played Bingo,” Crosby said. “It turned out to be a fantastic fundraiser. People from a 30-mile radius came to Bloomingdale to play.”

The society raised $42,000 within two years from the Bingo nights. When the city saw the society’s efforts, it contributed $50,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) dollars to the effort. The $92,000 was enough to fund the restoration and on November 10, 2012 the old brick home opened up as the Bloomingdale History Museum and Visitor’s Center.

The Historical Society continues its Bingo nights to raise money for the ongoing operation of the facility, about $12,000 a year. The city pays the utilities and maintains liability insurance through the lease agreement., according to City Administrator Charles Akridge.

“This museum put pride back into Bloomingdale,” Crosby said. “The history of the city is being saved. I feel great about this because my grandkids will have a place to go to see the history of the city.”

More than a meeting place
Carey Ferrara, Tourism project manager for the Georgia Coast with the Georgia Department of Economic Development Tourism Division called the History Museum and Visitor’s Center “wonderful.”

“I was really surprised by the quality of the museum because Bloomingdale is such a small town,” she said. “I was also impressed with the quality and quantity of the artifacts; the residents were so loving in the way they have restored and displayed them. What the society and city have done can be a model for other towns. I understand they are going to add an interactive piece and that is key because tourists are looking to be involved with attractions beyond just looking at display cases. We call it experiential or immersion tourism.”

The city is also developing a rails-to-trails park and has plans to eventually install sidewalks that will connect the park to the museum.

“We are turning an old rail bed into a linear park with amenities,” Akridge explained. “We received a federal transportation enhancement grant for approximately $718,000 to fund the project. We hope to start construction sometime next spring; it should take six months to one year to complete.”

Creating a sense of place
Crosby said the city’s aim is to use the History Museum and Visitor’s Center as the seed to create a sense of place in Bloomingdale.

“Bloomingdale never had a downtown area,” Crosby said. “The city was just a bedroom community for Savannah and there were just some stores off the highway.”

“We are trying to create a town center situation—a central point that turns into the core of our community,” added Akridge.

Additionally, the city has applied for a Department of Natural Resources tourism grant to help fund the relocation of the oldest building in Bloomingdale to the peripheral of the museum. “We don’t have a cost estimate yet for the restoration,” Akridge said. “If the grant is funded we will go from there.”

Bloomingdale’s plans for Highway 80 don’t stop with the museum and park; the city is also building a Veterans Freedom Park across the street from city hall. The city allocated $50,000 in SPLOST dollars to fund the park’s construction.

“The allocation of the SPLOST dollars to the museum and veterans park exemplifies the commitment the city council has to these two projects,” Akridge said, “which are really going to be integral focal points of our community.”