In 1981, Bobby Hamby and his wife Deborah moved into 35 N. Broad St., a house that had served as home to senior management at the textile mill owned by the Bibb Manufacturing Co.
Initially, they only did minor work, such as installing new plumbing and taking the screening off the front porch, restoring it to what it looked like originally, he said. Over time, the Hambys replaced the roof, painted both the interior and exterior and pulled up carpeting in a couple rooms to install hardwood floors.
Hamby said he wanted to preserve the exterior house as part of Porterdale’s mill heritage while updating the interior.
In a way, that was his approach to the city as a whole during his tenure as mayor, which will end Jan. 6 when Mayor-elect Arline Chapman will be sworn in after defeating Hamby in November’s election and draw to a close 30 years of involvement in Porterdale city government.
“It’s not restoring, but preserving for future generations while stimulating growth in it,” Hamby said. “We want the town to grow, but we don’t want to see the history of it gone just for the sake of growth.”
The train depot, the Porter Gymnasium and the Porterdale Mill Lofts, all of which are tied to the city’s mill past, have fit into that notion, preserving the exteriors while renovating the interiors for new uses.
Hamby said he and the City Council in the late 1990s and early 2000s worked with developer Walter Davis, who converted the old Bibb textile mill into loft apartments. SPLOST money and state Transportation Enhancement grant money has been used to rehabilitate the train depot, and another grant is in the wings to convert it into a trail head and rest stop.
There is still not enough funding to restore the Porter Memorial Gym, which was nearly destroyed in a fire about five years ago, but Hamby said he believed money could be raised to build a multipurpose center there while preserving the exterior shell.
Additionally, he has advocated for a revision of the zoning code to restrict the type of building materials used in new construction to prevent more low cost and low quality prefabricated houses from springing up in the future.
“Many of these houses have been here for 100 years,” Hamby said of the original mill-built houses. “Some of the newer ones won’t be here that long.”
He said the square-footage of a new home was not as important as making sure the materials were durable.
Hamby, who was born in Porterdale in 1949 and raised in Covington, moved back in 1981 and joined the volunteer Porterdale Fire Department shortly after. Within four years, then-Mayor Kenneth Hall appointed him as interim chief after the chief at the time resigned. Soon after, Hall appointed him the permanent chief.
During his time, the department moved from the old cotton warehouse, next to the Bibb mill by the Yellow River, to the train depot across the street. Seeing the need for a more permanent home, Hamby and several firefighters secured a loan for the department to build its current home next to City Hall.
Hamby remained chief until 2004.
In 1997, Hamby ran for and won City Council Post 5 “after some coaxing from several people,” he said. During his time on the council, the city changed to a manager form of government.
“For one, I feel like the city government needs to be run by a professional person, someone who is trained for that,” he said.
In 2002, the city purchased about 31 acres of land along the Yellow River, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s Office, a plot the city is still working toward turning into a park and boat launch. Part of Porterdale’s strategic plan includes using the river and park as a tourism destination to draw people and business to the city.
Porterdale built a facility for the Department of Public Works, which had used the train depot for its equipment after the Fire Department left. Shortly after that, the SPLOST and grants paid for the start of the depot’s rehabilitation.
In 2009, Porterdale lost its city accreditation with the state after failing to complete an update of its comprehensive plan by the statutory deadline. Hamby said that was a “miscommunication” between the Department of Community Affairs and then-City Manager Tom Fox. The plan was completed earlier this year by the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia after a legal fight with the previous consultant, Chris McGahee.
Hamby, 61, said he plans to remain active in the city after his term is up, and has thought about volunteering again for the Fire Department, though in an administrative capacity rather than as a firefighter. He is active in the Covington American Legion post and the Porterdale Baptist Church.