Thursday, September 17, 2015

Growth of the Tourism Industry in Georgia

Over the past two summers Russell Library intern Kaylynn Washnock assisted in curating the new exhibit, “Seeing Georgia: Changing Visions of Tourism in the Modern South” opening September 18th in the Russell Library’s Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit investigates how the state transformed itself from a way station along the route to Florida into a tourist destination during the twentieth century. It addition to highlighting six popular destinations in Georgia the exhibit considers questions of access, preservation, and economics – who could go, how they got there, and what motivated them to visit different attractions. The exhibit also explores the professionalization of the tourism industry and the roles of modern amenities in shaping the modern tourist experience. This post is one in a series where Kaylynn offers a preview of the exhibition.  

Advertisement produced by the Georgia Department
of Commerce, ca. 1960s. Courtesy of Ed Jackson.
Bill Hardman, Sr., ca. 1960s
In the early twentieth century, most tourists saw Georgia as a place they drove through on the way to a beach destination in Florida. There was no state run division of tourism and no annual allocation for marketing local attractions. Beginning in the 1940s, state officials set their sights on turning Georgia into a “stop over” destination in hopes of capturing some of the tourist dollars headed further south. The administration of Governor Ernest Vandiver Jr. saw tourism as integral to the state’s growing economy and in 1959 named Colbert, Georgia native, Bill Hardman director of the state’s newly created Tourism Division.

Betty Sanders, first lady of Georgia,
at a tourism event, ca. 1964.

Interior of Georgia Visitors Center.
First Georgia Welcome Center in
Sylvania, ca. 1961.
Jill Severn and I took a short drive up to Dahlonega in late July to meet Bill Hardman Jr., the son of the late Bill Hardman, Sr. He shared stories of his father and ephemera his father saved during his career with the Tourism Division. While serving as the state's tourism director, Hardman revolutionized Georgia’s image
among vacationers. He was the driving force behind the creation of Georgia’s Welcome Centers as well as clever campaigns like “See Georgia First” and “Stop and See Georgia.” Through his efforts, the state shed its reputation for speed traps, clip-joints and poor roads.
Governor Carl Sanders dedicating
Georgia Welcome Center, ca. 1964.

In 1962, Georgia opened its first Welcome Center along Highway 301 in Sylvania, near the South Carolina border. While travelers picked up maps, brochures, and souvenirs or visited the restroom, hostesses armed with southern hospitality and donated Coca-Cola, peanuts, and Royal Crown Cola would persuade them to stay and see Georgia’s many attractions. Soon thereafter, welcome centers were built at Lavonia, Ringgold, Columbus, and Valdosta.  In 1967, tourist spending in the state reached $570.7 million.

Note: The photographs featured in the blog post are drawn from the Bill Hardman, Sr. Papers, recently donated to the Russell Library. This collection should be available for research shortly. We extend temendous thanks to Bill Hardman, Jr. for this generous donation of his father's papers.  

Want to find out more about Georgia Tourism? Visit Seeing Georgia: Changing Visions of Tourism in the New South on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries from September 18, 2015 through July 30, 2016. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788

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