Southern Literary Trail
Plans in works at Moreland stops
by W. Winston Skinner
Carol Chancey is hoping visitors will come to Moreland as part of a passport program promoting sites on the Southern Literary Trail.
The trail was founded several years ago to promote sites connected with writers from the classic era of American fiction in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Moreland is on the trail because of the museum there dedicated to Erskine Caldwell, author of “Tobacco Road” and “God’s Little Acre.”
Chancey is the owner of Cloudland Canyon Entertainment, LLC and oversees day-to-day tourism projects for the Moreland Cultural Arts Alliance. MCAA operates the Caldwell Museum and the God’s Little Acre garden project – and is working on plans for a Lewis Grizzard tribute and the rebirth of the Hometown Heritage Museum in the restored two-story section of the historic Moreland Mill.
Chancey also serves on the Southern Literary Trail board and is working with Sarah McCullough, who manages cultural and heritage development for the Mississippi Tourism Division, to develop a passport program. McCullough’s grandparents were from Newnan and she has visited Coweta County numerous times over the years.
In addition to the Erskine Caldwell Birthplace and Museum, sites on the literary trail in Georgia are associated with Joel Chandler Harris and Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta, Byron Herbert Reece in Blairsville, Lillian Smith in Clayton, Carson McCullers in Columbus, Alice Walker in Milledgeville and Flannery O’Connor in both Milledgeville and Savannah.
Alabama sites on the trail are associated with Truman Capote, Ralph Ellison, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, William Bradford Huie, Harper Lee, William March, Albert Murray and Eugene Walter. Mississippi authors with a trail presence are Margaret W. Alexander, Borden Deal, William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright and Stark Young.
Chancey and McCullough talked about plans for the passport program at the most recent meeting of the SLT board at the law offices of Huie, Fernambucq and Stewart in Birmingham. William Gantt, one of the firm’s partners, played a major role in establishing the trail.
McCullough emphasized that she and Chancey were presenting “a very rough draft of our initial discussions on a possible passport – based on the concept of the national park service.”
With museum passport programs, visitors have a way to document they have visited certain places. When they have visited a set number – or a group within a region, they receive a reward of some kind.
“Many communities have a cultural heritage passport where visitors are guided” from one venue to another, McCullough said.
There were discussions about how the SLT passport program would work – whether the passport would be paper or electronic, or whether both options might be offered. What premiums to offer was also discussed. Selling a guidebook with profiles of each site and author was suggested by Willie Thompson, executive director of the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.
One issue is that many of the sites on the SLT have little or no staff – so how to record visits to those places must be worked out. The SLT passport program “would indeed include all of those venues, including those that are not staffed,” Chancey said. “We really don’t want them to leave without some experience.”
A goal is to help people have a good experience even if they show up at a trail site “at a time when the museums are not open,” Chancey said. A way where “they could still take advantage of some information and a little bit of what we have to offer” should be developed, she added.
For most people to travel the entire trail “would take you maybe several years,” Chancey said.
“We need to make use of what we have collectively. We have a website. We certainly want to offer a passport electronically that you can download,” Chancey said.
Carol Puckett, who shares William Bradford Huie’s legacy in the Alabama town of Hartselle, said smaller sites can benefit from the trail’s passport concert.
“I think it should include all of the sites,” Puckett said. “That’s the point.”
Chancey agreed. “The little sites are really looking to benefit from some exposure,” she said. “We’re looking for it to give us a bump.”
She said sites can plan activities and programs to piggyback on the passport holders’ visits. She suggested tour groups might be formed from one SLT town to visit one or two others as a day trip.
“There are lots of companion, fun things that can go along with this,” Chancey said.
McCullough talked about “the economic impact of cultural heritage tourism.” She said people who travel the trail are going to spend money – if nothing else stopping to eat at a restaurant, filling a tank with gasoline or doing a little shopping.
Gantt told the committee members he had heard from someone who was “taking a year off to travel the Southern Literary Trail.” He wrote the woman back and told her “how excited we are,” he said.
Gantt asked Chancey and McCullough to fine tune the passport plan “and bring it back to us a couple of meetings down the road.”