Georgia's first welcome center escapes budget ax

Saturday, April 7, 2012 11:23 AM
Last updated Sunday, April 8, 2012 5:18 PM
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SYLVANIA, Ga. — Clayton Rose can appreciate the simplicity of the road less traveled.

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Georgia's oldest Visitor Information Center, which opened in 1962 on U.S. Hwy. 301 in Screven County, will hold a 50th anniversary celebration April 20. It is open Tuesday through Saturday but closed Sunday and Monday.  Rob Pavey/Staff
Rob Pavey/Staff
Georgia's oldest Visitor Information Center, which opened in 1962 on U.S. Hwy. 301 in Screven County, will hold a 50th anniversary celebration April 20. It is open Tuesday through Saturday but closed Sunday and Monday.

“Traffic’s too fast on the interstate,” the Dublin, Ohio, retiree said. “We like going the old way.”

For Rose and his wife, Betty, the “old way” includes annual stops at a familiar Georgia landmark that narrowly escaped the state’s budget-cutting ax last month.

Tucked along a lonely, linear stretch of U.S. Highway 301 near the Savannah River, the Georgia Visitor Information Center is the oldest one on the state.

“We stop in most every year, coming down and going back home,” said Rose, who spends winters in Florida and returns to Ohio each spring.

The building, added to the National Register of Historic Places in December, opened its doors a half-century ago, April 20, 1962, said Robert Davis, an information specialist who has worked at the center almost 20 years.

In the decades before interstate highways, U.S. 301 bustled with Northern tourists bound to and from Florida.

“We still get lots of people from up North,” Davis said. “They remember our names from year to year, and we remember their faces.”

The migrating “snowbirds” even inspired one perennial visitor to donate a vintage snowmobile that is displayed just outside the front door.

“It’s to welcome all the people coming through from up North,” said Donna Thorne, who works at the center with Davis. “He brought it all the way down here, and we had to get permission to display it.”

Today, the welcome center looks much like it always has, complete with a picnic area, restrooms and “mid-century modern” architectural features from a design created by Statesboro, Ga., architect Edwin C. Eckles. Inside, the original aluminum chandeliers and terrazzo floors still greet visitors.

“Some of the people who stop here like it because it was a place they came to as a child,” Davis said, adding that clean restrooms and free soft drinks are also a draw.

Craig Counts, of Barnwell, S.C., was one of the visitors this month who took advantage of both.

“I grew up not far from here,” he said. “When we are traveling through here, it’s always a place to stop with the kids.”

Gov. Nathan Deal’s fiscal 2013 budget proposed closing both the historic Screven County welcome center and another small center near Plains, Ga., said Stefanie Paupeck, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which operates the sites.

However, a spokesman in the governor’s office said Thursday the Screven County facility will remain open.

“The visitors center we spoke about earlier is not closing,” spokesman Samuel Johnson said. “Instead, it is facing a 2-percent budget cut.”

The U.S. 301 center is 16 miles from Sylvania and is open Tuesday through Saturday. Officials plan a 50th anniversary celebration on April 20.

Georgia Welcome and Visitor Information Centers:

Georgia Welcome Center

8463 Burton’s Ferry Highway

Sylvania, GA 30467

(912) 829-3331

8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

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historylover 04/08/12 - 12:11 pm
That is wonderful news! This

That is wonderful news! This is indeed an historical spot and there are somethings that just should not be cut from the state budget. We'll be seeing you on the way to the beach this summer!

d1zmljqg 07/17/12 - 08:49 am
Is it closed?

On July 9 crossing into Georgia from SC on US 301 construction tape was strung across the entry/exits; leaving Georgia on 7/12 same tape up indicating it was closed. I have used this stop since moving to Virginia in 1971, 41 years. Most often on my stops other travelers were enjoying this facility.

The Republican mantra is "You don't raise taxes, you cut spending." They always seem to single out the most vulnerable programs, which are seldom under scrutiny by the public, unless that program originated with a Democratic administration or is something against their agenda.

Closing this rest stop to save money is about like a family eliminating a can of tuna from their weekly grocery list.

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