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Georgia's 1st welcome center, in Screven County, turns 50

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In the decades before interstate highways forever changed American travel, U.S. Highway 301, which slices through South Carolina’s Allendale County into rural Georgia, bustled with Northern tourists bound to and from vacation venues in Florida – and many of them stopped at the Georgia Welcome Center, just across the Savannah River bridge.

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Architecturally, the U.S. Hwy. 301 Welcome Center is an excellent and intact example of mid-20th-century modernism and was designed by Architect Edwin C. Eckles of Statesboro, Ga.  Charlie Miller/Special
Charlie Miller/Special
Architecturally, the U.S. Hwy. 301 Welcome Center is an excellent and intact example of mid-20th-century modernism and was designed by Architect Edwin C. Eckles of Statesboro, Ga.

Built in 1962, that venerable and architecturally significant Screven County landmark turns 50 this year – and is being added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its well-preserved features and tenure as the state’s longest-serving welcome center.

According to the Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation Division, welcome centers were conceived under the administration of Gov. Ernest Vandiver from 1959 to 1963.

Vandiver believed the state should actively promote its tourist attractions, which he saw as a way to boost economic development. His efforts led to the construction of a series of welcome centers for visitors, with the first one on U.S. 301.

Its opening date was 50 years ago this month.

Today, the welcome center looks much like it always has, complete with a picnic area, restrooms and other “mid-century modern” architectural features from a design created by Statesboro, Ga., architect Edwin C. Eckles.

The design included unusual arched concrete shells forming the roof, ceiling and canopy. On the outside, the concrete vaults have a scalloped edge above a lightweight glass-and-aluminum façade. Load-bearing concrete block walls are on the less-visible sides and rear. Inside, the original aluminum chandeliers and terrazzo floors still greet visitors.

Today, there are 11 welcome centers, now known as “Visitor Information Centers,” in Georgia, of which all but two are along interstate highways. In addition to the Screven County site, the other non-interstate facility is on U.S. Highway 280 near Plains.

The U.S. 301 center is 16 miles from Sylvania and is open Tuesday through Saturday. Its listing in the National Register will be acknowledged during Tourism & Hospitality Day, Jan. 24 at the Capitol.

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Sweet son
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Sweet son 01/16/12 - 02:41 pm
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Stopped there many times on

Stopped there many times on the way to Hilton Head. Kids always enjoyed the free coke and picked up numerous brochures. Great memories. Thanks Rob

David Parker
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David Parker 01/16/12 - 03:15 pm
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Happy birthday dear Visitor's

Happy birthday dear Visitor's Center, happy birthday, to , yooooooou!

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 01/16/12 - 03:17 pm
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I have stopped at this

I have stopped at this welcome center myself. Sitting there on seldom-used Hwy. 301, it cannot be justified today. It's staffing and maintenance costs are a waste of taxpayer money. The staff need to be let go, the building bulldozed, and the land sold off to private interests. How big must a government get before it begins to feed on itself?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 01/16/12 - 03:20 pm
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The state Properties

The state Properties Commission could auction off this riverfront parcel at the same time they auction off the Gardens & Golf Hall of Fame property.

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 01/16/12 - 03:22 pm
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I've always liked the place

I've always liked the place too, ss - one of the coolest things was, until six or seven years ago, their payphone would still make a call for a dime! I dropped by there yesterday to get some better photos and was disappointed to learn it is closed Sundays and Mondays.

historylover
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historylover 01/20/12 - 11:43 am
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Little Lamb, I agree that 301

Little Lamb, I agree that 301 is seldom used today however I really love this particular Welcome Center. They have many weekend functions where they highlight local artists and products. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. My goodness, we're probably only talking 4 full time positions that would be eliminated. Sometimes it is better to save history instead of a dollar. Besides, where would we all stop for restrooms and a free coke between Augusta and the South Carolina coast??

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