Just as 40,000 tourists are expected to flock to LaFayette to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this fall, the city will be opening a welcome center to facilitate inquiries and provide advice on attractions.
Friday, Dr. David Boyle, president of the Walker County Historical Society, said the center will offer "anything a visitor coming from out of town would want to know."
The center will open Sept. 21, coinciding with the first and largest of two Civil War battle re-enactments happening near town, and it will fill a void in tourism left when the Walker County Chamber of Commerce moved from LaFayette to Rock Spring around 20 years ago, Boyle said.
The center's housing is already known by LaFayette residents. It began as a Long John Silver's restaurant years ago and became the Northwest Georgia Arts Guild when the Wardlaw family donated it to Walker County several years ago.
Now, since the arts guild folded and there is no welcome center or database of tourism information in LaFayette, the building will serve as the check-in location for Marsh House of LaFayette tours and the first stop for tourism in the town.
Matthew Williams, MainStreet manager for LaFayette, said the welcome center will be a boost for the historic downtown district, which like in so many small towns, has been affected by a highway bypass.
"I think the welcome center will be a very nice addition for LaFayette," he said.
The center will hit the ground running its first day of operation, as the Marsh House and Chattooga Academy open for tours, in addition to the battle re-enactment. Like Boyle, Williams expects huge numbers for the day.
Welcome center administrators are looking to bring on volunteers to staff the facility and serve as tour guides.
"I think it's an excellent opportunity for retired people who want to give something back to the community to be a host or be a tour guide," Boyle said.
And for retired volunteers who aren't mobile enough to take visitors around the city's historic sites, Boyle said there are positions available serving as hosts or hostesses inside the welcome center.
"We've created a separate role for them," he said.
And the center won't just serve out-of-towners, he said. The welcome center will be a haven for LaFayette's rich past.
"For the people who live here locally, it's their story," he said. "It's also a historical and cultural resource. That's why it matters."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at 423-757-6731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.