By Maggie Behringer
DALTON, Ga. - Dalton and Whitfield County's heritage is helping to ensure the community's future.
Officials hope a Civil War Landscape Museum, which would draw on the area's collection of pristine military fortifications, will launch the area into a new age of tourism and further its goal of attracting younger residents.
"We have an untapped wealth of tourism-type assets," Mayor David Pennington said.
Noting Chattanooga as an example, he said entertainment, attractions and dining all increase a city's visitor population, which in turn increases its appeal as a permanent home, specifically for young professionals.
"We're learning from our neighbors," Mr. Pennington said.
An archaeological survey conducted by the U.S. Park Service in 2000 discovered that Whitfield County contained more intact Civil War defenses than any other location in the nation. Virginia originally held that title, but private and public development had bulldozed most of the historic structures.
Civil War scholars also have begun to focus on North Georgia, revising the thought that the Union victory at Gettysburg represented the war's turning point.
"In 1864, the area between Chattanooga and Atlanta is where the war was decided," said Dr. John Fowler, holder of the Brandy Chair and professor of history at Dalton State College.
He said the success of the Georgia campaign, as well as progress in both the Eastern and Western theaters, provided a crucial morale lift in the North, ensuring President Lincoln's re-election and the continuation of the war.
Rather than a traditional indoor museum, the landscape museum would be a group of outdoor sites and houses connected by a guide. Online information, maps and audio guides would direct visitors from one site to the next.
"To allow the public in there, the site itself can function as a museum," said Kevin McAuliff, senior planner for the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission.
The benefit of landscape museums is the lack of boundaries between a visitor and the places where historical events occurred, he said.
"It's one thing to be in a museum looking at a scale model of the battle," Mr. McAuliff said. "It's another thing to actually stand near the defense works and know if you'd have been standing there 150 years ago, you'd probably have been shot."
Dalton received a $10,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to produce a plan for the museum. The city will match half of the grant.
Sites will include the Hamilton House, the Blunt House, Crown Mill, the Fort Hill School, the Dalton Depot, fortifications on Mount Rachel and Rocky Face Ridge, a Confederate cemetery in Resaca and a park along U.S. Highway 41.
Each site will have a name and index number, signs explaining the historical significance, the correlation and geographic significance to broader war events, audio or visual devices and a guidebook and accompanying map listing.
The city is acquiring legal rights to all the sites and developing the museum plan.
Referring to Whitfield County and Dalton's American Indian and textile and carpet history, Mr. McAuliff said, "The city has a lot of potential."
Maggie Behringer writes about Whitfield County. Contact her at email@example.com.
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