The Historic Chattahoochee Commission (HCC), headquartered in Eufaula, is a joint effort between the states of Alabama and Georgia. The commission is the first, and currently the only, multi-state tourism and preservation agency in the nation and was created by a federal interstate agreement. It was established in 1970 to promote tourism, economic development, and historic preservation in the 18 counties that border the lower Chattahoochee River. Programs include publications, historical markers, folklife interpretations, rural architectural surveys, educational presentations, and preservation grants. Designated as a "heritage corridor," the area covered by the HCC includes communities on both sides of the river and was given the official name Chattahoochee Trace in 1974.
The HCC was conceived initially by Alabama state representative Bill Neville and Alabama state senator and later Speaker of the House Jimmy Clark, both of Eufaula. They saw the project as a way to encourage economic growth in the counties along the river by using their resources, such as historic homes, Civil War sites, and recreational sites to generate tourism. The Alabama state legislature enacted legislation creating the HCC in 1970. A unique provision of the act permitted Alabama governor Albert Brewer to appoint residents of Georgia counties that border Alabama and touch the Chattahoochee River as nonvoting advisory board members. In September 1972 the HCC board hired Douglas C. Purcell as its first executive director. By 1974, the commission had branded the region as the Chattahoochee Trace of Alabama and Georgia and released an informational brochure to promote the area. The HCC also introduced a cartoon mascot, the Chattahoochee Poochie. The HCC published its first book in 1974 in cooperation with the University of Alabama Press. In 1978, the Alabama legislature and the Georgia General Assembly passed identical legislation to establish an interstate agreement for the commission's operation. U.S. president Jimmy Carter signed the Historic Chattahoochee Compact into law in October 1978 after the bill passed in the U.S. Congress.
In 1978, the HCC initiated a historical marker program and an architectural survey. The commemorative roadside plaques, which currently number more than 290, provide information about important people, buildings, places, and events in the Chattahoochee Trace region. Subjects are selected by individuals, organizations, and businesses within the region served by the commission. A marker committee reviews the proposed text for each submitted marker to ensure historical accuracy. The commission also established an architectural survey program that inventories historic residential buildings in rural areas along the corridor. Surveys have been completed in Barbour, Chambers, Dale, Henry, Houston, Lee, and Russell counties in Alabama and in Clay, Decatur, Early, Harris, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole, Stewart, and Troup counties in Georgia. Information from these surveys is used to help identify significant historic structures in need of rehabilitation. In addition, the survey supplies information of importance for the placement of cell phone towers and new road construction.
In 1988, the HCC created a multimedia educational program that traces the history of settlement and architectural trends, from the log cabin to the mobile home. Known as the Chattahoochee Trace Heritage Education Unit, the program is designed to help students of all ages interpret social, political, and economic changes through the evolution of domestic architectural styles. It is used by schools, history and historic preservation groups, and libraries. In addition to the unit, the HCC's publication program has produced 30 titles on regional subjects relating to art, history, architecture, archaeology, and tourism. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter and a monthly calendar of events. In addition, the commission played a key role in the development of the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center at Fort Mitchell, in Russell County along Alabama Highway 165. The center is operated by the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association, which was formed as a nonprofit organization by the HCC. The commission also works with agricultural, genealogical, and nature-based tourism programs. For example, the Chattahoochee AgriTourism Project was funded, in part, by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The commission also is actively involved with RiverWay South, which promotes nature-based and heritage tourism attractions in the watersheds of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint rivers. Working with all four Georgia and Alabama U.S. senators and two congressmen from each state, the HCC is seeking to have the region designated a National Heritage Area by the National Park Service. Such a designation would make the region eligible to receive matching funding for publications and marketing for tourism, historic preservation, environmental education, outdoor recreation, and small-business development.
The HCC derives its funding from the state government of Alabama as a line item in the General Fund budget and from the state government of Georgia as a pass-through appropriation in the budget of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Tourism Division. The commission staff consists of an executive director and an administrative assistant. The operations of HCC are governed by 28 board members, 14 from each state. The commission is headquartered in the historic Hart House (ca. 1850) in Eufaula, and a satellite office is maintained in LaGrange, Georgia. The commission serves seven Alabama counties and 11 Georgia counties.
The HCC bases its programming on the idea that a regional approach to heritage tourism offers many advantages to the small, economically distressed counties that border the river. These counties often lack the resources to support individual promotional and interpretative programs, but by pooling their resources through the Commission, they can do so as a group. HCC projects focus on brochure distribution, television and magazine advertising, travel writer familiarization tours, and awards, in addition to assistance with promoting tourism and preservation-related subjects. In April 2007 the HCC facilitated a two-pronged study tour of the Chattahoochee Trace with 13 co-sponsors at which 14 travel writers from across the United States and Canada were hosted for five days in the region. To date, travel articles with a value of several hundred thousand dollars have been generated as a result of these two concurrent tours. Also, each year the HCC provides small grants to help develop tourism and preservation projects. These grants are made to non-profit groups and entities such as chambers of commerce, historical or preservation societies, and libraries who have worthwhile tourism, history, or preservation projects. In order to secure these grants, the organizations receiving them must find additional funding to match the amount awarded by the HCC.
The HCC also promotes historic and recreational attractions along the Chattahoochee Trace that appeal to history buffs, campers, cyclists, and vacationers. The HCC Web site offers visitors maps of various types of routes based on area of interest as well as additional information on its heritage tourism programs. At present, tourism in the 18 Alabama and Georgia counties served by the HCC is a billion-dollar industry. The commission's work over the last 38 years has played a major role in the development and enhancement of the tourism industry in this region.
Cook, Joe, and Monica Cook. River Song: A Journey Down the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000.
Jeane, D. Gregory, and Douglas Clare Purcell, eds. The Architectural Legacy of the Lower Chattahoochee Valley in Alabama and Georgia. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1978
Douglas Clare Purcell
Historic Chattahoochee Commission
Published March 14, 2008
Last updated August 1, 2013