Courtesy photo(From left) Consultants Ralph Moore and Phil Walker with Walker Collaborative tour the City of Holly Springs with Jim Moore and Mayor Kelvin Buck.
City looks to boost tourism
A recent walkabout with the steering committee for a downtown heritage tourism study garnered much attention and support.
The study is a result of a $20,000 Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area community grant program. Consultant Phil Walker and sub-consultant Ralph Moore, with the Walker Collaborative, led the walkabout and sought to define issues on heritage tourism that affect tourist attraction locally.
Local involvement by the Holly Springs Main Street Chamber and the Holly Springs Tourism and Recreation Bureau helps provide support for the study as well as city participation by Mayor Kelvin Buck and members of the board of aldermen.
At the public session held for local input at city hall May 13, Walker introduced the basics of heritage tourism, the purpose of the project, preliminary findings, and led the discussion that would help lay out the next steps in the project.
Heritage tourism is tourism based upon historic sites, stories and experiences.
The purpose of seeking to get more tourism traffic in Holly Springs is to showcase the community and to boost tourism that would revitalize downtown – in effect, to boost tourism.
“It’s no secret to you; your community is really historic,” Walker said.
He cited African American heritage, architecture (antebellum homes, slave dwellings, buildings), Native American (Chickasaw) heritage, Civil War heritage and arts and music all which enrich Holly Springs as a heritage site.
Some activities noteworthy of mention were the Great Removal of the 1850s, the Chickasaw trail, Van Dorn’s raid, the occupation of the city by Union troops (Gens. Grant and Sherman), the Ida B. Wells Museum, the Holly Springs Historical Museum, the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery, Rust College, Herndon Place (owned by artist Randy Hayes), the Mississippi Hills Area Blues Festival and the Robert Kimbrough Sr. Festival.
The city has six different historic districts, a historic preservation commission and zoning board.
Tourists look for authenticity and a well-preserved and vibrant downtown, Walker said.
Downtown is used as a measuring stick that speaks of a shared sense of ownership, a preserved urban environment, and a unique postcard identity.
Some issues to resolve are whether or not to keep the canopies and that look, walkability, the fund-raisers, business on the courthouse square.
Ralph Moore sought a deeper look at the cultural issues that affect downtown tourism. The audience brought out some old and unresolved issues.
Would the city want historic tourism or general tourism, want to have some attractions not tied to history?
Certain non-historic attractions include Chewalla Lake and Wall Doxey State Park and focus on camping. Or is there an interest in agri-tourism since the city is in the agricultural South? The cotton fields and rural terrain could be of interest to tourists. There are people living here who have knowledge of how to grow plants.
“There’s a historic connection,” Moore said.
Other attractions include Jones Greenhouse, the racetrack, events, festivals and the landscape in general that fall into general tourism.
“You can have both types of tourism,” said tourism executive director Tyrisha Battle.
Wayne Jones noted that the landscape is beautiful and the land has a history to tell.
David Person with the steering committee noted that the area is a place for family reunions and holds very old cemeteries for enslaved people.
“Family get-togethers and reunions are also part of people coming here,” Person said.
There is a connectivity to nature, he said.
Moore asked about African American history as being of primary interest.
“African American history is broad,” Jones said. “It includes the Civil War, Civil Rights, and agriculture.”
Moore said downtown, the conflicts between the races, and the history of that conflict are all interwoven.
He said the historic homes and buildings were built by skilled laborers, the African Americans, and they are still standing.
“It’s all of our story and it’s all interwoven together,” Moore said again.
Rhondalyn Peairs, historic tour guide with Historic Oxford, said tourists are much more sophisticated than they are given credit for. There are five or six prongs to it, she said.
The Chickasaw gave their land, but there are also people like Delilah Love, a Chickasaw who married a white man and kept her land (a part of women’s history).
“You can’t pull these apart,” she said. “All these things work together. It’s good for those who believe in the common good. That’s what people are really talking about.”
Moore said the subject of slavery should be presented accurately and with sensitivity and respect for the history of Holly Springs.
Jones brought out the topic of urban slavery in the trades, the laborers and factories.
“Not everybody was in the field,” said Alisea McLeod, professor at Rust College. “I think we need to address it (slavery) or it will always be the elephant in the room.”
“Because it is a prominent part of Holly Springs’ history, it should have a prominent place and it would be dishonest without it,” Suzanne James said.
Accuracy and honesty should be the guiding principles, she said.
“Holly Springs has the only slave dwelling project in the country, the world,” James said. “That means the city is an educational institution. There is one book on this. We set the standard for the guiding principles,” James said.
Education is the answer, she said.
Sherry Childers asked if everything should be given equal representation in heritage tourism.
“Can heritage tourism and general tourism co-mingle?” Moore asked.
McLeod said the question is whether you want to brand or something, to make information stick in people’s minds.
Jones said it is time for African American history to be overemphasized since it has been underemphasized.
“We’re talking about putting things in place for everyone to participate in the benefits of it,” he said.
Battle said tourists ask, “Where were all the black people when they were drinking mint juleps?”
Peairs said sometimes branding can get in your way.
“Our histories and communities are interconnected,” she said. “Visitors (to Oxford) have only one way to get there, that’s through Holly Springs. There’s more to Oxford than Ole Miss. ‘All Kinds of Character,’ y’all say.”
Leona Harris, curator of the Ida B. Wells Barnett Museum, said she “definitely feels that Ida B. Wells should be one of the major drawing cards of this community.”
She also noted that the Episcopal Church and Walter Place “are two fantastic buildings to be used to highlight architecture – they were built by slaves. There is more to African American history than Behind the Big House.
“The wrought-iron fences were for defense. If we are going to tell the story about Holly Springs, don’t leave anybody out. Tourists will tell you their likes and dislikes. See what they say.
“Racism – we have it all over the country. What makes you think we are immune to it? We need to get our house in order so we can know how to greet the audience. We want tourists to have a good feeling when they come to Holly Springs.”
Moore asked what markets the city should tap into.
Battle said Memphis, Cordova, Collierville, Tenn.; Arkansas; Missouri; Birmingham, Ala.; and she uses digital and magazine advertising.
“Tourists from other countries will plan their trips around local blues music events,” said Marie Bongiovanni with The Bottomless Cup.
She said collaborating with other businesses and showcasing what we have here, such as local musicians and history of their fathers, will help unify the community around tourism.
“There are people outside the South in this community,” James added.
Steve Reed, who worked with the city of Clarksdale, shared his knowledge of heritage tourism as it was applied there.
“People from all over the world come to Clarksdale,” he said. “I think it would benefit us to put some billboards on major thoroughfares. People who love the blues will follow that.”
Christian Lampley, granddaughter of David Beckley, spoke for the college crowd.
“I feel like Holly Springs has ignored the college,” she said. “Invite us.”
She said her friends love a safe, open place to hang out.
“We have nowhere to hang out, a place to go to relax,” Lampley said. “We have City Trends and a lot of us make our own clothes. We would like to have our designs in shops on the square.”
Ralph Moore asked if interpretive methods should be included.
“I definitely don’t want to hear about slave dwellings from an application,” McLeod said.
Moore asked how much of the economy should come from heritage tourism.
Gwen Wyatt, with the Depot District, said from 30 percent to 50 percent.
Walker encouraged the community to fill out one of the local surveys at The Bottomless Cup, Marshall County Library or city hall to provide input on what the focus of tourism should be.