Historic Chattahoochee Commission

Hart House The Historic Chattahoochee Commission (HCC) was a joint effort between the states of Alabama and Georgia. The commission was the first, and remains 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. In Alabama, these were Barbour, Chambers, Dale, Henry, Houston, Lee, and Russell Counties. Initiatives included publications, historical markers, folklife interpretations, rural architectural surveys, educational presentations, and preservation grants. Designated as a “heritage corridor,” the area covered by the HCC included communities on both sides of the river and was given the official name Chattahoochee Trace in 1974. From 1985 to 2016, HCC was headquartered in the historic Hart House (ca. 1850) in Eufaula. HCC dissolved in 2018.

Chattahoochee Poochie 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 cultural and geographical 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 include information about important people, buildings, places, and events in the Chattahoochee Trace region. Subjects were selected by individuals, organizations, and businesses within the region served by the commission. A marker committee reviewed the proposed text for each submitted marker to ensure historical accuracy. The commission also established an architectural survey program that inventoried historic residential buildings in rural areas along the corridor. Information from these surveys was used to help identify significant historic structures in need of rehabilitation. In addition, the survey supplied information of importance for the placement of cell phone towers and new road construction.

Sacred Fire at the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center In 1988, the HCC created a multimedia educational program that traced 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 was designed to help students of all ages interpret social, political, and economic changes through the evolution of domestic architectural styles. In addition to the unit, the HCC’s publication program produced 30 titles on regional subjects relating to art, history, architecture, archaeology, and tourism. It also published 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 worked 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.

HCC Familiarization Tour Stop The HCC based 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 HCC, they were able to do so as a group. HCC projects focused on brochure distribution, television and magazine advertising, travel industry 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 that hosted 14 travel writers from across the United States and Canada for five days in the region. As a result, travel articles with a value of several hundred thousand dollars were generated. Also, each year the HCC provided small grants to help develop tourism and preservation projects. These grants were made to non-profit groups and entities such as chambers of commerce, historical or preservation societies, and libraries with worthwhile tourism, history, or preservation projects.

The HCC also promoted historic and recreational attractions along the Chattahoochee Trace popular with history buffs, campers, cyclists, and vacationers. The HCC offered visitors maps of various types of routes based on area of interest as well as additional information on its heritage tourism programsTourism in the 18 Alabama and Georgia counties formerly served by the HCC is a billion-dollar industry. The commission’s work played a major role in the development and enhancement of the tourism industry in this region.

The commission served seven Alabama counties and 11 Georgia counties; its operations were governed by 28 board members, 14 from each state. For more than 30 years, HCC derived 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. During those years, it had an executive director and an administrative assistant with a headquarters in Eufaula, Alabama, and a satellite office in LaGrange, Georgia. In the early twenty-first century, funding from the state governments became less reliable and operational expenses were reduced. The state of Alabama stopped providing funding for the commission in 2010. The HCC board approved the decision to go out of existence in 2018, and on October 1, during the last sessions of the Alabama Legislature and Georgia Assembly, the entity was dissolved. The HCC records were donated to the Wiregrass Archives at Troy University Dothan. The HCC website remains active as a source of tourism information under the name Chattahoochee Trace.

Further Reading

  • 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.

Share this Article