The portion of Hospitality Highway that runs through Dawson and Lumpkin counties will soon be named in honor of the man first responsible for branding the state a tourism destination.
Signs will be unveiled today declaring the stretch of Ga. 400 as the Bill Hardman Hospitality Highway.
“I would have liked to have named the entire Ga. 400 corridor in honor of him,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega. “I would say he’s done more for tourism than any other one single person in Georgia’s history. He is Mr. Tourism for Georgia.”
Both Gooch and Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, introduced legislation to have the roadway renamed.
“When he passed away, Steve and I knew that we wanted to do something that would honor his legacy and his memory,” Tanner said. “Georgia 400 is named the Hospitality Highway, so we thought it would be fitting to add in the section of Ga. 400 in Dawson and Lumpkin where Bill primarily spent the last several years of his life, if we added in the Bill Hardman Hospitality Highway to that area.”
Hardman was named Georgia’s first director of tourism, serving with Gainesville’s Abit Massey as Georgia’s commissioner of commerce.
He started the State Welcome Program, second in the nation to do so.
He also conducted the nation’s first Governor’s Conference on Tourism, helped organize and served as the first chairman of the USA Travel Organization and served on the board of directors for 49 years.
Then, in the early 1970s he raised the $30 million needed to build the Georgia World Congress Center.
“I have known Bill for probably 30 years and been a good friend of his. He and I spent a lot of time together on a personal level and even in business,” Gooch said. “He is the icon of tourism in Georgia.”
Tanner said pioneers like Hardman set the foundations for the state’s emergence as one of the top tourism destinations in the South.
“Bill Hardman was a personal friend and someone that for decades had been involved in different aspects of state government and promoting tourism in our state as the state’s first tourism director,” Tanner said. “He did more for Georgia than most people will ever realize. Today, one of Georgia’s No. 1 industries is tourism. A lot of that had to do with pioneers that had a vision like Bill Hardman.”
The unveiling ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. today at the intersection of Hwy. 60 and Ga. 400 on the lawn of Mountain View Dentistry.
“Bill lived in Lumpkin County, which is one of the counties I represent. He and his wife, Helen, were great supporters of that community and the Dawson County community,” Tanner said. “They were property owners here in Dawson County and Lumpkin. We’re excited that on the 29th we’ll be able to have the official renaming ceremony.”