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'Southern Belles and Whistles'
Historic landmarks tour revamped

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For several years, the Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CCCVB) has been offering its Landmarks Tour to people seeking an inside look into the history of Jonesboro.

Recently, the bureau revisited its tour, giving it a new name, a new format, and a new, low price, in recognition of the 150-year anniversary of Clayton County.

Renamed the Southern Belles and Whistles Tour, patrons will visit familiar sites, such as the Jonesboro Greenhouse and the Ashley Oaks Mansion, as well as new ones, such as the Arts Clayton four-panel mural on Church Street. The tour will feature a new soundtrack, using the voices of theatrical characters rather than narrators.

Megan Spears, marketing and communications manger of the visitor's bureau, said it is time to give the old tour "a facelift." She believes the new tour will help attract a wider audience.

"We have had the tour for a little while now, and there were a few things that we wanted to add to it," said Spears. "We recorded it and put in some additional information, added new life to it with new characters ... Giving it a fresh makeover might make it a little more interesting."

In the tour's soundtrack, actors attempt to recreate the feeling of an antebellum Jonesboro. They include a Confederate soldier who recalls the details of the historic Battle of Jonesboro, as well as a priest who recalls the first train to pull into the Jonesboro Depot.

"We just wanted to do something a little bit different," said Spears. "It makes it a little more interactive."

To celebrate Clayton County's establishment 150 years ago, the bureau is offering all tours for $12.95, half off the regular price of an adult ticket. The special is expected to continue until the county's next anniversary observance, Nov. 30, 2009.

In addition to the revamped landmarks tour, the visitor's bureau is working with Hampton-based historian, Peter Bonner, to mass produce his trademarked "Gone With the Wind Tour."

Since 1996, the tour, given by Bonner by appointment only, has made physical connections between landmarks in Jonesboro and the characters and scenes described in Margaret Mitchell's famous novel. Once given only to tourists with their own transportation, the tour soon will be an additional service offered by the CCCVB.

"I am licensing my "Gone With the Wind Tour" to the [CCCVB]," said Bonner, who also wrote "Lost in Yesterday," a journey into "Gone With the Wind" folklore. "Now what is happening is that I am so busy I can't do daily tours. Now people can take the "Gone With the Wind Tour" on the van. Instead of having a live tour guide, they will have a tape of my voice."

The "Gone With the Wind Tour" will be offered by the visitor's bureau starting next month. Bonner believes the Southern Belles and Whistles Tour and the "Gone With the Wind Tour" will compliment to each other.

"There are a lot of interesting stories in Jonesboro that have nothing to do with "Gone With the Wind," said Bonner. "I think it will have wide appeal. There are great little stories of Jonesboro, which may get people taking the tour twice, once for "Gone With the Wind," and once for the other."

The Southern Belles and Whistles Tour is offered at 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., Monday to Saturday. For more information, call (800) 662-7829, or visit www.visitscarlett.com.