Webster Parish is gaining national attention as the Germantown Colony Museum is highlighted as a historic site on a newly launched National Geographic Maps website.
As of this month, the Colony is nationally recognized by the National Geographic Society and can be seen on their new "geotourism" website: go to www.usgulfcoaststatesgeotourism.com and look under historical sites.
Geotourism is tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its inhabitants. "The Webster Parish Convention and Visitors' Bureau had to submit the Germantown Colony Museum in advance for approval to get included. This is an incredible opportunity for Webster Parish to get national exposure.
Organizations from Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, the four U.S. Gulf Coast states most affected by the 2010 DeepWater Horizon disaster, joined with National Geographic Maps to highlight the world-class natural and cultural attractions of the southern crescent area. The project, "U.S. Gulf Coast States: Explore the Southern Crescent Geotourism Initiative", seeks to contribute to the economic health of communities by promoting geotourism. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said "the partnership with National Geographic is an opportunity to showcase to the world the unique places and experiences offered in the Gulf Coast states."
The Germantown Colony Museum is the "historical gem" of Webster Parish and is destined to be the top tourist attraction in our parish. After much anticipation, construction of a new visitor center at the Germantown Colony Museum began on Monday, June 3. KAN Construction of Bossier City will complete the construction at a bid of $424,000. Although the museum will be closed for construction for 180 days, when construction is completed, the visitor center will house more than 2,000 square feet including a "climate-controlled" designated exhibit gallery to display historical artifacts, a reception area, a gift shop, and handicapped-accessible public restrooms.
Funding for the visitor center was appropriated during the 2008 legislative session through the efforts of Former State Representative Jean Doerge, Senator Robert Adley and former Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. Due to the construction bids coming in significantly above the funding appropriated, the Friends of the Germantown Colony Museum began a long process to raise additional funding necessary to begin the construction project.
To show their support, the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Commission assisted with funding of $15,000.00, Chesapeake Energy donated $5,000, and AT &T donated $3,000 to the Friends of the Germantown Colony for the additional funding needed for the construction of the new visitor center and exhibits. The visitor center also received support from other local businesses. Claiborne Electric donated all the new electrical services and buried existing cables underground. PetroChem Operating Company donated the new water lines and services.
More than 275 artifacts from the Germantown Colony Museum are currently stored in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana State Archives. These artifacts were transferred to the State Archives in 2008 so that the state could preserve the artifacts until the new "climate controlled" visitor center was built to house them. Many of the paper items and others artifacts were disintegrating because they were housed in buildings built around 1835 that were open to the elements.
Local artist and designer Larry Milford will design the exhibits for the gallery of the new climate-controlled visitor center, which will house the artifacts that are currently being preserved in Baton Rouge. The artifacts include old guns, old swords, an altar with a carved crucifix from the 1800's, old money and old documents. The colonists made silk and brought silk worms over from Germany. They had mulberry trees for the silk worms. Among the artifacts are pieces of silk that had not disintegrated. Milford will showcase an exhibit showing the silk worms, silk, and weaving done by the Colonists.
Due to the Germantown Colony Museum's historic significance and the new visitor center under construction, the Louisiana Department of Transportation has installed major signage along Interstate 20 and directional signage around the parish.
The Germantown Colony Museum is one of three sites founded by the Utopian Movement or Harmonist Society in the early 19th century. Established in 1835, the colony operated on a communal basis for 37 years, finally dispersing in 1871. The Colony was placed on the official list of the Nation's Cultural Resources Worthy of Preservation by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service in 1979. It is also the most recent addition to the Louisianan Department of State Museums and a major asset to the recently developed "Heroes and Heritage Trail" throughout the state of Louisiana.
Recent national marketing research on tourism attractions, details the significance of the "experience" offered to the traveler. Static museums and art galleries are now considered stagnant and the research recommends adding "interactive" exhibits to capture the visitor's interest and encourage return visits. The Colony offers the visitor the opportunity to step back in time and experience how these German settlers lived in the early 19th Century.
Visit www.usgulfcoaststatesgeotourism.com to see the Germantown Colony Museum on the National Geographic "geotourism" website. Be sure to look under "historic sites".
Lynn Dorsey is the executive director of the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Commission. Her column runs monthly in the Minden Press-Herald.