Marietta hopes for tourism boost from new McCullough book

Photo by Janelle Patterson Belpre first-grade substitute teacher Kelsey Lerch, center, and students, from left to right, Corey Tant, Lydia Bowman and Krista Gibbs, learn about Ohio natural history during a visit to the Campus Martius Museum on Friday. The museum is preparing to open is exhibit on David McCullough’s book “The Pioneers.”

MARIETTA –Tourism projections surrounding the Tuesday release of “The Pioneers” by David McCullough have entities across Marietta preparing.

“I spoke with folks in Dayton to get an idea what to expect, and they said they saw around a 30 percent increase in the year after the Wright Brothers’ book (also by McCullough) came out,” said Deana Clark, Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director. “If that translates to an increase in bed tax that’s wonderful, but it’s also in museum visits, meals at restaurants and more attendance at other attractions throughout the area. Now we’re trying to give them plenty of reasons to stay overnight.”

McCullough is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has reached critical acclaim as an author and American historian with works including “John Adams,” “Truman” and “The Path Between the Seas.”

McCullough’s “The Pioneers” focuses on the founding of Marietta, its primary characters who settled and built the city, built its streets and made early efforts to even preserve its native American history in the earthworks found past the shores of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.

Harley Noland, the owner of the trolley which gives sightseeing tours on Saturdays, said he’s preparing not only with tie-ins to the release of the book for the tour but also as a member of The Castle Museum’s board.

“Our museums need to begin training now, we need more volunteers for docents who will be knowledgeable and ready,” said Noland. “I expect we’ll start to see slow growth in the leisure traveler by this fall after people have had time to read the book, and then next summer we’ll start seeing more of the motorcoach visits.”

In the meantime, President of Marietta City Council Josh Schlicher said infrastructure and signage needs improvements to be ready to welcome a 2020 summer influx.

“The best way I’ve seen in other cities is you need to have effective communication throughout the city to invite visitors to enjoy the quality of experience we have in our downtown, and clear signage getting them to the museums,” he said. “Getting them here is where the CVB plays a part, and what we also need to update is our (digital accessibility) through Google Maps.”

Schlicher said from the city operations and legislative standpoint, preparing sidewalks for better walkability and repairing roads must be the focus of dollars and policy.

“(We need to be) fixing up the destination they’re coming to,” he concluded.

Mayor Joe Matthews said he plans to give McCullough a key to the city when he visits Marietta at the close of May and said his focus will look to ongoing work in East Muskingum Park.

“We’re trying to get Start Westward (Monument) declared a national monument,” said Matthews. “(McCullough) is going to bring a lot of people to Marietta because they’ll want to see where that history is.”

And when they get here, noted Shannon Folts, visitor experience director with the CVB, hotels, restaurants and businesses alike need to be prepared with where to direct the curious for more information.

“History buff Glen Wolfe has already charted for us the main characters from the book,” said Folts. “So we can tell anyone who visits, ‘hey if you want to know more about Rufus Putnam you can go the Campus Martius or if you want to know more about Manasseh and Ephraim Cutler you can go to the Henry Fearing House museum.”

Next on the list of needs for the county, said Clark, is lodging in Belpre.

“But with the utility development (Ohio Rep.) Jay Edwards announced down there that’s a huge opportunity for development to occur and build up the county bed tax revenue,” said Clark.

The CVB draws a portion of the city and county bed tax revenues for its operational budget.

“I wouldn’t want to budget yet based on a projection of a 30 percent increase,” she noted. “If we see that extra increase we’ll certainly put it to good use, though.”

Glenna Hoff, education director at Campus Martius Museum, said she hopes to see more bookings for school and tourist visits alike with the popularity of the new book.

“We have so many different programs. We can accommodate different age groups and make it real even for the youngest kids,” she said after talking with first graders from Belpre Friday about wildlife that was once prevalent in the area when pioneers first settled along the Ohio and Muskingum River. “This makes history accessible to all ages, it’s fun talking with the young kids and helping them get a little more understanding of our world and our history.”

Naomi Schock, customer service and volunteer coordinator at the museum, said Friday that more than 200 of the 300 signed McCullough books have already been sold, to be picked up Tuesday.

“And ticket bookings have spiked, with calls coming from Minnesota, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania,” she noted. “Our June 1 evening with Mr. McCullough has already sold out and so has the one at Peoples Bank Theatre.”

On Tuesday the museum will also open its corner exhibit highlighting one of the characters named in the book–Samuel Hildreth.

“Funding that helped develop that exhibit came from the Ohio Humanities Council,” said Hoff. “We’re going to have some of Hildreth’s marvelous drawings on display in his office. That exhibit opens at 5 p.m.”