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‘The friendliest little town in the South’

Posted: May 22, 2014 2:59 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2014 5:00 a.m.

As you know, the city of Camden is focusing on tourism -- figuring out ways to entice people to visit our historic city. There’s a lot of competition out there; everyone understands that tourists spend money, don’t pollute and point others in our direction if they have a good time.

As Katherine Richardson, director of the Camden Archives and Museum points out, ours isn’t the first generation to promote tourism in the state’s oldest inland city.

In the latest newsletter of the Friends of the Camden Archives and Museum, Richardson spins the entertaining tale of how the city promoted itself a half-century ago, before the days of the Internet and social media.

It’s a neat story Richardson tells, spotlighting Southern hospitality that impressed those who visited Camden.

Back in those days, U.S. 1 was the primary north-south thoroughfare in the eastern United States, so lots of people passed through Camden on their way to Florida, and then back again as they made their way north.

Travel was more leisurely then, partly because freeways were scarce and partly because people weren’t in as much of a hurry as they are now.

Many stopped in Camden to eat, stay the night and perhaps take in a bit of the city’s historic flavor.

The city Council, headed by Mayor E.C. Rhame, who served from 1957 until 1964, came up with a unique way to make people feel welcome.

Back in those days, as Richardson notes, the town had angle parking and lots of meters, and the police were vigilant in ticketing cars that were over-parked.

If a car sported an out-of-state license tag, it would be ticketed -- but not with a dreaded summons or a fine.

Instead, police officers would put a two-part postcard under the windshield wipers of visitors’ cars. Officers even often handed out the cards to people on the street.

The left part of the card contained a welcoming message from city officials and could be kept by the visitors. The right part was a return postcard to the mayor, with space for a written message.

The strategy paid off not only with tourists passing through but with the media. A nationally circulated publication called “American City and County Magazine” published a piece on the practice, calling it a novel goodwill gesture on the part of the city.

Those on the receiving end of the tickets obviously liked them, and the Archives has a collection of postcards that were returned by grateful visitors thanking the town for its hospitality and welcoming nature.

“Mighty fine town,” one visitor replied on his return postcard. “The friendliest little town in the South,” another visitor gushed.

One wrote, “Your police force is the most courteous I have ever met, and I travel 10 states.”

And, among many others, “We think your hospitality to visitors is overwhelming!”

Three leading hostelries of the time -- the Mona Lisa Motel, the Park View Motel and the Sarsfield Hotel -- were often singled out for their comfort, and visitors developed their own favorites among the town’s many restaurants.

Marketing is different these days, but the message is basically the same: that Camden is a welcoming town with lots to like about it.

Perhaps we can draw a hint from the past to help us with the future, and a big thanks to Katherine Richardson for noting this practice and giving me a nifty column subject while I’m on the road.

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