Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cheraw, South Carolina’s Historic Cell Phone Tour

While clicking through Internet information on the Town of Cheraw in preparation for this visit I ran across some articles describing the “Historic Cheraw Cell Phone Tour.” Here’s a link to one from The Cheraw Chronicle. And here’s another from the Olde English District tourism website. And here’s a more detailed article, with a map, from the Cheraw Chronicle. But it’s a PDF file, so you may have some difficulty downloading it.

Well! These articles got my attention. What a great idea. Simple. Like most great ideas. Enabling Cheraw to explain its rich history to visitors without spending a lot of money for additional equipment and personnel.

One of those article quoted Mr. David Sides, Cheraw’s new Director of Tourism and Community, as saying the whole project cost just $13,000.

$13,000??? Hmmm…. I frankly was skeptical of that figure. Having some experience developing and implementing information dissemination operations, I assumed there had to be costs hidden somewhere that would at least double or triple the $13,000 figure. [Later in the week I got to meet Mr. Sides. He confirmed the $13,000 as solid, and explained to me how he did it. It’s a legitimate cost figure. Remarkable! Be sure to listen to his interview. Coming up next.]

Anyway, cost aside, this is a terrific way to provide visitors – and even long-time residents – with accurate, useful information about Cheraw’s history. It won’t be long before other towns and cities in South Carolina will imitate the Cheraw example. They should, anyway! It really works, if done properly. 

So, bright and early Monday morning I drove to Cheraw to have a look. A map of the historic district is convenient, but not essential. They’re available all over town for free. You can even download one from the internet beforehand, as I did.

But all you really need is some kind of cell phone. It doesn’t have to be the latest model smartphone either. With four out of five Americans now carrying a cell phone, it makes sense to utilize that equipment. Nothing could be simpler! Why didn’t I think of that?

Begin your tour, if you can, at Town Green. That’s the first stop, and the most convenient to other points on the tour if you intend to walk from site 1 to site 25. I planned to walk the whole tour. But ended up driving to more distant points. Plenty of free parking around each one, by the way.

Just dial 843-865-3002, and listen. Then press the numbers on your cellphone’s keypad, as directed. The information about the site selected takes a second or two to play. So, push the indicated button and wait. Don’t start pressing other buttons, the way I did. No need!

From the Town Green the Tour will direct you down Cheraw’s main business street. Take the time to walk this part of the tour, if you can. Shops old and new on both sides of the street. Owned and operated by folks who’ve invested in Cheraw’s future, rather than dwelling on hard times past.

The Town pitches in as well. Here, a town worker replaces banners celebrating Cheraw’s recent annual Jazz Festival with year-end Holiday banners. And littering must be a capital crime here. No trash on the streets! All of this helps to give Cheraw’s first-time visitors a positive impression.

Accumulation of those first impressions has economic as well as cultural significance. No matter how superficial or misleading, negative initial impressions weaken community efforts to attract employment-generating industry, free-spending tourists, or even new residents. Cheraw, obviously, has chosen to look forward rather than backward. It shows.

Arguably, the most important site on the tour is one of the most distant: The banks of the Great Pee Dee River. Without the River, Cheraw would not have the rich history it boasts today. Have a listen:

In addition to the historic significance of this area, you’ll find beautiful views of the Great Pee Dee River, like the one you can see above. And, if you’ve brought a boat, an excellent public access boat ramp. Picnic tables too.

So, there you have it. The Cheraw Historic Cellphone Tour. I could go on and on, and have dozens more photos to share. But time’s running out.

Click here for that interview with Mr. David Sides, Cheraw’s Director of Tourism and Community Development.

And, if your browser had difficulty with those embedded sound players above, here are direct links to the sound files on Libsyn.

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