Preserving the Gateway
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Highway 17 starts in Winchester, Virginia and travels south all the way to Punta Gorda, Florida. The roadway spans 1,189 miles and passes in and out of many towns along the way. This highway was used to travel up and down most of the eastern coastline before I-95 came about in the 1950s and 60s. Since then, use of Highway 17 has declined. Highway 17 is the gateway to the “The Golden Isles,’ which includes Jekyll Island and St. Simons, as well as a way to get to historic Brunswick in southern Georgia. At one point, this roadway reflected the era of 1950s travel motor homes and hotels, Victorian structures and WWII era- Liberty Shipworks. Following a decline, the highway now showcases the effects of poor urban planning with ugly billboards, poorly designed buildings, and clutter that doesn’t display the beauty of the coastal marshes and waterways all around you. By documenting the area with the use of large format photography, my goal with this project was to show the structures along the highway that give evidence as to why there needs to be a focus on preserving and re-building Coastal Highway 17 and Brunswick. I wanted to show the poor use of land, the deserted buildings, the pollution sites and other eye sores that conflict with how the area should be organized.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit organization that works to preserve and revitalize the state’s many historic sites. In 2006, they placed Highway 17 and historic Brunswick on the “Places in Peril” list. The list includes areas in the state of Georgia that are under serious threat of their architectural and/or archeological integrity. Nominations are submitted each year in June and in the fall, the selected ten sites are placed on the list to receive special attention that is needed to preserve and protect these sites in danger. The group, Blueprint Brunswick, have developed a plan to guide new construction, signage, billboards and landscaping along the roadway. These plans were going well to begin preserving the area until the recession happened a year after being put on the list. Some progress has been made towards this project but there is still so much to do to properly bring back the beauty this area once had. Many people are currently working on addressing the issues at hand including Mr. Huntley Allen of Rhapsody Design Group on St. Simons Island, Professor Ryan Mason from SCAD (urban design) and also Kate Ryan, who is the Director of Preservation from the Georgia Trust organization in Atlanta.
I used the medium of photography to do what it was designed to do, record and document information. By using a large format film camera, I wanted to show detailed images of my subject matter that confront people with the problems along the highway. The city of Brunswick and Hwy 17 stand as a model for so many other cities all across the United States that have the same problems and a need for preserving the historic and scenic qualities of these gateways.
Cole Whitworth, Photographer
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