- Designing Dixie: Tourism, Memory, and Urban Space in the New South by Reiko Hillyer
Reiko Hillyer’s Designing Dixie: Tourism, Memory, and Urban Space in the New South suggests that rather than being torn between venerating an Old [End Page 463] South and promoting an industrial New South, urban boosters in the decades between Reconstruction and World War I jettisoned controversial memories of the past to promote economic development. Tourism was the vehicle for this revisionism. Before it became a big business, civic boosters saw tourism as a means of drawing capital to the region. History may have lured tourists south, but boosters edited out contentious aspects of the region’s past—especially relating to the Old South, the Lost Cause, and Reconstruction—to market a more benign version that promoted reconciliation and convinced northern visitors to invest in southern development. In this way tourism not only brought in money; it also helped validate the New South creed.
Hillyer focuses on how developmental imperatives shaped the uses of public memory in three cities: St. Augustine, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and Atlanta, Georgia. In each place city leaders drew on different aspects of the region’s past to promote economic development—an important reminder that New South boosters did not speak with one voice. In St. Augustine boosters latched on to the city’s Spanish past. Building resorts in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style underscored this narrative and promoted St. Augustine as the nation’s oldest city—emphasizing that it had “a heritage of patriotism rather than one of treason” (p. 45). Industrial development tinged uses of the past in Richmond, where boosters played up the city’s colonial and Revolutionary heritage while guaranteeing that black laborers would serve as “a well-trained proletariat” (p. 91). Richmond and St. Augustine may have looked to the distant past to assure investors of their bright future, but Atlantans boasted that their short history and the “creative destruction” of war had provided a clean slate on which to build a “Yankee city of the South” (pp. 141, 137). Constructing skyscrapers and modern buildings erased evidence of Atlanta’s history and underlined that the city was ready for business.
Besides her innovative use of the built environment to study the New South, Hillyer’s focus on reconciliation as an economic process provides an important counterpoint to the work of Nina Silber and David W. Blight. Reconciliation was never separate from economic development, and Hillyer ably shows the ways that “the culture of commerce” blended in the New South (p. 11). Designing Dixie also demonstrates how intertwined tourism and industrial development were in the region. Tourism was never based simply on selling romanticized images of the plantation South to eager tourists, and promoters were just as likely to mention “smokestacks” as “white pillars” (p. 4). Instead of casting the region as an antimodern escape from the cares of the world, southern boosters worked to make it seem like an ideal place to do business. Extending this argument to tourists is less convincing. Although Hillyer claims that tourists had “[t]heir eyes trained on economic development,” it is not clear that visitors were as enthusiastic about this motivation as civic boosters (p. 184). Rather than claiming that tourists bought into this strategy en masse, Hillyer could do more to show how visitors struggled to balance their desire for a vacation escape with attempts to sell the region as a place of business.
Hillyer’s argument is more suggestive than comprehensive, but she provides a persuasive account of how tourism and industrial development shaped public memory, culture, and reconciliation in the New South. Designing Dixie [End Page 464] is a significant book that raises fresh questions about the New South, and it will be of interest to all scholars of the post–Civil War era, as well as historians of urban development and tourism.