Two years ago, the Bulloch County Historical Society issued a challenge to schools on the history of Statesboro.
On Tuesday at RJ’s Steakery, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology students answered the challenge with a documentary called “Highway 301: Corridor of the South.”
Members of the middle school Quiz Bowl team researched, wrote, edited and directed a documentary on the history of U.S. Highway 301. Featuring still photos of old Statesboro, interviews with community members and unique facts about the road, the video depicted the thoroughfare’s past and present.
“The historical society was able to provide these young people with the equipment that they need to produce this really interesting video on U.S. 301. The rise of 301 and sadly, due to I-95, the fall of 301,”said Joe McGlamery, the society’s vice president.
Before the construction of Interstate 95, Statesboro was known as a “tourist city,” he said. But after the interstate was built, tourism declined, prompting a sea change for the city.
“Tourism was a very important part of the Statesboro economy for many, many years … up to the opening of I-95. The tourism industry was a much different industry than it is today. … We felt like we needed to preserve that unique historical perspective on U.S. 301 and the tourism of Statesboro,” McGlamery said.
This project was part of an offer the historical society made to all middle schools in the area. As of now, the documentary on U.S. 301, which took a year and a half to make, is the only project the organization has commissioned.
“The historical society came to us initially. They said they had money within the society and would like to sponsor a grant for you to be able to do some historical projects. We took them up on the offer and presented them with some ideas about the history of 301. … The parameters of the grant were established along with the technology to produce the project,” said Sheila Nielson, a social studies teacher at the conservatory.
Though a bit tentative at first, the kids warmed to the project and found the highway more interesting than it seemed. Nielson said the pupils ultimately learned there’s more to the city than just “sleepy old Statesboro.”
“The kids when they first got into the project were a little uncertain, because it was the history of a highway, and they didn’t understand who cared about a highway. Then they started looking into it and saw the history behind it. And they learned how important the highway was to Bulloch County, particularly before I-95, because it was a conduit from the North to the South, and it brought a lot of business and interesting things to the area,” she said.
Recalling memories of police ticket practices on U.S. 301, restaurants claiming to have the world’s “Worst Apple Pie” and stops and shops along the highway, the film had as much to do with the history of Bulloch County as it did with the road itself.
A question-and-answer session after the premiere of the project, expressed the general surprise of the students. From the popularity of the highway to the military use of the road, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were amazed by the road’s importance.
Nick Hardey, who wrote the documentary’s score, found the history and popularity of the road to be the biggest find of the pupils’ research.
“I knew Statesboro was kind of busy back then, but I did not know how busy. I didn’t know about the traffic of the road and what it meant to the community,” he said. “It was also interesting to hear people’s ideas on the future of the road and the possible renovation of the highway.”