Lee Greene uses his smartphone to scan a QR code to demonstrate how the new interactive walking tour through downtown Hartselle will work.  Enquirer photos/Rebekah Yancey  

Bridging the gap: Hartselle Historical Society launches guided walk downtown bringing history to life

A legacy project that has been five years in the making came to fruition this past Friday, and for members of the Hartselle Historical Society, it has been well worth the wait.  

Society president Bettye English, vice president Lee Greene and community members met at Crossroads Old & Unique to place the first stop along a new interactive walk that will teach citizens of Hartselle and visitors alike about Hartselle’s rich history.  

From left, Bettye English, Shirley Davenport, Lee Greene and Melissa Bright commemorate the launching of the new interactive walking tour through downtown Hartselle by placing a decal on the storefront of Crossroads Old & Unique on Main Street.  Enquirer photos/Rebekah Yancey

This initiative aims to bring the stories of the town’s historic buildings and vibrant past to life, leveraging modern technology to enhance the educational experience. 

The guided walk has 11 labeled stops through historic downtown, each one equipped with a QR code. According to Greene, the project was completely designed and funded through a grant provided by the University of North Alabama.  

By scanning these codes with a smartphone, participants are directed to a specially designed webpage that provides detailed information and engaging voice recordings about the history of each location. 

Locations include stops along Main and Railroad streets.  

Stops on the new interactive walking tour through downtown Hartselle as shown on a smartphone.

“The biggest hurdle was the technical challenge of getting the website set up. That was way beyond our capabilities,” Greene said.  

Greene said Danielle Gibson at Decatur Morgan County Tourism connected him with Brian Corrigan and Dr. Carolyn Crawford with the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and UNA.  

Greene explained that digitizing history is a more effective way to preserve it for future generations.  

“There’s really nothing we can do to document what kids in the future, what families in the future will know about what happened here, so this is a good way to put well-checked, fact-checked information out here for perpetuity,” Greene said.  

The shift to a digital platform is not just about preservation but also about engagement. “Nobody buys pamphlets anymore, so it’s easier to do this in the digital age,” he added. “If it gets kids involved and interested in history – families can come downtown on a summer afternoon and use their technology, which they’re dying to do – if they can use them to learn something, that’s a win-win.”  

The first decal placed this past week is where Greene said the most historically significant event took place in Hartselle nearly a century ago.  

Lee Greene places a decal with a QR code on the storefront of Crossroads Old & Unique in downtown Hartselle making the business the first stop on the new interactive walk. The building was once home to the Bank of Hartselle that was robbed in 1926. Enquirer photo/Rebekah Yancey

The building at 109 Main Street was once the home of Bank of Hartselle. The bank was robbed in the early morning hours of March 15, 1926, during which five men stole $15,000 in cash, coins and gold bars. 

Local business owner Shirley Davenport, who has owned Crossroads Old & Unique for nearly eight years, has seen firsthand the community’s interest in Hartselle’s history. Her store, located in the building where the infamous bank robbery occurred, often draws curious visitors.  

“I always tell people where the bullet hole is and they are very interested to know where the safe was located,” Davenport said. “It sparks more interest than I really thought it would.” 

The website, developed by Corrigan and hosted online by the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, offers a multimedia experience. Users can listen to narrations by local historians, view archival photos and read in-depth articles about Hartselle’s development, notable events and architectural heritage. The voice recordings feature anecdotes and lesser-known facts, providing a personal touch that brings Hartselle’s history to life. 

One highlight of the walk is the historic downtown area, where many buildings date back to the early 20th century. Participants can learn about the origins of these buildings and their significance in the town’s commercial and social life through the decades. 

The Hartselle Historical Society is extremely grateful for the effort put into this project, Greene said, adding the project would not have been possible without the help of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and funding provided by UNA.  

“This is our way of preserving the history of Hartselle, which is one of the goals of the Historical Society,” English added.  

Local business owners have also embraced the initiative, seeing it as a way to attract more foot traffic and interest in the downtown area.  

“The introduction of the QR Code enabled tour showcasing several historic buildings marks a pivotal moment for our cherished downtown,” Melissa Bright, owner of Whinny Wisdom on Main Street, said. “As a business owner in historic downtown Hartselle, I am thrilled to see this initiative breathe new life into our community.”  

Bright added she is proud to be a part of the effort to foster the heritage, local pride and encourage residents to support downtown businesses.  

“In essence, the walking tour bridges our rich history with modern engagement, driving traffic to our shops and fostering a thriving community.”  

 Greene said more stops along the walk can be added later to expand the project with additional QR codes and online content to cover more areas of Hartselle.  

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