Posted: March 29, 2021 by Kelly Murphy-Redd
Why is history important to economic development?

History is part of what creates a sense of place. You will often here that phrase in economic development. A community wants their place to be a desirable destination.

Every city or town has some kind of history and some interesting, quirky and/or beautiful features.
In my economic development work, I have had to examine many community websites. Some are good and some are bad. The good ones dedicate some space to showcase the unique attributes of the community. Everyone has something to highlight. Some just don’t take advantage of this opportunity.

When my husband and I went to Savannah, Georgia, we had a glorious time. We love to learn about the history of a place. There is no shortage of history in Savannah. There is the good, bad and the ugly.  There is also the sad and spooky. Savannah is definitely a destination with 14.8 million visitors in 2019.

We loved touring the historic homes. I will share a couple of examples to illustrate my point.
The old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” was explained to our group in one of the beautiful homes. The small, metal bath tub was used by all of the children. By that I mean, all of the children would take a bath in the same water, in the same tub. Water had to be carried in from outdoor pumps. The baby was bathed last. The water was so dirty by that time, you couldn’t see beyond the surface of the water. People didn’t want to accidentally throw out the baby by mistake.
One of the first examples of indoor plumbing in America is the Owens-Thomas house in Savannah. To feed the plumbing system, gutters on the roof collected and transmitted water through a series of cisterns. These water containers were located throughout the house and fed two water closets (toilets), multiple sinks, three bathtubs, and at least one shower.

All the used water traveled to the basement and was held in a cistern. Water from here could be diverted from the top of the cistern to the laundry area. I asked the guide how they could use that water when the refuse was still in it. Did they hope the bad stuff stayed on the bottom of the cistern? Again, unimaginable.

By today’s standards it seems pretty yucky and unbelievable. But we can’t judge the past by today’s standards. They were learning. They were making progress in life. We can and should learn from history. We should protect our history – the good, bad and the ugly. We can celebrate the good and use the bad as difficult lessons learned and a caution for the future.

It is fascinating and valuable to learn how all of our ancestors lived, endured, innovated, and built our country. There is another old saying, “Those who do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it.” 

Our local area has history and beautiful features.

Okaloosa is the Choctaw Indian word for black water.

In 1914, turpentining was a bustling industry.  A 2008 article in Emerald Coast Magazine tells us The Fort Walton Beach Temple mound was built by an ancient people between 700 and 1500 A.D. By the 16th century, when the Spanish were exploring the area, there were American Indians there. There is debate whether pirates were in our area, but Billy Bowlegs is celebrated every year. We have a great military history including the Doolittle Raiders.

And of course we have our beaches.

Economic development has to have as many tools in the box as possible to be successful. In order to attract job-creating businesses to our area and retain businesses already located here, we must have a sense of place and a lifestyle that appeals. Communities must tap into any and all of their special attributes to create their own sense of place.