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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Little towns bring big advantages to lots of trips

In days of cutbacks and sacrifices, bigger is not always better. Bank groups can experience the best of travel, from inspiring history to kitschy fun, in small towns — homespun slices of America that are often the most interesting fibers of the red, white and blue fabric that created this country.

In Smalltown USA, bank directors can introduce their group members to a mysterious top-secret facility that built bombs during the Cold War, show them a legendary General Motors plant that will surely never shut down its assembly lines or even give them the boot, the world’s largest boot.

Bowling Green, Kentucky

The National Corvette Museum, the Aviation Heritage Park, and the Historic Railpark and Train Museum make this town a planes, trains and automobiles destination.

The National Corvette Museum has 75 cars on display in period galleries. “You will find a ’50s model in a classic gas station and a racing ’Vet with a pit crew. The museum just completed a large expansion. And even if you’re not a car buff, you won’t want to miss a tour of our General Motors plant, where those Corvettes are assembled,” said Marissa Butler, public relations director with the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Aviation Heritage Park, a tribute to local aviators, features a Phantom II plane flown in 1972 in Vietnam by a Bowling Green native. “The pilot shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 and saw that pilot parachute out. Years later, the two met. It’s an incredible story,” said Butler.

The Historic Railpark and Train Museum features the restored 1925 L&N Passenger Depot. Inside, visitors see one of the region’s largest model railroad displays, and outside, many historic railroad cars, like a 1911 L&N presidential office car and a 1949 Pullman standard dining car.

Located on the Barren River, Bowling Green is also home to a historic downtown square featuring a cast iron fountain and an eclectic group of shops and restaurants.

(800) 326-7465

Aiken, South Carolina

Two blocks crammed full of restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, antiques and even a community playhouse give bank groups hours of strolling opportunities. But it is the Aiken County Historical Museum, a former 1931 mansion that offers the deep scoop on this graceful town.

“We were once a colony of people who came down from the north with their horses. The museum showcases that era to the present day, including the history of the Savannah River Site, a facility that played a big role in the Cold War. It was once known as the bomb plant,” said Mary Ann Keisler, director of Thoroughbred Country, a regional tourism promotion organization.

The 1859 Greek Revival mansion at Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site near Aiken, South Carolina, is filled with funiture, decorative arts and artwork. Courtesy Thoroughbred Country

Visitors can also enjoy a symphony or a musical at the Aiken Convocation Center or enjoy the stars at the DuPont Planetarium.

Keisler said that bank groups may want to use Aiken as their hub when they visit other attractions in this area: Redcliffe Plantation, an 1850s-era Greek-revival mansion with restored slave cabins in Beech Island; River’s Bridge in Ehrhardt, the only Civil War battlefield in the state; and Jim Harrison’s Home Gallery in Denmark.

The area’s face jugs, pottery jugs made to resemble offbeat faces, were a local trend started in the early 1800s by slave potters. Group members may want to take  home one of these iconic souvenirs, which are still popular with the area’s potters.

(888) 834-1654

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

When a fire nearly destroyed Chicago in 1871, many of the residents packed up and traveled to Lake Geneva and built “20,000-square-foot cottages,” according to Grace Eckland, director of marketing and public relations for the Lake Geneva Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“To this day, we are known as the playground of Chicago, and many of those old mansions remain. Our spring-fed lake is the most pristine in Wisconsin, and we are proud that there is no commercialism allowed on this lake and the shore is public domain. You can walk the beach and see up close the lives of the rich and famous,” she said.

Another way to observe those lives is by taking one of the many cruise ships available for charter, from paddle wheelers to early-20th-century yachts, restored with Tiffany lamps and mahogany decks. Groups can also take a tour of the six-bedroom Black Point Mansion, built by a beer baron in 1888 and today a museum with original furniture, including a dollhouse.

Lake Geneva sits on spring-fed Geneva Lake, the second deepest in Wisconsin.  Several companies offer boat tours of the lake. Courtesy Lake Geneva CVB

Lake Geneva is also famous for the Yerkes Observatory, home to the largest refracting telescope in the world. Eckland suggests an evening at the Dancing Horses Dinner Theater. “This is an equestrian show that rivals any in the world,” she said.

(262) 245-1100

Bristol, Rhode Island

Touted as the most patriotic community in America, Bristol, a quintessential New England town, is home to the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the nation — celebrating its independence since 1785 with a parade that bank groups won’t want to miss.

“Our main street is adorned year round with a red, white and blue center stripe,” said Katrina White, travel trade manager for the Rhode Island Tourism Division.

Rich with maritime history, this city on the sea boasts not only the America’s Cup Hall of Fame Museum but also the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, known for its shipbuilding skills for the U.S. Navy and for manufacturing, from 1893 through 1934, the sailing yachts that were the most successful defenders of the America’s Cup. At the Herreshoff Museum, several scale models are on display.

Linden Place is a Federal period mansion that offers bank groups a colorful history of the controversial DeWolf family.

“Please tell your groups to ask for Joan Roth as a tour guide. She’s a local, and you’ll get the real scoop from her.”

White added that another mansion, Blithewold, is the place to visit over the holidays and that Mount Hope Farm, dating back to the 1700s, features heirloom animals and plants.

“Cogshell Farm, a sea grass farm, still runs like it did in the 1700s, with no machinery,” she said.

(401) 278-9150

Prescott, Arizona

Groups can bike and hike in picturesque Prescott year round, as the mile-high desert community offers 12 months of comfortable temperatures. The downtown area is a good place to start, with a tree-lined courthouse plaza that is conveniently located next to Prescott’s infamous Whiskey Row.

“In the late 1800s, Whiskey Row consisted of one saloon after the other and was the source of many colorful stories. It’s still a popular destination but for different reasons: Shopping, art and restaurants are the draws today,” said David Maurer, CEO of the Prescott Chamber of Commerce.

Hikes in the mile-high desert around Prescott, Arizona, are popular yearround. Courtesy Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism

History is the star at the Sharlot Hall Museum. The museum, built around the site of the first Territorial Governor’s Mansion, offers an extensive collection of pioneer and Native American artifacts dating from Arizona’s territorial days. Groups may want to plan their visit around one of the museum’s heritage festivals or historic theater productions.

The Smoki Museum of American Indian Art and Culture and the Phippen Museum of Western Art, both offering renowned collections, are also must-sees in this historical city. “Many of our metropolitan buildings are over 100 years old. It’s not a coincidence that we are such an art center,” said Maurer.

Prescott also offers a jazz festival every August and is home to a weeklong rodeo over the Fourth of July.

(800) 266-7534