October 23, 2007 - An interview with Blairsville Union County Chamber of Commerce Founder Tommie Alexander
In the mid 1970's Tommie Alexander and Michael Litton decided to see if business owners in the Blairsville, Georgia area were open to the idea of forming a Chamber of Commerce. They called a county-wide meeting at the Milton Inn Restaurant (currently Antonietta's Grill) to see if anyone was interested.
They learned that there was a huge demand in the business community for a Chamber of Commerce and Tommie Alexander was considered the best person to lead the new organization. He was quickly elected the first President of the new Blairsville Union County Chamber of Commerce where he served four terms. "It was a surprise when they elected me president. I really didn't see it coming," says Tommie.
He adds, "People liked the idea so it didn't take long for everyone in town to sign up. It cost only $25 to join. Our first office was set up in the old County Jail where Blairsville City Hall is now. I worked free gratis which means I didn't get paid." The Chamber's first membership drive was door to door and resulted in 46 business memberships and 21 individual memberships.
In the 1970's there were no traffic lights in Union County. You couldn't buy snacks or gasoline after 7:00 p.m. because the stores and gas stations were closed up for the night. They called it "rolling up the sidewalks." The economy was slow with few jobs for young people. If you didn't want to farm or work at the shoe factory, there wasn't much else to do here in Blairsville.
There was a trickle of people starting to visit the area due to the variety of outdoor recreational opportunities including those available at Cooper's Creek, Lake Nottely , and Vogel State Park. Tourism was considered the best option for bringing jobs to Union County so promoting the area became top priority.
Under Tommie Alexander's dedicated leadership the Blairsville Union County Chamber got off to an excellent start. Tommie says, "Hubert Jones acted as Executive Director and was a great help. We visited other counties to distribute brochures on Union County and to see how they did things. We also went around and talked to local business owners to invite them to the monthly meetings. Those meetings at the Milton Inn were always interesting. We had good food and good company. Hugh Stone, Ralph Twiggs, and many other good men were involved. By 1980 it was really going strong. " The first Officers and Board of Directors included Jack Lance, Curtis Colwell, Katherine Jarrett, D.L. Martin, Doug Gooch, Robert W. Jones, and Eddy Alexander.
Tommie Alexander was born in Union County on July 23, 1925 . He lives with wife, Martha, in the Trackrock area of Union County. They have been married since 1951 and have four children - Mary, Linda, Frank, and Sonya.
Tommie and Martha Alexander are well known in the area. Martha says, "We are farmers. We have had cattle, hogs, chickens, horses, buffaloes, and most everything else that can be grown around here. The children take care of it all now. Sonya has the stables and Frank runs the campground." She adds, "Debbie, Frank's wife, continues to be very active in the Chamber and was President for 4 years. It must run in the family."
The Alexander Farm, Trackrock Campground and Cabins, and Trackrock Stables are located off Trackrock Church Road in Union County. The Alexander family businesses are shining examples of southern hospitality and life in the North Georgia Mountains. Of course, they are, and have been since the beginning, members of the Blairsville Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Tommie Alexander helped put Blairsville, Georgia on the map. Due to his efforts and foresight, Blairsville businesses have a great place to go for support, resources, and assistance. The Blairsville Union County Chamber of Commerce remains one of the driving forces in Union County today. For more information visit the Chamber's website at www.blairsvillechamber.com.