Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison spoke about the past, present and future during an address to the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce monthly membership luncheon Tuesday.
Harrison said that the biggest thing currently going on in Williamsburg is planning for the city’s bicentennial celebration in April.
Whitley County is celebrating its bicentennial all year long, but Williamsburg is focusing its celebration during the month April.
“When our founding fathers got together to discuss the new county, they also discussed where to put the county seat. There was much discussion and the decision was made in the month of April from what we have all looked back and seen,” Harrison said. “This is kind of why we choose the month of April to pool our events.”
Some wanted to place the county seat for the new county in Pleasant View.
“Our founder, Samuel Cox, had a different idea. He was a former Revolutionary War soldier. They gave him 100 acres for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He wanted Williamsburg to be the newly formed city. He also owned a tavern on the banks of the Cumberland River,” Harrison noted.
“The story goes that trying to convince people this was the place it needs to be. He got everyone together one night and started serving them. I guess they were there a pretty long time because Williamsburg is where Williamsburg is now.”
The city’s celebration will start on April 2 with a video that will be shown all month long during regular business hours in the council meeting room at Williamsburg City Hall that highlights the town’s history.
On April 7, a historical marker will be dedicated in Cox’s honor near the present day judicial center, which sits near the site of the old Samuel Cox home place.
Harrison said the historical marker has been in the works for years after a visit he received from some of Cox’s descendants several years ago wanting to go visit Cox’s grave.
Harrison said he took them to the spot only to learn that a building had been erected on it.
“That is when it first hit me that we don’t even have a marker for the founder of Williamsburg,” he said. “The bicentennial is the perfect time to unveil the marker.”
He added that April would be full of fun events.
The bicentennial celebration isn’t the only thing happening in Williamsburg.
Harrison noted that in the last year, over 800 new jobs have been added in Williamsburg thanks in large part to Senture, Firestone, The Kentucky Consular Center and Williamsburg Plastics.
“There is work if you want to work,” Harrison noted.
Harrison said that he has also spoken with some business owners and managers and is trying to put together a panel that would help students prepare to transition to the workforce in addition to the Work Ethic program that the chamber already has in place.
“We have to turn the tide of our workforce,” Harrison said. “Our best are leaving and we have to turn that around.”
In addition, the city is investing $2 million to improve infrastructure, including repairs and upgrades to the wastewater treatment system, fixing fire hydrants and installing valves on water lines.
The city is also working to improve tourism, which Harrison thinks can be a niche for Williamsburg to help improve its economy.
The debt incurred to build the Kentucky Splash Waterpark will be paid off in 2020, and Harrison has spoken with an engineer about drawing up plans to expand the waterpark, which already draws between 100,000 – 125,000 visitors annually.
70 percent of those visitors come from Tennessee with about 40 percent coming from Knoxville alone.
“People go why don’t they just go to Dollywood? Because they like it here,” Harrison explained. “It is cleaner here. Sorry Dolly. It is cheaper. Sorry Dolly. They can be here and in the water faster and cheaper. They feel safe here. I don’t want to make it too big.”
The Kentucky Splash Campground is also being expanded with seven additional RV sites this year.
Williamsburg is looking to host more softball and archery tournaments, and a jujitsu tournament is coming.
“If we are successful in that we might have the state tournament,” he added. “Bringing people in for two or three days is a big shot in the arm for us.”
Harrison said he would also like to add a small distillery in Williamsburg, and there is an empty small building that is perfect for one.
Local investors have invested about $6 million in Williamsburg in things like hotels and strip malls over the last year.
$800,000 has been invested in new homes.
“We are going to succeed. You are going to see a lot of things change in the next couple of years I am predicting. I feel you are really going to see a different Williamsburg within the next couple of years,” he added.
During Tuesday’s luncheon, Williamsburg Tourism Director Alvin Sharpe informed the chamber members that on April 9, the Kentucky Travel Industry Association would be presenting an Economic Development Engine Award to tourism officials in Williamsburg, Corbin and Whitley County collectively.
“That engine award is because of the economic impact that tourism has had in Whitley County. We are one of the leading ones,” Sharpe added.