A travel milestone took place in the southwestern corner of Michigan on this date in 1935. The nation’s first highway welcome center at a state border opened on U.S. Highway 12, south of New Buffalo and just north of the state’s boundary with Indiana.
The facility was built by the Michigan State Highway Department (which is now the Michigan Department of Transportation). Key speakers during the dedication ceremonies for the welcome center included State Highway Commissioner Murray D. Van Wagoner (who became governor of Michigan during the next decade); Raymond M. Foley, the state director of the Federal Housing Administration from 1934 to 1945; and Horatio S. Earle, who served as Michigan’s first state highway commissioner between 1903 and 1909.
More than 200 others (many of them resort and civic leaders) were also in attendance at the welcome center’s grand opening.
Other states soon followed Michigan’s example. Within 50 years of the opening of that first travel information center, there were approximately 250 similar facilities nationwide.
Welcome centers today
Welcome centers, which are also known as visitors’ centers, visitor information centers, tourist information centers or service areas, are generally located near state borders along major ports of entry, such as interstates or major highways, or in strategic cities within regions of a state.
They serve as a rest area for motorists, a source of information for tourists as well as a showcase for the state. These features make the centers distinct from rest areas.
Welcome centers were created to provide travelers with helpful information to improve their stay. While the centers have evolved over time, their purpose has remained relatively constant. They exist to provide suggestions on things to do and seek to convince visitors to stay a little longer.