People often wonder if Laurel is as charming and kind as it seems on television. As a person who was born and raised here, I always say no — it’s better. There’s so much happening behind the scenes that a TV camera will never fully capture.
It’s not just the oak lined avenues and the historic homes that draw people in. The heartbeat of our town is found within its people and their collective desire to create more for their hometown. People want the chance to have meaningful and profitable livelihoods; they want opportunities to lay their roots in good soil without moving elsewhere, and they want the chance to prove wrong the vast majority that says small towns are dead.
I’ll admit, there’s a noble sense of duty and a bit of southern pride that keeps us moving forward, but Laurel is most glorious when we’re creating something beautiful and inspiring others to do the same.
After watching the first episode of HomeTown Takeover, I was most interested to see if Wetumpka was all that it appeared to be on television as well. It seemed so charming. Whimsical, really. Much like Laurel, I knew there had to be more than meets the eye, so I decided to see it for myself.
Long before I crossed the bridge into Downtown Wetumpka, I imagined the kind of people that lived there, and to my delight, they surpassed every one of my expectations. I finally understood why Erin and Ben say Wetumpka is like Laurel’s sister. It’s because they’re made of the same stuff — hard working, honest people who dare to dream that they can make something beautiful right where they are.
Shellie Whitfield is one of those people. Owner of the Big Fish house and Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Shellie is a firecracker. She’s quick witted and her energy is magnetic. I was drawn to her overt openness and hopeful spirit, and she also happened to be a fantastic host. She opened the widest window into her life for a curious visitor like me, and I was so thankful.
She shared a tour of her own home, the original set of Big Fish, and she even landed me the best seats at Coaches Corner for lunch. She showed me practically every house in Wetumpka, including the historic beauties that weren’t seen on television. With every turn down their historic streets was an even grander story of the people that lived there. Wetumpka made me feel like I was a long-lost friend that was finally coming home after years of being away.
I understood why Tim Burton made the entire town his set. Every inch of it feels almost too good to be true, and for once, it was both.
I found myself becoming invested in this Mayberry-like town in rural Alabama. Each mural and renovated storefront felt like an opportunity. I dreamed of what may be there one day when I return. It reminded me so much of Laurel before Home Town was ever a thing, when a few people were considered borderline foolish to invest in Downtown Laurel. How foolish are they now?
I smiled when I heard Shellie talk about their vision for Wetumpka, because I knew that this town was made of the same kind of people that were determined to make it happen no matter what. Those are my kind of people. Most likely, they're your kind of people, too.
By the time I crossed the Coosa River on the way back home, I was to the point of tears. Wetumpka may not be my hometown, but it might as well have been. It gave me hope that a few people really can make a difference. No matter where you're from, a few dreamers can change things for the better. We don’t have to wait for others, we can start now. Wetumpka isn’t waiting— and you shouldn’t either.
P.S. —Plan your visit to Wetumpka! Here's a list of upcoming events: