Well, Hello There

Informative tour takes groups through downtown Covington, touching on art, history, food, music and other areas of interest.

by David Roten

Talk about a one-stop shop. If you love art, history, food, music or any combination thereof, your destination may be closer than you think. Residents and visitors to Newton County can experience all this and more on the Square in Covington, with the help of the H.E.L.L.O. Covington Tours program. “H.E.L.L.O.” stands for Helping Educate Local Lovers of Covington. 

“This place is hopping,” said Ann Wildmon, creator and director of the tour and owner of WildArt, the gallery out of which the tour is based. 

As the name implies, the tour is designed for those who want to know more about their hometown, its people and its merchants, specifically those on or around the Square. Interested parties will want to bring a friend, as tours are only open to groups of 10 or more. Though tailored more for children, adults also enjoy the experience, according to Wildmon. 

“We want people to learn about this town because it’s fascinating. This was ‘The Wild West’ in the late 1800s.”

Ann Wildmon, H.E.L.L.O. Covington Tours Director

“They learn things they didn’t know,” she said. “They get to meet the local merchants and find out more about their passion [and] why they do what they do.” 

Tourists often become customers once they learn more about the businesses on the Square and the products and services being offered. 

“It’s a win-win,” Wildmon said.

Though the lineup is ever-changing and expanding, a sampling of current tour stops includes McKibben Music, Scoops Ice Cream, WildArt and the historic Newton County Courthouse. During times when the courthouse is unavailable, groups are treated to a history lesson on the front steps. At other times, patrons may visit Covington First United Methodist Church, a Civil War-era structure known for its exterior beauty and charm. Still others have ventured into Covington City Cemetery, where markers point to an even earlier time. All tour stops are easily walkable for children, with most of them on the Square and a few others just a block or two away. Groups can design their tour based on their particular areas of interest, time availability, budget and merchants participating at the time. 

Wildmon says the idea for the tours was inspired by her interactions with children visiting her gallery. 

“We would sit down in the floor and tell them about different kinds of artists and what they do and [tell them], ‘If you want to be an artist, you can do that,’” she said. As Wildmon saw the lightbulbs come on in the kids, her own vision expanded. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to learn the business of culinary, the business of music and make it more entrepreneur-based, showing kids you can create your future working in a small town?’” 

Apparently, kids and school administrators enjoy the tours and find them beneficial.

“The schools just keep coming back,” Wildmon said. 

Deena Sams, director of afterschool and community affairs for Newton County schools, has been instrumental in enabling students to take advantage of the tours. Many students live miles outside the city limits of Covington and seldom, if ever, make it into town to see what is available to them, according to Sams. That is where the tours come in. 

“It’s a way to show them what’s going on right here in Covington so that they can become more connected to their community,” Sams said.

Guides generally break larger groups, like those often associated with churches or schools, into smaller ones. Groups then rotate from place to place every 25 minutes or so. Children receive small gifts—a memory they can share with others—from each merchant. They also learn something about the business and how it works. 

Set in the heart of downtown Covington, the Newton County Courthouse remains a popular stop for school groups. In advance of their tour, schools are sent a script to rehearse. Once at the courthouse, the students do a mock reenactment of a board meeting in the old boardroom. They are also given a small tour of the rest of the building. When a courthouse tour is not available, there is a tour stop in the middle of the Square, where a historian shares interesting stories of days gone by. 

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