The north end of Ga. 400 will now be known as the Bill T. Hardman Hospitality Highway.
A ceremony was held Monday to unveil signs that will be placed along the stretch that runs through Dawson and Lumpkin counties in honor of Hardman, who was among a group that rallied to extend the roadway north decades before.
Former Lumpkin County Sole Commissioner J.B. Jones worked with Hardman on the initiative.
"Bill was a strong proponent for 400 and 400 stopped down in Cumming, Ga., and they were debating on sending it around the other way or come up to here. We thought they might bypass us, and we'd been working on that a long time," Jones said.
"The first year that [Ga.] 400 was open, and that was before there was anything down at [Hwy.] 53...bank deposits in Dahlonega increased $37 million."
Rep. Kevin Tanner and Sen. Steve Gooch both introduced legislation to have the roadway renamed.
"I'm honored to have known him. I'm honored to have called him my friend," Tanner said. "He's the forerunner of tourism in our state. I think it's very fitting that as you come into Dawson County...that you're going to see Bill Hardman's name every time you travel Ga. 400."
Like many who knew him, Gooch referred to Hardman as Mr. Tourism.
"It's very fitting that this date is here and we're naming this road in honor of Bill Hardman," Gooch said.
Hardman was named Georgia's first Director of Tourism, serving with Gainesville's Abit Massey as Georgia's Commissioner of Commerce.
"You cannot overstate the continuing impact of Bill Hardman for tourism in Dahlonega, in Lumpkin County, in Dawson County, northeast Georgia, the University of North Georgia and the entire state of Georgia," said Massey, a longtime friend and member of the Hardman Memorial Committee, which formed shortly after his death in 2013 to honor his legend.
To continue tourism efforts in north Georgia, Don and Nancy Panoz, founders of Chateau Elan Wineries, made a special presentation during Monday's ceremony by pledging $100,000 to the University of North Georgia's tourism program.
President Bonita Jacobs said the university has a deep desire to contribute in continuing Hardman's legacy.
"As we work forward, we are very, very interested in finding a way that we can honor Bill Hardman...and also to help the region, our wineries, our restaurants, our visitor's bureaus," she said. "We all have that commonality throughout this region, so that we can provide workshops and support and help...so our students can understand the tourism business and the circle continues."
Hardman started the State Welcome Program, second in the nation to do so.
He also conducted the nation's first Governor's Conference on Tourism, helped organize and served as the first chairman of the USA Travel Organization and served on the board of directors for 49 years.
Then, in the early 1970s he raised the $30 million needed to build the Georgia World Congress Center.
Hardman's family was in attendance for the unveiling.
"You don't know how much this special ceremony means to our family to have our friends here," said his wife Helen Hardman.