Harper Lee has long been recognized as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century, with her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, being one of the most widely read books in the world. With her passing at the age of 89 earlier this year, the residents of her hometown in Monroeville, Alabama have debated about the best way to memorialize her life and her contributions to the American literary canon. Monroeville and its inhabitants have long been recognized as the inspiration behind the fictional town of Maycomb, where the events of To Kill a Mockingbird take place; however, the only local attraction pertaining to the novel is the old Monroeville County Courthouse, where the book's famous trial scene was filmed for the 1962 adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Every year, tens of thousands of people flock to the town of Monroeville to visit the courthouse and wander the streets that inspired the novel, but residents hope to find a way to lure more people to Monroeville to both boost tourism and honor Lee's memory.
Lee's attorney, Tonja Carter, has teamed up with George Landegger, the Mockingbird Company, and others to plan a large-scale tribute to both Ms. Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. The idea for the Harper Lee Trail is still in its infancy, but already there are plans to restore an old 1909 building and turn it into a museum dedicated to Lee. Although the houses that Harper Lee and her famous neighbor Truman Capote were demolished, there are plans to renovate the house that Harper and her sister Alice lived in together. Replicas of three houses from To Kill a Mockingbird, namely the Finch's and the Radley house, are to be built in Monroeville and opened to the public. Once the project is completed, the hope is that the number of people who visit Monroeville will jump from the tens of thousands to over 250,000. With the discovery and subsequent publication of Lee's manuscript titled Go Set a Watchman in 2015 and her death in February 2016 renewing interest in Lee's life and works, the plans for the Harper Lee Trail will very likely prove a success. With thousands more people flocking to Monroeville, it stands to reason that the increased tourism to this area could have a positive impact on tourism to surrounding areas. Although Monroeville is still a very small and somewhat secluded town, the larger tourist destinations of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are less than three hours away, making Monroeville an easy choice as a day trip for those who are already visiting the area. Additionally, the recently finished Foley Sports Tourism Complex is already succeeding in drawing more and more people to Southern Alabama. All in all, this area of the state has been receiving more and more positive attention from potential tourists and home-buyers. Development of the sports complex, renovation of the Gulf Shores public beach area, and other plans for cultural sites such as the Harper Lee Trail are bound to bring much more attention to the Southern Alabama area over the next few years.