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Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Florida Welcome Center, Hilliard, FL

I like to think of Route 301 as the East Coast’s Route 66. 66 carried travelers east and west, 301 carried folks north and south.

66 got the cool song and a TV show. 301 did not. 66 became part of movies and Americana. 301 did not. 66 still gets travelers from around the world looking to get some kicks. 301 does not. And I like that.

Full of small towns, abandoned buildings and fading neon, US 301 is a roadside archaeologist’s paradise.

Heading home from Georgia on a family vacation, we crossed into Florida on 301. In the first mile we passed by an old motor court, a former Stuckey’s, and the St. Mary’s Motel. Promoted as “longest motel in the South,” the motel (now a senior center) had one floor, 78 air conditioned rooms and a restaurant.

At one time, the busiest place in Hilliard was just across the street from the St. Mary’s Motel. It was the site of a Florida Welcome Center, where thousands of travelers stopped in for a free Dixie cup of orange juice. Now just a vacant lot, remnants of an old parking lot and curbs are still visible. I can’t help but wonder what a metal detector would turn up.

Today, the Florida Welcome Centers can be found on the Interstates, and yes, you can still get a cuppa OJ.

Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather pick up a bottle of OJ at the roadside stand and discover some cool stuff on an old highway.301864956_5292078194174835_404967700760169606_n302062364_5292078507508137_6230774347231416293_n

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Abandoned US 301, SC / GA state line

Established in 1932, US Highway 301 was promoted as the fastest route to Florida for East Coasters looking for some fun in the sun. 301 still takes travelers to Florida, but the Interstate took most of the traffic away…which of course, suits me just fine.

US 301 today has a few traffic-filled towns, but the majority of the old highway is full of neon signs, abandoned buildings, mid-century roadside motels and small towns with local diners serving up tasty food. Think of it as East Coast’s “Route 66” but without a cool song and a TV show.

The first time I traveled 301 to Florida was in 1992. I rode my old Harley dresser down to see my parents. In South Carolina, just before the Georgia line, an elevated ghost section of 301 to the left caught my eye. Then my mind was blown.

This elevated, abandoned section of US 301 was supported by WOODEN trusses, and ended at an old abandoned bridge crossing the Savannah River at the Georgia state line.

Not any old abandoned bridge, but a TURNSTILE abandoned bridge! I had no idea there was such a thing. All the bridges I’d seen with water traffic were “up and down” drawbridges, enabling boats and barges to pass. This bridge didn’t go “up and down,” it ROTATED left and right!

Last year I fell down the Internet rabbit hole and learned the spot is known as the Burton’s Ferry Bridge. It carried travelers from 1938 until 1965, when a fixed bridge took its place. It’s been abandoned - and the turnstile open - ever since.

Most of the Georgia-side of the roadbed is gone, but a 1.5 mile elevated abandoned section on the South Carolina side is now a nature trail, ending with a view of the old turnstile section of the bridge, where the watchtower has been waiting for someone to look out it’s windows for 58 years.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - The Orange Shop, Citra FL

December 2022

Every road trip back home to Maryland starts with a stop at The Orange Shop in tiny Citra Florida.

In the ‘50’s & ‘60’s, orange stands dotted old highways in Florida, doing great business to vacationers wanting to take home a bit of the Sunshine State. Then the boring ol’ Interstate came and one by one, these pieces of Roadside America disappeared.

But a few remain…and this gem may be the oldest in the state.

Now in it’s 87th year, the Orange Shop has been serving up the best fruit to roadside travelers in this same spot since 1936.

Not much has changed since then. Sometimes you can peek in the processing facility out back and see machinery well over half a century old, still in use.

They have THE BEST orange juice this side of anywhere. They ship too!

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Steffens Restuarant US17, Kingsland GA

Heading back to Florida from a trip north, Dad and I roamed the backroads of Georgia on the way south.
Just before the state line on US 17 in Kingsland Georgia we found another gem.

Steffens Restaurant sits on the southbound side of the old two lane highway and they’ve been there since 1948. It was originally a 24 hour business serving up gas and food to hungry vacationers heading to Florida until the arrival of Interstate 95.

The pump island is now flower pots, but Steffens Restaurant still serves up good food to the locals…and blue highway junkies like me.

With a transmission shop across the street, an old roadside motel next door, and a neon sign with a parking lot absolutely packed to the gills - we had to stop!

Steffens serves up breakfast, lunch & dinner daily. We chose breakfast. Oversized pancakes, full plates of eggs, homemade slices and slices of cake and pie and “Ms. Helen’s Famous Homemade Biscuits” - I know why Steffen’s is a restaurant that’s been in business three quarters of a century.

Next time you’re heading to Florida, get off the Interstate and head to Steffens. It’s a few miles - and a world away - from I-95.

Better yet, get off the Interstate and see America. It’s so much more than chain restaurants and exit signs.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - The Last Horne's, Port Royal VA

Back in the wonderful days of mid-century America, Horne’s was a chain that dotted the east coast.
At Horne’s peak there were over 1250 billboards in the southern states advertising their 60 restaurants and half a dozen roadside motels.

The 1970’s gas crisis hit and by 1981, all the Horne’s were gone.

Except one.

Sitting at the corner of Routes 301 and 17 in Port Royal Virginia, the only Horne’s in the USA has been serving up good food to travelers for the past 63 years.

During a trip back home to Maryland last month, I was happy to find Horne’s open, and it’s restaurant counter packed.

Next time you are passing thru Port Royal, stop at the last Horne’s in the USA. Go inside, fill your belly with some good grub and experience a piece of genuine “Roadside America.”