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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 - 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 - The Pines Bar, Hilliard, FL

Levi and I came across this mid-century gem on the way home from West Virginia last year.

Located on US 301 / US 1 just outside the town of Hilliard Florida , in the middle of nowhere, is The Pines. Half a century ago however, it was a busy thoroughfare. Before the Interstate, US301 was the main drag to Florida for travelers.

A quick search of the Internet reveals The Pines has been abandoned at least 15 years. But, the Interstate 95 bypass from Kingsland to Jacksonville was completed in 1972, so I’m thinking The Pines has been waiting for new owners close to half a century.

I can only imagine how cool that “bricked-back” neon sign looked glowing at night.


Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Elvis in Tampa

Since “Elvis Is Everywhere” I decided to do some Elvis-related roadside archaeology in Tampa to celebrate my 38th 21st birthday. So I put on my “Old Guys Rule” tee shirt and hit the road.

In the 40’s, Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker / Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk (that’s the Colonel’s real name, but that’s another story for another day) was a dog catcher for the Humane Society in Tampa.

He was a carny even back then, concocting stunts like gathering litters from three or four dogs, put them with one mom, then call the Tampa press with the tale the dog had 21 pups. It was all reported as fact by the Tampa press.

Legend says the ol’ Colonel started what might be the first pet cemetery. Located at the Humane Society in town, he found a monument company in Tampa that would sell cast-off stone pieces to him for $15. He’d mark them up to $100 with the promise of eternal care in the form of old flowers he got for free at a local florist. The stones were dug up and relocated in 2018.

My first stop was the Colonel’s home in the Temple Terrace area of Tampa. His old home is in a nice neighborhood and very well maintained.


After catchin’ dogs, Colonel Tom moved on to music promotion, representing country musician Eddy Arnold for a time. He’d moved to South Tampa, and that house still stands as well. It sold in 2020 for $600k. Built in 1946, the interior has been upgraded over the years and no “Parker-era” touches remain.

Next stop on my tour was Fort Homer Hesterly Arena. Love the architecture of this place. Construction began in the 1930’s and it was dedicated the day after Pearl Harbor.

So many 20th century notables have graced the HH arena. MLK & JFK spoke here. The Ramones, Pink Floyd, James Brown, Buddy Holly, The Doors, Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash and more have played gigs here.


Elvis played multiple gigs over four dates at the Homer Hesterly arena early in his career. He opened for Hank Snow and Deacon Andy Griffith (yep, Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry) in 1955, and headlined twice in 1956.
On July 31, 1955, the arena went down in the Elvis history books for the “tonsil photo” - taken at the gig & used on EP’s first LP.

On August 5, 1956, after playing two shows at Homer Hesterly arena, ol’ EP stopped by Ayers Diner in Tampa, presumably for a fried peanut butter & banana sandwich.

66 years later, the diner still stands. It’s now known as Chanko’s, serving up Asian food. The place has been modernized over the years, but the original floor, bathroom fixtures and diner stools are still there. Best of all, you can eat where Elvis ate, 2nd booth on the left. So I did.

I have no idea what I ordered, but it was two breaded discs that might have been meat. Fried of course, so I think Elvis would agree.

I wrapped up my Elvis birthday with a movie. You guessed it, “Elvis.”

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - The Headless Brontosarus

A few miles from me resides a headless dino, with an interesting story.

It was created in 1967 by August Herwede after seeing Dinoland at the World's Fair in 1964.

While working on his creation, August fell off a scaffolding and later died.

55 years later, the Dino still stands.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Florida on Film edition

Got up a bit late for “regular” church, so Levi & I had “car church” today. Car Church consists of a ride thru the Florida backroads, with a soundtrack of Willie & Bobbie Nelson’s “Farther Along” and “Dust on the Bible” by the Bad Livers.
Car Church usually results in some incredible conversations with my big man and of course, a few adventures along the way. The conversations are like Vegas. What’s said in the car stays in the car. The adventures on the other hand, are not.

Being a fan of back roads, we were psyched to discover an abandoned, all wood, one lane bridge and roadway that dated back to the early days of auto travel.

We ventured on to Rosewood, home to one of Florida’s darkest stories. You may recall the film of the same name with Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle. Some scenes were filmed here.

Because “Elvis is Everywhere,” we stopped by Yankeetown Florida, where the bulk of his movie “Follow That Dream” was filmed.

We did some of our patented roadside archaeology and found the Elvis-related “Weall House” back in the hammock (that’s Florida-speak for “woods.”) a couple miles from Yankeetown. The first scenes of “Follow That Dream” were shot here. Unfortunately they didn’t make the final cut, but WE GOT PICTURES!

The house is in the middle of nowhere on a dead end road. The old house (heck, it was old in 1961!) is well maintained and looks like Elvis just stepped off the porch.

We headed over to Bird Creek Bridge to recreate a famous Elvis photo. The exact spot where E sat is the railing on Bird Creek Bridge, 4th post in, just after the expansion joint in the road. We didn’t have to say a word, a local who was fishing on the bridge knew why we were there.

“Y’all need a cane pole like Elvis!”

We chatted a bit. Seems the mullet were being temperamental today. We headed south towards home.

Even though my favorite road Route 66 runs from Chicago to LA, Levi & I even did some 66ing today. Passing thru Crystal River on the way home, we stopped and did a bit more roadside archaeology, standing where Martin “Adam-12” Milner did in an episode of his earlier series “Route 66.”

5 hours after our day began, we got back home.

The next time you oversleep on a Sunday, give “car church” a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - A Bunker, Bullets and WWII


I‘ve lived in Florida going on 18 years. Just about since that time, I’ve driven by this concrete lump down by the local airport every couple months and wondered, “What was that thing?” Today I found out.

The US Army established the Brooksville Airport in 1942 when Hernando County was a sparsely populated area. During construction , the Army built this 30 foot replica machine gun bunker. Then, they sent B-17’s up and used this thing for target practice.

In the 75-plus years since, the area has grown by leaps and bounds, but this remnant of WWII still remains.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Old FL Route 23 / 50

About 6 months back, my son and I went ‘splorin near the Green Swamp tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, hoping to find some large "Welcome to Sumter County" markers erected in the early 1900’s, marking the Sumter County FL line. These markers were rumored to be located in the middle of the swamp / forest, on what was once the main road into Hernando County.

During one of my trips down the Internet rabbit hole, I found a 1923 article covering a new 12 mile road being completed in Hernando County. It was given the designation of State Road 23. This road connected Pasco County in the south, and Sumter County to the north. It was gone from maps by the 1940’s. The road was renumbered and realigned to the present day FL50.

In June of last year, we got to a dead end road and the remnants of a long abandoned bridge. We felt we were on the right track, but bugs, temps in the 90’s, a dense forest and church clothes held us at bay.

So today we returned - ready, willing and able. We hoofed it over the remnants of that old wood bridge that hadn’t seen traffic in 75 years. We slugged thru the woods, crossed a barbed wire fence, and there they were maybe 100 yards ahead! Two 8 foot tall concrete markers with the words “Sumter County”...just past the remnants of an even larger bridge, in too bad of shape to try to cross. (We "zoomed in" on our iPhones to capture the markers.)

We tried to access the area from the Sumter County side, but that road was gated and “No Trespassing” signs posted all over. Shortly after our arrival, a local drove down to see what we were up to. Next up - an O.K. from the property owner next to see ‘em close up!
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More photos of Old Fort Dodge

Old Fort Dodge Indian Princess
We have just added several newly found photos and the original newspaper captions from the Tampa Bay Times.

If you have a photo, newspaper clipping or memory of this lost Florida roadside attraction, please contact me.

You can read more on my quest to discover Old Fort Dodge in the blog entries below. You can read newspaper articles here.

Billy "The Kid" Emerson- 2017 Florida Folk Heritage Award winner!

Billy the kid Emerson
Eariler this month, my friend Sun / Chess / Vee-Jay recording artist Billy “The Kid” Emerson received the 2017 Florida Folk Heritage Award. This award is given to outstanding Florida folk artists and folk culture advocates who have made long-standing contributions to the folk cultural resources of the state.

As you may know, Sun Records is the birthplace of rock and roll. Billy is the earliest surviving Sun Records artist, having released his first records over 63 years ago in January, 1954. No other African American artist has released more sides on Sun than Billy “The Kid.” His songs were recorded by the links of Ann Margaret, Rod Stewart and Elvis Presley.

I was honored to be asked to speak at his event. A well deserved award for an American Music treasure.

Billy "The Kid"

Greg Laxton and Billy
In my ongoing quest to locate American Music treasures, I found one today that was almost in my back yard.

I was honored to have lunch today with the Reverend William R. Emerson of Tarpon Springs. The good Reverend served his country in World War 2 and Korea. He is 90 years young and healthier than I am!

Some of you may know him as Billy "The Kid" Emerson. His song WHEN IT RAINS IT REALLY POURS was covered by Elvis Presley. He also wrote the rockabilly standard (MY GAL IS) RED HOT, covered by Robert Gordon and Link Wray, Sam the Sham and dozens of others.

During his musical career this gentleman was in Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm and wrote songs with Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. His recording career started in 1954 at the legendary Sun Records. He moved on from there and released sides with Vee-Jay and Chess Records. He later started Tarpon Records and released several R&B and soul sides.

He got the calling in the early 1980's and became a preacher - and still does to this day.

I look forward to having lunch with the good Reverend again soon!

Old Fort Dodge - Case Closed.

I finally made it up to Weeki Wachee North, the 55-plus retirement community along US Highway 19, the location of the lost Florida roadside attraction Old Fort Dodge.

After I read that the retirement park was a family owned business, I was hoping that perhaps the owners had some old photos from the time they transformed the classic piece of Florida roadside to the mobile home park it is today.

Like just about everything else with my Old Fort Dodge quest, I was a day late and a dollar short. It seems the park was sold a few years ago to a corporation.

So my journey to find Old Fort Dodge draws to a close. I can't complain - it was a lot of fun. I now know more that I ever thought I would about Old Fort Dodge. I hope you do too.

Has Anyone Seen These Gals?

Fort Dodge Cuties

These local beauties appeared in several Fort Dodge promotional articles.

This photograph is from 1962, which would put these ladies in the neighborhood of 70 years old. If you know who these gals are, please get in touch.

Fort Dodge Florida

Wow! A very special thank you to Colleen, who steered me in the direction of some incredible photographs, the most detailed reference of what Old Fort Dodge looked like thus far! You can CLICK HERE or check out the PICS link at the top of the page.

Fort Dodge employees

Fort Dodge in detail

The article below provides us with the best description of Fort Dodge yet.

from VARIETY -

Do-It-Yourself Project Lets Visitor Mine Nuggets at Sutter’s Mill, Picnic, Etc. All for $1.65
by Odie Anderson

Brooksville Fla., May 18

A new Fort Dodge, authentically barricaded behind a solid wall of halved pine and cypress, is rising in Sandland and an impatient public is already trekking down Front Street.

This newest Florida tourist attraction, strategically located six miles north of ABC - Paramount’s Weeki Wachee Springs - home of live mermaids - and a few miles south of the Norris Co. Homosassa Springs on US 19, is the rapidly developing brainchild of Paul Bolstein and family. Significantly, it is a mere one-hour run from St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The do-it-yourself project, with its one-mile highway stretch, was started three years ago by the Bolsteins - wife, two daughters and one son. And this particular bit of west is being won by traditional sweat, guts and imagination.

New Yorker Bolstein, past owner of some 10 weekly newspapers, served a stint as operator of a riding school in St. Pete. This, coupled with a bit of ranching in Texas, prompted the present venture.

The family affair is striving for authenticity. Considerable research has gone into establishing a historically accurate old west and education of small fry is high on the agenda. Emerging is a cowtown where a visiting family can find amusement for an entire day.


A preliminary opening found ready spectators for the Long Branch Saloon - stocked with well-stacked can can dancers - the Globe Press, Dodge House, a land office and general merchandise store.

But the most popular magnet is Sutter’s Mill, with its mountain stream tumbling down some 300 feet into a small pond. Brook is also salted with genuine gold and silver nuggets and semi-precious stones. When panned by visitors, valuables are redeemed at the assayer’s office. Pans are provided and lucky prospectors have gleaned as much as $68 for a single gold nugget. Management purchases back the poke to re-seed Florida’s only gold and silver mine.

Phosphorus painting highlight the history of the day of the Pony Express and it’s brief history in the cavernous Mystery Mountain. Black light plays on colorful scenes of the early west as spectators wind through a darkened area of manmade peaks. A taped recording narrates the saga of the sagebrush

Starring as marshal of the historical replica is Johnny Dodge, film and TV character, who, with his trusty deputies, daily - and inevitably - subdues the forces of frontier crime in well done gunfights.

Christine, the oldest Bolstein daughter, portrays an Indian princess. fitting well into the scene, while a Seminole family village adds color to the compound. Weathered wagon wheels, hitching posts and bovine skulls are used to resurrect picturesque days of the pioneer.

A full-time artist is retained at Fort Dodge, responsible for the art work of the complex as well as roadside signs, more of which are needed to adequately air the attraction.


The family has leased a number of concessions - the press, the steam engine, which shrilly conveys passengers around the 37 acre area, a stagecoach which catapults from the Wells Fargo office, the barbecued popcorn stand and others.

Foreseeing the venture as more than a mere tourist attraction, the Bolsteins are planning a miniature western golf course, archery and shooting galleries and possibly square dancing to the music of The Thunderbirds, a “Grand Ole Opry” group.

Plans have been laid for an adjacent Mexican village, which will require a tour through customs to an adobe studded compound and following an exchange of American money for South of the Border coin.

Also plotted is an arena type area for presentation of theater-in-the-roux for the straw hat circuit and/or possibly bullfights or native talent.

Envisioned is a constantly changing line up of entertainment, well spiced with book learning’ and catering to repeat family trade. Hopefully, Ford Dodge will soon be granted a charter designating it an incorporated town complete with US Post Office and with personnel of the establishment supplying the required population.

Meanwhile, adults are paying a reasonable $1.65 entry fee, children under 12 traipse through the massive gate with its yet-to-be completed block house without charge. Picnic ares are provided in well shaded areas.

Bolstein has clung doggedly to his controlling interest - resisting capitalistic offers which foresee for Fort Dodge a goldmine similar to that of Six-Gun Territory, some 50 miles northwest in the heart of Florida’s horse racing country. This compound, too, has an ABC-Par neighbor, the Silver Springs spread.

Pay dirt is a mere trickle at Fort Dodge to date. However, the compound which was only a sign by the side of the highway for many months is beginning to make noises indicating that its owner has struck it rich. Proper pushing can put it on the map.

Fort Dodge Grand Opening - April 15, 1965

From the April 15, 1965 St. Petersburg Times -

WEEKI WACHEE - Fort Dodge, a few and different Florida adventure, swings open it’s stockage gate to the public at 9am today.

Located north of here in US 19, the attraction is owned and operated by the Paul Bolstein family of St. Petersburg.

Visitors can pan for gold in a cool mountain stream, ride a pony through Mystery Mountain, or watch a daring band of raiders bite the dust - all in one afternoon.

Bostein said, “There’s picnic grounds here and lots of room to roam around.”

Old Fort Dodge - LOCATED!

In my quest for the location of the 60’s era theme park FORT DODGE, I headed to the land office for Hernando County Florida. There I located deeds to property purchased by the Bolstein Family that was once old Fort Dodge.

I also located a bill for electrical work to wire the theme park from an electrical company (now out of business) in St. Pete.

Paul Bolstein and his wife purchased roughly 30 acres on US 19 approximately 8 miles north of Weeki Wachee. I was worried that would put the park on the ground of the current Winding Waters / Weeki Wachee High School.

I found documents and plats that indicated the Bolstein Family purchased three lots in an area known as HI-WAY FARMS, FIRST ADDITION. The dimension of each lot was indicated on the plat. I added up the total number of feet from the reference road (Atlanta Avenue), and determined the conversion to mileage. The portion of old Fort Dodge that fronted US 19 was between .87 and .99 miles north of Atlanta Avenue.

I left the land office, jumped in my car and headed to US 19. I hit the GPS at Atlanta Avenue. As I drove by Winding Waters Middle and Weeki Wachee High, the GPS began to climb - .25 miles - .50 miles - .87 miles….I cleared the school!
But - right next door sat Weeki Wachee North, a 55+ manufactured home community….exactly .87 to .99 miles north of Atlanta Avenue, where property records indicated was once the home of old Fort Dodge.

So, as far as my hopes of locating remnants of Fort Dodge appear to be dashed, but my hunt for information and memorabilia on this lost piece of Florida roadside continues.

I’ll keep you posted.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Old Fort Dodge

Being the roadside archaeologist that I am, I recently found something just a few miles up the road from me that really piqued my interest.

It seems that just over half a century ago, an entrepreneur named Paul Bolstein opened FORT DODGE - a wild west town off US 19 just north of Weeki Wachee Springs. Problem is, it was only in operation for a couple years until the opening of Interstate 75 took all his customers away.

I can find little information on this roadside tourist stop. I did manage to track down one of Mr. Bolstein’s daughters - Paul passed a few years ago, and one of his daughters that did have a lot do to with Fort Dodge passed last year. A day late and a dollar short.

From the information I’ve been able to find, Fort Dodge is either 4, 5, 6 or 8 miles north of Weeki Wachee Springs. My quest now is to find the exact location of this slice of lost Florida Roadside and see if any remnants remain. Until then, here’s an old 8mm film of Fort Dodge in it’s glory days.

If you have any information on Fort Dodge, I’d love to hear about it.

Adventures in Roadside Archaeology - Bullets, a Bunker and WWII

I‘ve lived in Florida going on 18 years. Just about since that time, I’ve driven by this concrete lump down by the local airport every couple months and wondered, “What was that thing?” Today I found out.The US Army established the Brooksville Airport in 1942 when Hernando County was a sparsely populated area. During construction , the Army built this 30 foot replica machine gun bunker. Then, they sent B-17’s up and used this
thing for target practice. In the 75-plus years since, the area has grown by leaps and bounds, but this remnant of WWII still remains.