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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
Just across the Georgia State Line from South Carolina on US Route 301 sits an obscure piece of history.
But first, a bit about US 301.
During it’s mid-century heyday, US 301 was promoted to travelers as “The Shortest Route from Maine to Florida.” Warner Brothers capitalized on the road as a background for their crime movie “Highway 301.” Even “I Love Lucy” had an episode that mentioned US 301. The 12/1955 issue of Man’s Conquest reported 301 thru Charles County Maryland was a “wide open sin strip.” (I’m still looking for that issue…)
Interstate 95 replaced 301 as the main drag to Florida for travelers in the early 1970’s. US 301 became a “local road,” and states relocated their welcome centers along 95.
But not Georgia.
In the town of Sylvania on US 301, the Georgia Visitor Center has been greeting travelers with a smile (and a Coke product of your choice) for the past 60 years.
It’s now the longest continuously operated state welcome center in the USA. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Located on 3 1/2 acres, sporting it’s untouched mid-century architecture, walking trails and too rarely used picnic tables, the Georgia Visitor Center is worth a stop.
Always up for some roadside archaeology, Levi and I went exploring along US 301 in July. It was in South Carolina, we did a quick “drive-by (photo) shooting” in the tiny town of Ulmer SC.
Ulmer is a bit less than 3 square miles in size, the population hovers around 100. If you blink you’ll miss it.
But back in the middle of 20th Century America, Ulmer was a busy stop along US 301 for northerners on their way to and from the Sunshine State.
Owned and operated by Talmage Angle and his wife Virta, the Monticello offered such luxuries as a tile bath, a tub and shower and steam heat…IN EACH ROOM!
In June of 1970, someone at the Monticello was selling a 1960 Cadillac hearse and a set of professional Gretsch drums. I wish there was a photo of that!
Hard times hit South Carolina mom and pop businesses along 301 in the middle of the 1970’s. Interstate 95 was completed thru the state, shortening the trek for Florida bound travelers by an hour and half.
Talmage and Virta? They sold the Monticello Motel and retired to Danville City Virginia. He passed in 1971 at 67 years of age, Virta made it to 90 and passed in 2007.
In later life, the Monticello became the Connelly Motel, with “bikers, hunters and truckers welcomed.”
Since the Connelly closed, time and weather have done their part and the sign out front again advertises the Monticello Motel.
Today, the old gal sits abandoned, waiting for US 301 to get travelers once again.