“I can’t wait to get on the road again/On the road again/Goin’ places that I’ve never been/Seein’ things that I may never see again/And I can’t wait to get on the road again…”
-Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again,” 1980
With Pennsylvania’s long transportation history – from railroads and canals to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the many beautiful bridges throughout the Commonwealth – it’s no surprise that the teams working on the Baseline Survey Project discovered and inventoried a multitude of Pennsylvania’s previously unrecorded roadside resources!
In addition to the automobile transportation related resources that you would probably expect to find along Pennsylvania’s nearly 252,000 miles of public roads – like the Smith Texaco documented in Thompson Township, Wyoming County – three years of baseline surveys captured dozens of mid-century ice cream stands, roadside restaurants, motels and hotels, and even a few roadside sites of religious veneration.
Due to the later 20th Century nature of many of these resources, coupled with their low- and more vernacular- architectural styles, the documentation of these resources as part of the baseline project is a great step towards filling in gaps in information in PA-SHARE – one of the most important goals of the baseline survey effort!
Roadside resources are usually understood to be those places that are “along the way” to somewhere else. Accordingly, a good place to spot a historic roadside resource or attraction is outside of a downtown or city or borough limits. This is a fun contrast to so many other types of historic resources that come through the SHPO since stereotypically high style commercial or residential architecture seems to proliferate in more densely populated areas.
Since roadside resources are found in locations to which you need to drive, Pennsylvania’s rural counties are the ideal place for roadside resources to spring up! Indeed, the baseline survey project has confirmed and reiterated this scenario in Pennsylvania by demonstrating the extent to which counties like Susquehanna, Wyoming, Crawford, Venango, and McKean lead the way in roadside resources during this survey effort!
Looking at all of the completed baseline surveys in comparison, we can see standard patterns for these resources materialize in PA-SHARE data. We can learn, make inferences, and have the data to the confirm expectations we have regarding building typology, cultural expectations for the eras, and our contemporary understanding of at-risk resources. For example, while we know that many roadside ice cream stands and shops were established mid-20th Century, we can start to get an idea of what a common iteration of that building type looked like in Pennsylvania in a number of different counties!
We can see that purpose-built mid-century resources have a strong orientation towards the parking lot with the large facing windows and to the pedestrian approach by having service counters.
Through the types of roadside restaurants dating to the mid-century, we can see a strong emphasis on Americana and rural nostalgia, with restaurants in idealized and purpose-built barn-style structures or with nostalgic business names highlighted by the vernacular architecture of the building, as is the case with the Green Gables Restaurant in New Milford, Susquehanna County.
We can also understand the extent to which certain resource types are at risk. While we know that drive-in theatres have seen decreased visitation and investment in recent decades, the data captured on these resources during the baseline effort gives us the evidence to more fully understand the current situation for these roadside attractions.
Having the PA-SHARE data on these potentially significant places helps SHPO staff research, plan, and advocate for resources that have previously been underrepresented in our understanding of Pennsylvania’s historic landscape! The information collected through survey and submitted to the SHPO comes together to contribute to a powerful research tool that helps everyone understand Pennsylvania’s history better.
If you know of roadside resources – or other meaningful places – that you would like to contribute to the body of knowledge held in PA-SHARE for the public, please contact Elizabeth Shultz at email@example.com or 717-346-9568 to send information!