The sign that once told the motorists that the Skyline Motel was open for business at the top of Buttermilk Hill overlooking U. S. 1 south of Baltimore, is faded now, and the old motel looks abandoned.
Daniel Duffy, 76, and his wife, Dorothy, 66, still live in the part that used to be the office of the motel they bought in 1952 and closed a decade ago.
The financial and psychic expense of modernizing a dying business, whose survival hinged on catering to "locals," was just not worth it to them. Until the day someone makes them an irresistible offer to buy the property, the Duffys live on social security, "a nice, comfortable living" in a ghost motel with their cat and their memories.
The Duffys and their motel are vestiges of yesterday's interstate between Fort Kent, Maine, and Key West, Fla. - U.S. Route 1. The story of Route 1 is the story of America's transition from a slower moving time - when automobile travelers sensed the sights and sounds of every tiny locale as they passed through - to the era of high speed travel along limited access highways. The new interstate devoid of stoplights or bottlenecks, are fast and wide but unlike Route 1, they offer Americans a view of their country with little peripheral vision.
The 33.8 miles of Route 1 between Baltimore and Washington were once a funnel for almost all north-south traffic, the Main Street of the East Coast. "It was a terrific highway," said Mildred Davis, of The Dog House along the road in Elkridge. "I stood in front of the grill and made one foot-long after another . . . It used to be bumper to bumper."
"When the Washington (to Baltimore) Parkway came through (in 1954), you could see the business drop," she said. "When 1.95 (the parallel highway) came through (in 1971), it really dead . . . Sometimes, you can stand in the middle of the boulevard and not get hit."
In its heyday, however, the road was widely damned, as "Bloody Mary" for its horrendous fatality count, and as "Billboard Lane" for its signs. The new expressways that came to replace it were regarded as progress in an era when Americans were highway hungry.
It happened all over the country, as first the "parkways" of the '40s and '50s and then the interstate highways of the 60s and '70s marched across the land. In their wake were cow pastures cut in half by bulldozers and concrete, new commercialized cloverleafs with easy on and off access to the non-stop highway, and towns on former routes bypassed and left to wither. Near urban areas, the new highways sometimes became "growth corridors" for new suburbs. But between Baltimore and Washington, they meant mainly a faster passage between the two cities and a way to bypass old U.S. 1.
But on a busy, holiday weekend, when the traffic is backed up for miles on both sides of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, and the parkway and 1.95 are crowded with cars, old U.S. 1 is virtually empty, a road bypassed by time and space.
The phantoms of the '40s and '50s are still there - the abandoned motor courts (Skyline Hotel), Contce Motel, mcClain's, Ridge Rest Cabins), and funny-looking gas pumps that no longer pump, with prices missing or frozen at pre-oil embargo (32.9 cents at the Beltsville Garage.)
In places, the highway cultures of different generations exist side by side, Golden Arches ("Over 23 Billion Served") and Little Taverns ("Buy 'Em by The Bag"). Gone is the dog-shaped building ("One Spot Flea Killer") in Jessup, but surviving are the "One Spot Grocery" named after it, the larger-than-life cow directing motorists to "Farmer Brown's Furniture Barn" in Greenbelt and the neon soldier signaling "Vets Liquor" at Beltsville.
And some semirural patches persist, mostly in spaces north and south of Laurel. It is countryside that was saved from total commercialization by' the Parkway and 1-95 but is now giving way to industrial parks.
A trip between Baltimore and Washington on Route 1 can take 60 minutest or, if one stops to plumb its past and present, six days. Along with the historial sights are the bizarre and incongruous:
The Bonheur Memorial Pet Cemetery, 13 miles south of Baltimore, houses the remains of 7,600 pets, mostly dogs, some cats, a few parakeets, parrots, monkeys, a couple of white rats and a goat. It has been in business since 1935.
The "Cloverleaf Exxon" at Savage stands where there is no cloverleaf, although one has been on the drawing boards for a decade to ease Route 32 traffic over U.S. 1. Highway officials promise one will be built eventually.
A drydock boatyard is nearby on state-owned property acquired for the cloverleaf but designated "Private Property" - No Trespassing." On this hillside, hobbyists like Ken Joseph toil away at building half a dozen "ferro-concrete" sailboats up to 52 feet long.
"The simple thing is just to go out and buy one," says Joseph, a retired NASA computer manager." But if you want a lifetime project and to build a huge, monumental thing, you get a great deal of satisfaction and the boat as a byproduct."
Further south, past Whiskey Bottom Road (named for whiskey barrels rolled down its path to the Patuxent River or for bottleggers fleeing from the police on U.S. 1, depending on which local legend you believe) is another monument of sorts. It is North Laurel Antiques, remembered by oldtimers as Rockaway Towers, a restaurant-nightclub with a large upstairs gambling house until 35 state troopers descended on the place in the 1940s with a school bus for a paddy wagon. Now, the upstairs is given over to brica-a-brac clutter with no sign of its colorful past.
A trip into the past on Route 1 reveals how much our expectations, our standard of living, our lifestyles have changed within memory.
"In those days," said Morris Pet, the 67-year-old proprietor of the Cedar Motel, built in the early 1940s, "a motel room consisted of a bed, a chair and egg (coal) stove for heat. It didn't even have a radio and very seldom you'd see air-conditioning. They had a bathroom outside the building, one for men, one for women."
The Cedar Motel is still "not modernized." Compared to $3 a night in the '40s, its rates today are only $6 for two people. It is the cheapest motel on Route 1 between Baltimore and Washington.
The Cedar was among the few white-owned motels that did not discriminate against blacks during the not too distant days of Route 1's segregationist past, "We didn't have that much to offer so whoever came got a room here," explained Morris Pet.
Motels open to blacks usually advertised the fact with a "Colored" sign out front.
Those signs were visible on Route 1 as recently as late 1965. They are gone now, of course, along with three of the black motels, and some of the white ones that closed rather than integrate.
Up the road a mile or less from the Cedar Motel, Mary McClain sits under the shade of a large sycamore tree on a hill overlooking the highway, her dog Duke resting under a picnic table. A strikingly dignified black woman of 69, she was once the proprietor, with her late husband Luther B. McClain Sr., of McClain's Motel and Restaurant.
The 12 units they built in 1949 have been mostly unused since her husband died mine years ago. But when McClain's was open, she said, "The black people traveling, found a place to stop . . ." The restaurant is also closed, although upstairs rooms are rented to four tenants. It was a good-sized restaurant remembered by several blacks familiar with Route 1's past as Mrs. McClain describes it: "the best place to eat."
Gone, along with McClain's, are the Muirkirk Inn its cabins razed and its soul food turned Mexican, and Bass's Motel, closed since the mysterious fatal shooting last fal of owner Lee Bass.
Surviving are Hall's Motel ("Radio-Bath-TV), still serving a largely black clientele, in Elkridge, and, south of McClain's, the Log Cabin, a truck stop catering mostly to blacks with its menu of chitterlings, maws and ribs.
The clientele at the Log Cabin, drawn by word of mouth from the interstate, includes a smattering of Whites. The mood is relaxed as truckers and waitresses exchange banter and smiles.
Racial tension remains, however, a largetly subtle undercurrent of life along Route 1.
At the Econo-Travel Motor Hotel in Elkridge, proprietor Jim Miliner, Jr. deals with night customers only through a glass shield, a microphone and a metal money drop. "Washington niggers and Baltimore niggers - you're right in the middle of them, have to keep them out somehow," Miliner said, adding, "It's not our black customers. They're fine. It's the people sitting out there on unemployment."
Several of the motel owners and merchants along Route 1 speak of isolated incidents that have occured on the highway as if they constitue a crime wave. State police at the Waterloo Barracks sharply dispute such suggestions. They are more likely to be faced, as they were one recent afternoon, with a Greyhound bus driver's request for help with a drunk who missed his stop.
Route 1, between Baltimore and Washington has its own family motel dynasties, three in particular whose members own nine places. With few exceptions, the motels on Route 1 are family-run.
They are an independent breed, these motel managers. Take John T. Baltzell, for example. He opened the original 30 units of Colonial Plaza, just north of what later became the Capital Beltway, on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, and he's still at it.
Now 80, Baltzell was then a newsreel cameraman for Pathe assigned to the White House. It was a career that began in the Harding era and ended in 1943 with his firing "because I was here when I was supposed to be in Pittsburgh on a story."
Over the years, Baltzell has filled his 10 acres with more buildings to hold church, school and scout groups from around the country. Over 100 can reside in "dormettes," tiny tentshaped closets with cots located inside the skating rink Baltzell built in 1958 and closed in 1963 when the Beltway ramp blocked the entrance.
For regular overniters, rates are comparable to other older motels, but groups pay only $3 or $4 per night per person.
"We are fully aware that we are not a Hilton Hotel or a Holiday Inn," Baltzell wrote group leaders. "There have been many offers to buy Colonial Plaza, all refused. We realize that if we sell, our 'pet' dormitories will be quickly replaced by a group of highrise apartments or a multi-story motel with skyhigh rates. Our low cost, budget accommodations will be no more."
James Oremland runs the high-rise, higher-cost Holiday Inn of Columbia, which is actually 4.5 miles east in Jessup at the intersections of Routes 175 and 1.
"I have a lot of energy," he said over coffee and rolls one morning. "I work 65 to 70 hours a week. I feel fortunate because this is what I enjoy."
Oremland is unhappy that billboards are banned from the interstate but thankful for referrals from the information trailers at two 1-95 rest stops near Laurel. Despite Route 1's decline, his business is booming, he said, from conferences held in Columbia and Baltimore and from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.
At Oremland's Holiday Inn, you can buy daily newspapers from both Baltimore and Washington, an opportunity that does not stretch the length of the rood. As the stations fade in and out over the car radio, somewhere on U.S. 1 between the two cities, their spheres of influence separate.
Reflecting a basic difference in the two areas, the $27-$33 room rate of the Holiday Inn of Columbia-Jessup places it at the cheap end of a Washington hotel directory but ranks it among Baltimore's more expensive.
"We don't get the kind of people who go to the Holiday Inn unless everthing's filled up," said Peter Koutiz, who manages College Park's Hillcrest Motor Court ("Low Daily Rate, Weekly Rate $45" with a special five-hour rate "for travelers who wish to clean up or nap.").
"Couples shacking up - that's about what you have," said Ralph Sacker, 56, owner of the aged Hillside Motel in Elkridge.
Motel operators on Route 1 who aspire to a classier clientele derisively refer to a classier clientele derisively refer to Baltzell's Colonial Plaza as the "Beltsville Recreation Center." This does not seem to bother its owner, "Like they say on Capitol Hill, I don't care what you say about me but say something," he said. Wrote an anonymous patron last December:
"I have just lost a very dear friend - someone who filled a need in my life and lifted my spirits physically, mentally and emotionally. We met late in life, and had families, and wanted to hurt no one . . . You were all the 'home' we had together - a place to be alone for the few hours we could take from the lives we were patterned in to . . . I thank you for providing the service you do. Look gently on those who come there. It may mean more to them than you ever realize."
Diagonally across Route 1 from Baltell's complex, the Del Haven White louse Cottage requires "positive identification of all local guests," to keep out prostitutes and "shack-ups," according to the desk clerk. "We'll gladly rent to local people if they're man and wife," he explains. "It's not discrimination. It's a class rule."
Up and down the highway, sometimes hidden from view, are the early overlooked bits and piecees of Route 1 nostalgia.
In College Park, at 8141 Baltimore Ave., there are half a dozen cottages now used only for storage where, originally there were built in 1935 behind Long's Liquor State. Further south, at 7200 Baltimore Ave., a 77-room Quality Inn has supplanted the Lord Calvert Auto Court (20 cottages, two with bath, free parking and room rates from $2.50 to $3, according to the 1946 Duncan Hines book). Only the name of the Quality's Lord Calvert Room recalls, to the congnoscenti, the location's former life.
In the jessup strip north of Laurel, there are motel units now rented as apartments in front of the Maple Village Trailer Park, and Oliver's Rental Properties (next door) at 8229 Washington Blvd.
They are nine, one-room, white-frame cabins, some with tidy little gardens, renting for no more than $75 a month with rarely any turnover.
Their builder, a meat cutter nu trade, was widely known as "Judge" Thomas F. Oliver because he also served as a judical commissioner to whom police brought out-of-staters charged with traffic offenses. His widow, Myrtle Oliver, continues to keep a watchful eye on the cabins from her adjacent house.
"We started with overnight cabins - that seemed to be what everyone was doing to make a living up here - but it was too much work," said Oliver. Now, she is just hanging on, "trying to stay here since my husband passed away."
The plight of the Route 1 residents who remain is apparent in many of the 16 trailer parks that dot the highway's landscape between Baltimore and Washington. Many if not most of the residents are, like Mrs. Oliver, hard-pressed to keep up with the forces of changing times.
"I know that what it's like to struggle," said 76-year-old Frances Pfister, who presides over Pfister's Mobile Home Park. She and her late husband emigrated in 1923 from Germany to Baltimore, where they owned a grocery and meat market. After World War II, Paul Pfister's poor health sparked a move to the the then "widerness" potion of Route 1 morth of Laurel where they raised chickens before opening the park in 1948.
Today, rent for a trailer space at Pfister's is no more than $64 a month. Several retired tenants on fixed income pay much less. "I can't kick them out," says Frances Pfister. "If we send them out, where will they go?"
Some truckers still drive U.S. 1, like Michael Fisher, 29, one of about 200 drivers who regularly haul cargo to the Jones Trucking Co. terminal between laurel and Baltimore.
he carries "everything" you can imagine, exept explosives" between his home base of Lebanon, Pa. and the terminal, where goods area unloaded for area distribution by other truckers.
While the 18-wheelers are being emptied, the truckers stay at places like the Terrace Motel or the Tip-Top Motor Court (which features ceiling mirrors in some rooms), both in Elkridge. The companies pick up the tab, giving the old motels a new lease on life.
South of Laurel, there are no trucking terminals and even the $5 a night bed isn't sufficient to lure the longhaul traffic from 1-95 to the "Transit-Truck Center" at Contee.
When it opened in 1950, there was no other road, and it boomed on both sides of Route 1. Now, the north-bound truck stop has been replaced by Academy Ford, and business on the southbound side has "dropped quite a bit" since 1.95 opened, according to Steve Manessis who owns the restaurant portion.
One U.S. 1 in Maryland began at rural Symar on the Mason-Dixon line as Old Baltimore Pike and ended, some 85 miles later, as Baltimore Avenue in Colmar Manor, at the D.C. border. In between, it's called Belair Road, Washington Boulevard or Avenue, Baltimore Boulevard or Avenue and, at various points simply Route 1.
The road officially became U.S. 1 in 1925 but north of Baltimore it ceased being an interstate thoroughfare in the early 1940s when U.S. 40, which follows the western shore of Chesapeake Bay, was built.
Before the Harbor Tunnel opened in 1957, travelers were forced to thread through grimy, row house Baltimore, largely unchanged today despite substantial redevelopment in other parts of the city.
The parkway that promised non-stop travel to motorists did not come without a fight from the Route 1 merchants who formed the Baltimore Washington Boulevard Association to oppose it. "All they would talk about in the papers was how dangerous it was on Route 1," remembers Bessie Morell, who opened the Honeymoon Gift Shop she still operates at Route 1 and 32 in 1936, whent the road "hasn't been asphalted too long."
When the merchants lost the battle against the parkway, they regrouped and tried without success to have trucks permitted on the new highway, to make the old road once againattractive to cars. They even put up signs on U.S. 40 above Baltimore that said "Follow Historic Route 1" and managed, for a while anyway, to have the Harbor Tunnel tolltakers distribute U.S. 1 flyers.
Oldtimers still refer to Route 1 northound through Laurel as "the by-pass."
The coming of the actual bypass in 1952 left at island populated by trailer parks and various businesses facing streams of cars on both sides. The bypass literally cut the Valencia Motel in half, making life especailly difficult for the maids who had to dash across the highway.
To venture across old Route 1 on foot was almost suicial and driving it wasn't much better. In 1951, before the Parkway opened, 44 people died in auto wrecks. Last year, on U.S. 1 between Baltimore and Washington, there were 15 highway fatalities.
While local commuter traffic near Washington continues to make that portion of U.S. 1 hazardous to cars and pedestrians, traffic statistics up and down the highway underscore the decline of Route 1 as the primary north-south artery. In 1953, the year before the parkway opened, a daily average of 25,000 cars was clocked on Route 1. Last year the count was 15,700 at Waterloo and 22,400 at Greenbelt. Interstate 95, meanwhile, carried about 45,000 cars daily at both locations, followed by 36,500 cars on the parkway.
The decline of Route 1 has solved the billboard problem that once evoked the wrath of esthetic-minded editorial writers. There are now considerably in 1934 between Baltimore and Washington, and even a couple of empties, including one above Muirkirk that for months has cried out: "Look: I'm Available."
At both ends of the highway, old Route 1 has been renamed Alternate 1. while the newer four lane South-western Boulevard out of Baltimore and Rhode Island Avenue from Hyattsville into Washington bear the official U.S. 1 designation. At the District line, when the parkway opened, Baltimore Avenue became an extension of Bladensburg Bead NE to the Peace Cross erected at Bladensburg in 1926 to honor the World War 1 dead.
Along yesterday's interstate, the going was often much, much slower, Traffic backed up not only from accidents but also from flash flooding at such places as Peace Cross, where control of the Anacostia River and its branches became a political issue in teh 1940s.
There were also grade crossing to contend with, like the one over the B & O Railroad tracks in Hyattsville before they were bridged in 1929, A steep, twisting bridge today. It was a widely hailed "grade separation" when built.
But it was not hailed by everybody. "My father hated that bridge," said Margaret Bowers Bright, 59, from behind a desk at Anath J. Bright Realtors, 6001 Baltimore Ave. "It ruined Hyattsville, divided it in half . . . That bridge made it into a no town."
Across the railroad tracks and south of Peace Cross, most of the landmarks are gone now, fallen to the urban renewal bulldozers of Colmar Manor. Until only a few years ago, however, there were nine bars between Fort Lincoln Cemetery and Berk Motley's Sirloin Room.
"In those days," recalled Earnest (Mike) Mulligan, Colmar Manor's 67-year old police chief, 'the District bars stopped selling whiskey Saturdays at midnight, while the bars here stayed midnight, while the bars here stayed open until 2 a.m. Around 11 p.m., people started coming over. During World War II, there waslligan remembers, too, Jimmy's Place, right on the D.C. line in Maryland and just outside his jurisdiction. The club owned by James A. LaFontaine before his death gambling house between Saratoga, N.Y. and Miami, Fla. An Exxon station stands on the site today. There is no historial plaque.
The older people remember LaFontaine as sort of a benevolent rogue. "During the Depression, he died a lot for people in this community," Mulligan said. "If people needed a ton of coal or groceries, he provided them, which you wouldn't get from bankers in those days. You got to give the devil his due." And the same could be said, too, fro old U.S. Route 1.