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Where we're always on the road, and it's always 1962! ™

THE ROADTRIP-'62 ™ BLOG

I'm heading down a new road, so to speak. Instead of the long articles relating a roadtrip down a complete highway, I'll now be posting much shorter articles. And the scope will be wider, covering just about everything from the year 1962. This should allow me to post more often, and allow you to have more fun reading. I'm not sure just how often I will post something, but this page will always show the five most recent articles, with the newest at the top. Older articles will be archived at the Blog Archives page. I may even include articles from other people, so if you have something to say about 1962, please let me know. Topics will cover:

  • 1962 News of the World
  • 1962 News of the Nation
  • 1962 Local News
  • 1962 in Sports
  • 1962 in Entertainment and the Arts (including movies, TV, music, art, fashion, architecture, design, books, comics, and more)
  • 1962 in Science
  • Cars of 1962
  • Consumer Products and Retail in 1962 (including just about anything you could buy, plus the stores you could buy it in)
  • On the Road in 1962 (road and roadtrip topics, including things I typically covered on my long journeys)
  • More Fun From 1962! (everything else that sounds like fun, like special events and more pop culture)

 

Powering the Nation in 1962

November 27, 2018

 

This week Roadtrip-'62 ™ will take a quick look at some news about the supply of electricity in 1962 across the United States.

 
Indian Point Energy Center, Buchannan, New York
Indian Point Energy Center, Buchannan, New York (Photo by Daniel Case at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

We weren’t worried about global warming or carbon dioxide emissions back in 1962, so few “green” improvements to our electricity systems were made. The major change in air pollution sources of that time was in the coming use of nuclear power for electrical generation. A report from the Atomic Energy Commission (forerunner of today’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission) estimated that by the year 2000, nearly half of the United States’ electricity would be generated by nuclear power. The actual percentage was only about 20% by 2017, showing that the use of nuclear power was far too optimistically viewed back in 1962. They had good reasons though. For example, the first power generated by plutonium instead of uranium went online that year. This was a good development because it meant that low grade uranium and thorium ores not suitable for reactor use could be upgraded in existing reactors to a useable fuel, plutonium. Additionally, the nations first nuclear reactor operated by consumer-owned utility went online in 1962, at Hallam, Nebraska. It was one of eight plants began producing power that year; five of them constructed by the Atomic Energy Commission under their demonstration program. These included the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchannan, New York, which we passed on Day 6 of our US-6 roadtrip. Everyone was so smitten by atomic power that Con-Ed was drawing up plans for a nuclear reactor right in New York City!

 
United States coal consumption, 1948-2008
United States coal consumption, 1948-2008 (Public domain image from US Energy Information Administration.) Red line is electrical power generation, showing decline in recent years.

But instead of nuclear power, burning coal has continued to be the largest source of our electricity. In 1960, we burned 176,685,000 short tons of coal for our power. Though we are declining from the peak use in 2007, we still use 664,749,000 short tons today, or close to four times as much coal as in 1960. Coal-fired plants currently produce about 30% of our electricity, with 32% coming from natural gas, about 7.5% from hydropower at dams, and other renewable sources providing 9.5%. I have said a lot more about coal on my ”Ol’ King Coal” page, so I won’t repeat it here. I could not find any evidence of wind or solar power for electricity generation, but one minor source of renewable energy was tapped in 1962; natural geothermal steam from geysers. Pacific Gas & Electric had two plants in production in northern California.

Hydroelectric generation was the only other major source of “green” power in 1962. Annual production of hydroelectric power reached about 190 billion kilowatt-hours in 1962, which is more than double the hydroelectric power production of 1950. This is because the two decades from 1951-1970 were the peak for completion of new dams in the United States. During 1962, 37 dams were completed, though not all were for electricity generation. Below is a sampling of the hydroelectric dams completed that year. The largest owner and operator of hydroelectric power plants in the United States today is the US Army Corps of Engineers. They oversee 75 plants with nearly a third of the nation's total hydropower output.

 
Walter F. George Lock and Dam, Chattahoochee River, Alabama and Georgia
Walter F. George Lock and Dam, Chattahoochee River, Alabama and Georgia (Public domain photo from the US Army Corps of Engineers.)

The Corps of Engineers completed the Walter F. George Dam and Lake on the Chattahoochee River between the states of Alabama and Georgia. The lake is sometimes referred to as Lake Eufaula and extends 85 miles along the border. Highway US-82 crosses the lake on a causeway at Eufaula, Alabama, just north of the midpoint, and US-421 runs along the Alabama side.

Heading north, the Tuckertown Dam was built by the former Carolina Aluminum Company on the Yadkin River in North Carolina to produce power for aluminum smelting. It is one of four dams in the Alcoa Yadkin Project, so named because Alcoa Aluminum took over from the former company. Alcoa Power Generation owns most of the land surrounding the lake, which is still mostly undeveloped. The site is about 6 miles east of US-52 from Richfield, North Carolina.

Leesville Lake was constructed by the Appalachian Power Company on the Roanoke River in Virginia. It is a pumped storage facility, which actually uses power to pump water uphill to nearby Smith Mountain Lake during periods of low power usage. Then, during hours of peak demand, the power plant produces hydroelectric by normal downriver flow. Consequently, the lake experiences water level fluctuations of 1 to 10 feet per day! It’s located about 5 miles off US-29, southwest of Alta Vista, Virginia.

Sebec Lake was completed Bangor Hydro-Electric Co on the Sebec River in Maine. This is a small facility, with a dam only 15 feet high and a generating capacity of 867 KW. In addition to providing some power, this dam provides an important barrier to invasive species, preventing them from reaching upstream areas. Peaks-Kenny State Park is on the south shore of the lake and is located about 30 miles west of US-2 from Howland, Maine and 35 miles east from US-201 at Bingham, Maine. It was still privately owned in 1962.

 
Gianelli Powerhouse at San Luis Dam, Los Banos, California
Gianelli Powerhouse at San Luis Dam, Los Banos, California (Photo by Kjkolb at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the .)

Dams generally take a long time to build. San Luis Dam (also known as the B. F. Sisk Dam) in California began with a groundbreaking ceremony in August of 1962. It was not completed until 1968 and was filled for the first time in 1969. At the groundbreaking ceremony near Los Banos, California, 15,000 people gathered to watch President John F. Kennedy and California Governor Pat Brown give the signal that detonated the first explosive charges at the site. The dam is the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States, meaning that much of the water it holds is pumped in from streams that do not run through this valley. It is an example of a multi-purpose dam, with a main purpose of capturing and redistributing water for agriculture, and only a secondary purpose of electricity generation. San Luis Dam is unusual because it has another, smaller reservoir located directly in front of it, the O'Neill Forebay. Water from this reservoir is pumped uphill for storage behind San Luis Dam during periods of low demand and released to generate additional electricity during periods of high demand.

Natural Gas was also a significant source of electric power generation in 1962, supplying about 25%. The major decline in power production has been in oil-fired plants, which accounted for about 33% of electricity in 1962 and almost none today. Oil just became too expensive to burn because it is used for so many other things, like our Roadtrip-'62 ™ journeys! See you next time on the road.

 
Reddy Kilowatt coloring book
Reddy Kilowatt coloring book "The Wonder-World of Electricity", 1966. (Photo from Jordan Smith, The Cardboard America Archives, used by permission.) Reddy Kilowatt was the face of electricity throughout the 1950s and 1960s, often seen in promotional items from your local electric company.
 
 

Fun Sites on a US-19 Road Trip

November 13, 2018

 

Like our US-23 trip, US-19 travels from an inland sea, to the ocean. Highway US-19 runs about 1386 miles, from Lake Erie at Erie, Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico at Memphis, Florida. The highway was extended to its southern terminus of Memphis in 1954, when the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened. It has had essentially this same route since, so we would have seen the same places in 1962. Like many of these old roads, most of the route from Eire to near Waynesville, North Carolina has been paralleled by interstate freeways. But unlike many, it has not been shortened: the US-19 signing remains up. This is another highway that splits into east and west segments, which Roadtrip-'62 ™ discussed for route US-11. The segments of US-19E and US-19W occur in Tennessee and North Carolina. To make matters more confusing for following the route, there is also a US-19ALT in North Carolina.

 
New beach house, Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania, late 1950s postcard
New beach house at Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania, late 1950s (postcard from online auction)

Highway US-19 begins south of downtown Erie, Pennsylvania, at US-20. A place we could have enjoyed in town in 1962 is Presque Isle State Park, about 5 miles west of the end of US-19. It was established as a state park in 1921, using lands that had largely been used in public service for over two centuries. During colonial times, the land was home to forts of the French, British, and finally the Americans. During the War of 1812, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's Great Lakes fleet was partly constructed and based here. In 1873, one of three navigation lights was built, with a red brick house for the lightkeeper’s residence. Today, the Presque Isle Light is still operated by the United States Coast Guard, flashing its light to warn ships of the sandy Presque Isle peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. The lighthouse is open to public tours during the summer months. The peninsula is mostly sand, and is constantly being reshaped by waves and wind. Since the 1950s, it has also been significantly reshaped by man by dredging in the adjacent bay. This work expanded the park with 3 million square yards of dredged sand, giving the park a pleasure boat marina. Other park facilities were constructed and a nature preserve set aside in 1957, so we would have seen a new park in 1962. The claim to fame of Presque Isle State Park is the beaches: they are Pennsylvania's only surf beaches!

 
Junction signs for US-6, US-6N, US-19, Mill Village, Pennsylvania
Junction signs for US-6, US-6N, and US-19 near Mill Village, Pennsylvania

Our US-6 roadtrip met US-19 just west of Mill Village, Pennsylvania. As the two routes traveled together for the next 23 miles to the outskirts of Meadville, Pennsylvania, you can read about it on those pages. We visit Cambridge Springs to stop at National Wildlife Refuge, Saegertown for lunch at Eddie’s Footlong Hot Dogs, and Meadville, home of Channellock pliers and tools.

 
Tulip display, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsyalvania
Tulip display at entrance to Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsyalvania (Publicity photo from Phipps Conservatory, by Paul Wiegman.)

North of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US-19 splits off a truck route, US-19 TRUCK, which joins the I-279 freeway for some distance. Both US-19 and US-19 TRUCK travel through the west side of Pittsburgh. The routes cross over each other just south of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and then rejoin south of the city in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. To see some great gardens and art, leave US-19 and head east into town. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was opened in 1893 and encompasses 15 acres, including a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct garden areas. The original building was presented as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh from philanthropist Henry W. Phipps. Many of the original plants came from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago when that exhibit closed. Besides plants, there is also artwork including sculptures, chandeliers and more. The orchid collection is wonderful, with plants I never would have guessed were orchids because they don’t all fit the typical types you can buy at your local nursery. The room known today as the East Room was known as the Cascade Garden in 1962, when it featured a cascade of water in a channel of step-sized drops surrounded by cascades of flowered terraces. And, not only are the interior and exterior gardens beautiful, but the site occupies the edge of a hill overlooking the Panther Hollow valley and a historic neighborhood on the other side.

 
New River Gorge Bridge and walkway, Virginia
New River Gorge Bridge and walkway down to bottom of gorge (No, I didn’t walk all the way down there!)

Continuing south, US-19 crosses West Virginia. Near the middle of the state it crosses the New River on the New River Gorge Bridge, the world’s fourth longest single-span steel arch bridge. The bridge was opened in 1977 and the New River Gorge National River recreation area below it was established in 1978. Obviously, both are too new for our 1962 journey. What we can see in the area though, are remains from the coal mining towns along the river that were here back around 1962. To do that, we need to take old US-19, which today is WV-41. Before the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed, US-19 followed the very roundabout route of today’s WV-41 between Mt. Nebo, West Virginia and Beckley, West Virginia. The old road crossed a bridge near water level at Prince, which is still open today. The bridge was built in 1931 and operated as a toll bridge until 1946. So if you want, you can add an extra 10 miles of slow, winding but very scenic, 2-lane roads, and travel the way we would have in 1962.

We can visit three of the coal mining ghost towns along old US-19 in the New River Gorge: Quinnimont, Prince, and Terry. The main line of the C&O Railroad was completed through the gorge in 1873, and the first shipment of coal left Quinnimont later that year. Quinnimont was the first mining town of New River Gorge. At its height of about 500 inhabitants, the town had two churches and two schools, due to the segregation of its black and white communities. The New River Gorge once had over 60 coal mining camps or towns, approximately one every 1/2 mile along the gorge. But by the 1950s, most of these coal towns were abandoned due to the closing of the mines they were built to support. The coal mine at Kaymoor was one of the largest and most productive, and therefore hung on longer. Even it closed in 1962. At Quinnimont, today we can see the CSX railroad yards, the two formerly segregated church buildings, remnants of the iron furnace, and a granite monument to honor Colonel Joseph Beury as the first mine operator to ship coal from the New River fields.

 
Railroad bridge over New River, Prince, West Virginia
Railroad bridge over New River at Prince, West Virginia (Public domain photo from National Park Service.)

Prince still has an Amtrak station, the former C&O Railroad brick station opened in 1946. It is an acclaimed example of the Art Moderne style of architecture. Old US-19 (WV-41) is one of the few major automobile routes crossing the New River within the New River Gorge. As a result, the community is one of the more populous of the inhabited communities in the gorge. A relatively large number of vacation homes have been built along the New River near Prince. Prince dates to 1870, built at a junction of a railroad branch line. It grew in the 1890s, when the Royal mining company built a tipple and a battery of 78 coke ovens. No mine was here, but coal was transported from a mine on the other side of the New River to the tipple in buckets suspended on a wire cable that spanned the New River. The town occupied one of the best locations for a town, and its general store, the Prince Store, outlasted all other company stores in the New River Gorge, closing in 1984.

 
odd numbered US-routes, Tennessee and North Carolina, showing US-19
Tangle of odd numbered US-routes crossing Tennessee and North Carolina, showing US-19 crossing all the others. (Custom map by Milne Enterprises, Inc.)

At Abingdon, Virginia, we hit US-11. Generally, we should not cross other north-south, odd-numbered routes, but these mountains have limited good locations for roads. As a consequence, we cross a couple others in a short distance, running along with US-11E to Johnson City, Tennessee. Near Bluff City, Tennessee, US-19 splits into two, with US-19E heading south through Elizabethton, Tennessee and then North Carolina. We traveled most of US-19W on our US-23 roadtrip because it meets US-23 just north of Johnson City. You can read about that section, running to southwest of Erwin, Tennessee, on that page. Highway US-19W then finally crosses into North Carolina and the two parts of US-19 reunite near Bald Creek. Shortly after, we meet US-23 again. This time it stays with us for the next 41 miles, all the way to Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Highway US-19E covers about 76 miles between the division points, while US-19W covers only 63 miles. Confusing? That’s why I have the map above.

 
Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee, North Carolina
Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina

At Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, US-19 leaves US-23 while US-19A travels with it to Dillsboro, North Carolina. You can read about that portion on Day 14 of our US-23 roadtrip. I’m traveling US-19 to one of my favorite places, Cherokee, North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cherokee sits just a few miles from the main park entrance on the south side of the mountains, and provides easy access to many of the most scenic spots. Excellent hiking, mountain vistas, waterfalls, a working grist mill, and a pioneer farm museum are just a few of the sites in the park that you can visit from Cherokee. The Cherokee Tribe also hosts several tourist attractions, including the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and an outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, which debuted in 1950. There are also some souvenir shops and restaurants that have been here since 1962. And, you can even stay in a 1960s era motel if you wish; there are several still in good condition. I’ve read good reviews of the Pink Motel and several years ago I stayed at the Pioneer Motel. If you do stay in town, remember to drive out to either the high school or the pioneer farm museum at twilight to see the local elk herd!

 
Nantahala River, Patton’s Run Overlook, Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina
Nantahala River from Patton’s Run Overlook, Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina

Highway US-19A meets back with US-19 just a few miles west of Cherokee, at Ela, North Carolina. Another favorite spot of mine in these mountains is the Nanthahala Gorge on the Nantahala River, which US-19 travels right through! There are several river rafting outfitters and a wooden observation deck at a waterfall where we enter the gorge on the north end. The Appalachian Trail also crosses the highway at this point. The river has a variety of rapids and cascades for the next nine miles and rafting the white water has become very popular. Our direction on US-19 faces upriver, so we get to watch the rapids and rafters, kayakers, and canoeists heading towards us. Besides the water, I enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by the mountains as we drive. The area is part of the Nantahala National Forest. The National Forest Service operates the Ferebee Memorial Picnic Area on the river near the center of the gorge: I recommend having your picnic there and enjoying the views. If you want a hike, there is a suspension footbridge across the river leading to a trail on the opposite bank. There are several very scenic waterfalls along the unpaved Wayah Road, which runs east from the point where US-19 exits the gorge. I’ve seen fishermen along that part of the river, which has been named one of the 100 Best Trout Streams in America by Trout Unlimited. It is even used for competitions, clinics, and practices held by the US Men's and US Youth National Fly Fishing teams.

The south is the home of overlapping US-numbered routes, and so we hit US-23 once again at Atlanta, Georgia. Route US-19 enters on the north side of the city, passing by the Brookwood Hills Historic District. This is an area of approximately 90 acres and more than 250 residences developed between 1922-1930. The pleasing curvilinear street system was designed by civil engineer O.F. Kauffman clearly shows the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead, with whom Kauffman who had previously worked. The homes are generally large and of brick, in a semi-rural setting, and reflect the full range of early 20th-century architecture including Tudor, Colonial, Neoclassical, Bungalow, and Cottage styles. This beautiful historic district is complimented by a large recreation area and two landscaped entrances to the subdivision. It’s well worth a drive around before you get back onto US-19. We then go through the heart of downtown and leave with US-41 for Florida.

 
Old style US-19 red route marker used in Florida
Old style US-19 red route marker used in Florida (Public domain drawing by Jeff at Wikipedia.)

If we had been traveling in Florida during 1962, we would have seen red US-19 signs. These signs were allowed by the 1956 manual that governs highway signs in the United States, the “Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices”. Only a few state used colored signs, so you may never have seen them. Besides Florida, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Arizona, and Mississippi had a full range of colors, usually a different one for each numbered route. Kansas and Louisiana used green signs for all of their US-numbered routes. By the 1980s, the signing manual had changed, settling on a standard black-and-white sign, and states started phasing out the colored shields. Florida officially ceased producing colored US-route markers in 1993, but old stocks were used until they ran out. The last of the old colored signs were posted in 1996, so you might find a few faded signs somewhere around the state.

A highlight of US-19 in Florida for me is Weeki Wachee Springs. It’s one of Florida’s oldest roadside attractions, entertaining audiences since 1947. The area around the springs was nearly uninhabited in 1946, when former Navy frogman Newton Perry scouted out Weeki Wachee as a good site for a new business. He was interested in the natural springs, one of the deepest natural underwater caverns in the United States. The springs discharges over 117 million gallons of clear, fresh 74-degree water a day. The name is a version of a local Seminole Indian word for little spring or winding river, which may have referred to the Weeki Wachee River that flows from the spring 12 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Though the spring is deep, the area near the surface had been used to dump old cars and other junk. Newton had that cleared out and created a basin in the limestone for performances. He developed the method of breathing from hoses supplied by compressed air, which gave the “mermaids” the appearance of free swimming that would never have been achieved wearing air tanks. He then built the first underwater theater, which had only 18 seats, and found local pretty girls to train in his breathing method.

 

In case you can’t make it to Weeki Wachee, here’s the 1961 video “Beauty in the Deep” showing the performance.

 

After all the preliminary work, Newton had a business. The girls performed much of the same show we could see in 1962 or today. They drank and ate under water, performed ballet moves, and just generally looked good swimming in mermaid and other costumes. In the early days, as an advertising gimmick, the girls would also attract traffic out on US-19 wearing their bathing suits. By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee became one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It was bought in 1959 by the American Broadcasting Co., which operated the ABC television network and had also been the main bankroll for Disneyland! They constructed the current 400 seat theater, moving it deeper underwater to allow greater scope for the underwater shows. ABC also developed themes for the underwater shows with elaborate props, lifts, and music. Performances expanded to storylines such as an underwater circus, mermaids and pirates, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Peter Pan. By the time I first saw Weeki Wachee in the early 1970s, they had eight shows a day, sold-out crowds, and employed 35 mermaids who came from all over the world!

As with many old tourist attractions, eventually tastes changed and so did the attraction. In 1982, Weeki Wachee added a waterpark, Buccaneer Bay. You can now swim in the waters from the springs yourself. You can also go canoeing and kayaking and take a glass-bottom boat tour. The State of Florida purchased the property in 2001 to ensure the preservation of the springs’ freshwater supply and leased it the Florida State Parks to operate in 2008. That brings us just about to the end of US-19, which is just across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south of St. Petersburg, Florida. I guess I’ll watch a Gulf of Mexico sunset now and see you on another Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey down another highway next time.

 
Original Sunshine Skyway Bridge, US-19, Tampa Bay, Florida, circa 1962 postcard
Original Sunshine Skyway Bridge, US-19, Tampa Bay, Florida, circa 1962 (postcard from online auction)
 
 

Inventing the Future in 1962

October 30, 2018

 

As I’m sure you’ve noticed in these articles, a lot of things that happened in 1962 still affect us today. Here’s a few of the inventions from that year that continue to make a big impact today. A few of these innovations were mentioned in the AT&T video at the end of my Roadtrip-'62 ™ post on the Seattle World’s Fair – Century 21 Exposition. At the Bell Pavilion, the company demonstrated call waiting and call forwarding. We take these for granted but they were new ideas in 1962! Also demonstrated were touch-tone phones…remember that nearly all phones were rotary dials back then. Bell also showed a pager, called the Bell Boy. These 8-inch, brick-like devices were not too practical, but they knew the paging concept was important. To use them, the device received a phone call and gave you a tone. You then had to find the nearest phone booth and call the party back, as it was not a cell phone. At least there were pay phone booths everywhere: restaurants, public building lobbies, gas stations, motels, and even street corners. (How else could Clark Kent change to Superman just about anywhere?)

 
Interior, 1962 Chevrolet Impala, with lap safety belts
Interior of 1962 Chevrolet Impala showing old style lap safety belts. (Photo from an online auction.)

One invention of that year has had a major life-saving impact: the familiar 3-point automobile safety belt. While seat belts were first offered by American car manufacturers Nash in 1949, and Ford in 1955, these were simple lap belts with the buckle in the center. This style of belt had serious issues with causing internal injuries during a crash and that is part of why they were not widely adopted. A three-point safety belt had been patented in 1951 by two Americans, but their design still had the buckle in the middle and was not adopted. But in 1962, the United States Patent Office issued Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin a patent for his three-point automobile safety belt. Sweden’s Volvo Car Corporation had hired Mr. Bohlin four years earlier as their first chief safety engineer. One of his first projects was to improve the safety belt. He designed a three-point system in his first year with the company. It significantly reduced injuries by effectively holding both the upper and lower body in place. Volvo introduced it on its cars in 1959 and filed for a US Patent, which was granted three years later.

Unfortunately, the three-year wait between patent filing and grant was not unusual at the time, as we’ll see later. The year 1962 set a new record for patents granted, at 55,000, but the backlog of waiting applications was nearly the same at the end of the year as it was at the beginning, at 200,000. At any rate, Volvo then released the new seat belt design to other car manufacturers, and it is now the worldwide standard. Though the design has been improved over the years, the basic engineering is still Mr. Bohlin’s. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 made seat belts a mandatory feature on all new American vehicles beginning with the 1968 model year. A study done in 1967 of 28,000 accidents found that when used, the lap and shoulder belt combo reduced the risk of injury or death in accidents by as much as 75 percent. It also showed that drivers not wearing belts died in crashes at all speeds, but no one wearing belts in accidents below 60 mph died. Maybe the lower speeds had a lot to do with it, but it’s sometimes amazing that entire families were not wiped out more often in 1962. My family had 6 kids in a car with no seat belts and the youngest one was on my mother’s lap!

 
First integrated circuit, Jack Kilby, 1958, Texas Instruments.
First integrated circuit, created by Jack Kilby in 1958, is comprised of a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium and is only 7/16-by-1/16-inches. (Photo courtesy of Texas Instruments.)

Another thing we take for granted today is the amazing array of small electronic devices. These all use integrated circuits of semiconductor crystals, which did not yet exist before 1962. Some of the basic ideas had been around since 1952, when British radio engineer Geoffrey Dummer formulated the principle of an integrated circuit, but industry had not found a way to use them together. The point was to place electronic components into a solid block with no connecting wires. Transistors had continued to allow devices to become smaller throughout the 1950s, but the reliability of the discrete components in them reached theoretical limits and there was also no improvement in the connections between the components. The breakthrough came in 1958 from three people from three different US companies solving three fundamental problems. Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments patented the principle of integration and created the first prototype integrated circuits. Also that year, Kurt Lehovec of Sprague Electric Company invented a way to electrically isolate the components on a semiconductor crystal. Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor invented a way to connect the components and improved the insulation. Finally, Fairchild Semiconductor created the first operational semiconductor integrated circuit in 1962. But since Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments held the earlier patent, they started a patent war. By the time the case was settled in 1966 through a cross-licensing agreement, the firms of Westinghouse, Raytheon, Hughes Aircraft, and even NEC of Japan had engaged in the battle. Many other firms have since licensed the technology and many others produced integrated circuits (ICs) without licensing, so that now almost everything we pick up has some ICs inside.

 
Kentucky Fired Chicken ad, Kenny King’s Family Restaurants, Elyria, Ohio, 1962
Kentucky Fired Chicken in ad for Kenny King’s Family Restaurants, Elyria, Ohio, 1962 (Photo from Dan Brady at Brady's Lorain County Nostalgia, used by permission.)

One of my wife’s favorite patents from 1962 is for Kentucky Fired Chicken! More technically, though Colonel Harland Sanders had been producing his chicken since 1940, he didn’t file for a patent until 1956. He filed the 1962 application to improve on the method, as the original patent had not yet been granted due to government backlog. To quote the application, “Generally the process contemplates the deep-fat frying of chicken under accurately controlled conditions of temperature, pressure, time, sizes of serving pieces, and amount and composition of breading used, for the purpose of producing superior taste, texture and appearance in the finished product.” It turns out that cooking chicken this way is rather complicated, due to the need to control the temperature, pressure, and moisture content all at the same time. It is still actually fried, as it is cooked in grease, and the method locks in juices and prevents the coating from drying out.

Other food ideas from 1962 include the Taco Bell restaurant chain. The first location was opened by founder Glen Bell in Downey, California. It was a walk-up window food stand with outdoor seating. Due to its small size and lack of drive-thru service, it closed in 1986. Other entrepreneurs have since used it for their taqueria shops over the years, but it’s been vacant since 2014. Due to development plans, Taco Bell moved the building to a new location at corporate headquarters 45 miles away in Irving, California in 2015. Both Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell are now owned by the same corporation, Yum! Brands, Inc., which also owns Pizza Hut. And even Pizza Hut has a 1962 connection. The Hawaiian pizza, a generic food that was also created in 1962, is served at Pizza Huts. In fact, you can get pineapple on your pizza almost anywhere, but the idea was not well received when Greek-Canadian Sam Panopoulos first served it at his Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. He had experience in preparing Chinese dishes, which often mixed sweet and savory flavors, and had pineapple in his restaurant, so he experimented with adding pineapple to a pizza. The Hawaiian pizza has stabilized as including ham, though other variations exist.

 
Post Crispy Critters cereal box, 1962
Post Crispy Critters cereal box from 1962, the year it was introduced. (Photo from Post advertising.)

McDonald’s entry into the food history of 1962 is the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. It was the first non-hamburger sandwich served at McDonald’s. It was created by a franchisee in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lou Groen. His restaurant was located in a heavily Catholic neighborhood and his business fell off greatly on Fridays, when Catholics did not eat meat. So he searched for something else to serve them and settled on fish after noting other restaurants in the area that did alright on Fridays by serving fish. Mr. Groen experimented and settled on a breaded halibut patty, which he presented to Ray Kroc of McDonald’s management. They argued over the new menu item and Mr. Kroc had Mr. Groen find a lower priced fish. Atlantic cod was substituted, with Mr. Groen adding a slice of cheese for extra flavor. Mr. Kroc agreed to have a contest to see if the product would sell, pitting it against his own creation of the Hula Burger, which consisted of a slice of pineapple on a cold bun. (Was everyone getting a discount on pineapple in 1962?) The Filet-O-Fish won handily, selling over 350 sandwiches on Good Friday of 1962, and has been around ever since. Mr. Groen ended up being a very successful franchise owner, eventually owning 43 franchises by the time he retired in the 1980s.

Our grocery store shelves were also enriched by 1962 introductions. Planters introduced Dry Roasted Peanuts, which were seasoned with their own proprietary spice blend. Post Cereals introduced Crispy Critters, which was a sugar frosted oat cereal with pieces shaped like miniature animal crackers. Later versions had colored animals. The cereal faded in popularity and was eventually withdrawn, perhaps in the 1970s, but an attempt to re-introduce it was made in 1987. I used to drink a lot of PDQ, a granular beverage mix that was also introduced in 1962 by the Krim-Ko Corporation. It differed from products like Nestle’s Quik, which were a powder, in that PDQ dissolved instantly. It originally came in chocolate, but by 1965 they added eggnog flavor, which I loved. It was also great sprinkled on ice cream because it added crunch. Even the candy counter displayed new 1962 creations. Ferrara Pan created Lemonheads in 1962, and later in the year added Apple Heads, Grape Heads and Orange Heads. And the Phoenix Candy Company brought out Now and Later. They made taffy, which tended to melt in summer or become brittle in winder, and the new candy was their way to ship taffy products year round. The name Now and Later was meant to suggest that you could eat some now and save the rest for later.

 
LED replacement tail lights for 1962 Chevrolet Nova
LED replacement tail lights for 1962 Chevrolet Nova (Photo from online advertising.)

Going back to electronics now that we’ve had lunch, dinner, and dessert, the LED was also invented in 1962. The light-emitting diode (LED) is a solid-state, semi-conductor device that directly converts electricity into light. Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the first visible-spectrum LED while employed at General Electric. Scientists had realized that the semiconductors used in transistors emitted light but it was not sharp enough to use for much. Mr. Holonyak’s innovation was to combine the crystal of gallium and arsenic with phosphorous to produce a light in the visible spectrum. That first LED was a red light but yellow and green soon followed. The first major use of these was for calculator and computer displays in the 1970s. Because of the direct conversion of energy, LEDs are the most efficient lighting form, especially as efficiencies have improved over the years. For example, a 60-watt or 100-watt incandescent bulb has an efficacy of 15 lumens per watt but current LED replacement bulbs have an average efficacy of 85 lumens per watt. Additional colors have also been created and replacement of all types of older incandescent lighting really took off after the creation of white LEDs.

Today we think of virtual reality in terms of computers and other electronic gear, but there was work in this field as far back as 1962 and earlier, using other technologies. Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama Machine 1957 and received his patent in 1962 (seems that everyone was backlogged). It was a booth for up to four people that provided the illusion of reality through the use of a 3-D movie projector augmented with smell, stereo sound, seat vibrations, and wind in the hair. The movie projector relied on a special movie camera to create the dual images, similar to the Cinerama system using three cameras and screens that I mentioned in an article on US-16. Mr. Heilig expected his invention to have uses in training, though it never caught on. However, if you’ve been to theme parks, you may have seen some variation on the idea. The Bug’s Life Theater at Disneyland’s California Adventure uses all the elements of Sensorama on a theater-wide basis for its presentation of “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”.

 
corroded 1962 Pepsi can missing pull tab
Corroded 1962 Pepsi can, showing missing pull tab.

It seems like little things we run into everyday were all brand new in 1962! For instance, the pull-ring tab for beverage cans was invented by Alcoa aluminum and first marketed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It evolved into the now-familiar pop-top opening some years later after concerns of all the litter caused by tossing away the pull-rings after they came off the cans. The Philips Company of the Netherlands invented and released the first compact audio-cassette in 1962. Until then, tape recording used large reel-to-reel tapes. The Corning Company invented a chemically strengthened glass it began marketing under the Chemcor brand in 1962. Though it is resistant to breakage, dents, and scratches, it failed to find much of a market until mobile computing devices become popular almost 50 years later. Now modified further, it is known as Gorilla Glass and used on your iPhone. Other 1962 patents include powder coating of metals to replace painting, a sensor for the fat content of bacon to enable accurate slicing of same-weight pieces, and the Wash ‘n Dri. The Wash ‘n Dri was the first of the pre-moistened paper towels folded into a foil packet that let you wash up on the go without a wash cloth and water. These were given away by the thousands to Kentucky Fried Chicken customers to clean up after their Finger Lickin’ Chicken dinners! I guess they were invented just in time.

So, everything around me comes from 1962 somehow! I’ll use my iPhone full of solid state semiconductors and a Gorilla Glass screen to check out fast food restaurant locations, while standing under an LED streetlight, then clean up with a Wash ‘n Dri, and drive away on the next Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey buckled up in a seatbelt, while chomping on Lemonheads and listening to some cassette tapes! What a future!

 
Wash 'n Dry Towelette package, 1962
Wash 'n Dry Towelette package from 1962 (Photo by Allen at Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.)
 
 

Roadtrip to the Beers of Highway US-18

October 16, 2018

 

Continuing the Roadtrip-'62 ™ countdown of US-numbered routes, it’s time to take a peek at highway US-18 today. This east-west highway runs basically through the Great Plains, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Orin, Wyoming. The Milwaukee end is in the same city where US-16 once began. Route US-18 is currently 1,043 miles through mostly farm and cattle country on two-lane roads. But it was 88 miles shorter in 1962, before the west end was extended. The extension was made in 1967, and runs US-18 together with US-20 from Mule Creek Junction to Orin, Wyoming. Why it needed an extension when US-20 already covered the same route is anyone’s guess. The Milwaukee end is unusual because it just ends alone, not at a junction with another numbered highway.

 
Miller High Life beer magazine ad, 1962
Miller High Life magazine ad from 1962

But we’re looking at beer brewers along US-18, and there is no better place to begin than at Milwaukee. The city’s Major League Baseball team isn’t called the Brewers for nothing! Milwaukee was known as the “Beer Capital of the World” and was home to four of the country’s largest brewers in 1962: Schlitz, Blatz, Miller, and Pabst. The other large-scale brewer with national distribution was Annhauser-Busch, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Miller was still growing at the time, having purchased the Milwaukee's Best brand in 1961 when they bought out the local Gettelman Brewing Company. In case you’re wondering about the city’s namesake beer, Old Milwaukee Beer, it was not made by a separate brewery, but was brewed by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. It originated in 1849 and was withdrawn from the market for many years, coming back in 1955.

 
1962 steel Pabst Beer can, flat top, punched opening
1962 soldered steel Pabst Beer can with flat top, punched opening (photo from online auction)

Milwaukee’s beer making history goes back to at least 1844, before the city was even incorporated. That year, Jacob Best opened his brewery, which became the Pabst Brewing Company in 1889. It was renamed after Frederick Pabst, who had married Best’s daughter years earlier, purchased a 50% stake in the company, and later became president. By 1874 Phillip Best Brewing Co. was the nation's largest brewer, and they hadn’t even introduced what would become their best seller, Best Select. The beer was introduced in 1875 and became Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer in a marketing move in the 1890s. It turns out that the beer never actually won a blue ribbon, but during the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Pabst had blue ribbons tied around his Best Select so it would stand out from other beers. People began identifying it as the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Pabst wisely renamed it to capitalize on the fame. The blue ribbons continued until 1916, when a silk shortage during World War I halted their use. After Prohibition, the blue ribbons around the neck of the bottle returned until 1950. So, we would have missed this gimmick on any Pabst Blue Ribbon we bought in 1962. But we could have tried Pabst’s Andeker, a European-style lager they introduced in 1939. Later in the 1960s it was removed from the market, but we can try it again at the new Pabst Milwaukee Brewery. The Pabst Milwaukee Brewery is not the original brewery, but a brewpub located in an old chapel on the original brewery campus. Today, Pabst Blue Ribbon is brewed by contract at the former flagship brewery of the G. Heileman Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Pabst acquired that in 1996, during a buying spree I’ll discuss later. Since 2014, their original brewhouse in Milwaukee has been converted into a hotel and other buildings on the campus were converted into condominiums and offices.

 
Schlitz Beer magazine ad, 1962
Schlitz Beer magazine ad from 1962 (photo from online auction)

The next oldest brewer in the big four is the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, founded in 1849. Joseph Schlitz was hired as a bookkeeper in a tavern brewery owned by August Krug. In 1856, he took over management of the brewery following the death of Krug, married the widow a few years later, and changed the name of the brewery. Schlitz became known as “the beer that made Milwaukee famous” in the aftermath of the terrible Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The fire not only destroyed 11 of the city’s 23 breweries, but also much of its water distribution system and the housing for a third of the population. To help the thirsty Chicagoans, Schlitz floated huge shipments of beer down Lake Michigan. Other Milwaukee brewers also sent beer south, but Schlitz got a lot of the credit, and a lot of the sales afterward. A year before the fire Schlitz produced around 6,800 barrels of beer, but by the end of the year that was doubled. As a result of the huge increase in brewing volume and the experience of long distance shipping, Milwaukee’s brewers soon shipped more beer than those in New York, Philadelphia or St. Louis, despite the larger populations of those cities. Schlitz became the largest beer producer in the country in 1902 and repeated that feat many times, exchanging the title with Anheuser-Busch off-and-on during the 1950s.

Schlitz remained the number-two brewery in America as late as 1976, but a series of labor strikes, poor marketing decisions, and a change in the brewing formula nearly killed the brand by 1999. During this period, the company was sold to competitor Stroh Brewery Co. of Detroit, Michigan. The brand has been sold several more times since, resulting in the original Schlitz Beer recipe being lost. You can still buy the beer though, as current owner Miller has researched and reconstructed the classic 1960s formula as best they can, and now brews Schlitz at its Milwaukee production facility. The old Schlitz Brewery complex in Milwaukee was transformed into a mixed-use development called Schlitz Park, with the original Schlitz Brewhouse demolished in 2013.

 

Blatz Beer commercial from early 1960s

 

Blatz Beer originated in 1851, at the Milwaukee brewery of Valentin Blatz. He was next door to Johann Braun’s City Brewery and merged the two businesses when Braun died in 1852. In 1875, Blatz was the first Milwaukee brewery to have a bottling department to package beer and ship nationally. It was also the first of the big Milwaukee brewers to disappear, being bought out by Pabst Brewing in 1958. The merger was initially short-lived, because both companies were so big. The federal government sued claiming the merger violated anti-trust laws and it was voided in 1959. So Blatz just closed instead. All the assets were sold the next year…to Pabst, getting around the government’s concerns. The mergers within the beer industry, as noted in the paragraphs above, were especially complicated for Blatz, moving the name through the G. Heileman Brewing Company in 1969, Stroh Brewery Company in 1996, and after a brief stint with Miller Brewing Company, back to Pabst in 2007. Today, Blatz is still produced under contract for Pabst by Miller! The Blatz brewing company's office building in Milwaukee has been converted into condominiums and the former Blatz bottling facility is now the Campus Center Building for the Milwaukee School of Engineering. I fondly remember the Blatz jingle from TV ads of the 1962 period, which highlighted the fact that many other beers had a different taste when bottled and canned from how they tasted fresh from the keg, but Blatz was always the same great beer. As the commercial says, "I'm from Milwaukee, and I ought to know! It's Draft Brewed Blatz beer, wherever you go. Smoother, fresher, less filling, that's clear. Blatz is Milwaukee's finest beer!"

 
1960s Miller High Life Beer Tap Handles
Early 1960s Miller High Life Beer Tap Handles (photo from online sale)

And finally, we come to the big survivor of Milwaukee beers, Miller. Miller Brewing Company was founded in 1855 by Frederick Miller, who brought a unique brewer’s yeast with him from his native Germany. In 1903, he came up with Miller High Life Beer and packaged it in a Champagne-shaped clear bottle with sloping shoulders. Besides being clear, the bottles also had foil that covered the cap and top of the neck similar to the way Champagne is sold. The nickname “The Champagne of Bottle Beer” was adopted in 1906, which was modified in 1969 to “The Champagne of Beers”, dropping the reference to bottles. By 1955 Miller Brewing had moved up from 20th to 5th in sales nationally. It remained family owned until 1966, when controlling interest was sold to conglomerate W.R.Grace & Company, outbidding PepsiCo. A few years later it was sold to Phillip Morris Inc., but mergers and spinoffs were not over yet. Recently, global giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev wanted to buy the successor company of Phillip Morris, SABMiller, which would have consolidated all major beer production in the country in a single brewer. As part of the 2016 agreement with the US government, Anheuser-Busch Inbev was forced to sell the Miller assets to Molson Coors, where they remain today. So Molson Coors’ Miller Brewing Company is still headquarted in Milwaukee, and you can still get a free, one hour, guided walking tour of the brewery. You will even see the limestone caves where Frederick Miller chilled his beer in the days before refrigeration. And of course, there are ice cold beer samples!

How did so much of United States beer history end up in Milwaukee? It seems to have been a fortunate collection of factors. A decade and half after its incorporation in 1846, the city’s population had increased by fivefold, so there were a lot of customers. And by 1880, native Germans made up 27 percent of the city’s population: the highest concentration of a single immigrant group in any American city. With the Germans came beer halls, beer yeast and knowledge of brewing techniques. Also, Milwaukee was close to grain growing areas, which supplied the main ingredient of beer. Being on Lake Michigan, the city also had good water and abundant ice in the days of manual ice harvesting before artificial refrigeration. This stimulated long-distance beer shipping, since rail cars needed to be packed with ice to prevent spoilage en route. Many other cities had some of these qualities, but Milwaukee had them all. And as mentioned earlier, they all came together when Chicago lost almost half its breweries in a fire and Milwaukee brewers stepped into the void. Long distance shipping was the final piece of the puzzle that pushed them to become nationally-minded organizations.

 
1960s Gettleman Beer lighted bar sign
1960s Gettleman Beer lighted bar sign (photo from online auction)

And, how did all these beer brewers weather the Prohibition years of 1920-1933, when production and sales of alcoholic beverages was outlawed in the United States? Each company found their own strategy. Pabst switched to cheese production, with their main product being Pabst-ett Cheese. When Prohibition ended, the company sold the cheese line to Kraft. Schlitz made non-alcoholic beverages, changing their slogan to "The drink that made Milwaukee famous." After Prohibition ended, Schlitz quickly became the world's top-selling brewery in 1934. During Prohibition, Blatz produced juices, chewing gum, and non-alcoholic beverages such as sodas, near beer, and the curiously named malt soap. The Miller Brewing Company formed Miller High Life Co. and produced a wide variety of malt syrups, carbonated soft drinks, and cereal beverages during Prohibition.

Besides the big four, there were almost no other breweries left in Milwaukee by 1962. During the late 1800s, there were dozens of small breweries here. But most were gone by 1900 and the few that remained died with the beginning of Prohibition. Several were restarted afterward, but by then it was too late to compete with the big boys. Gettelman Brewing Corp. was the one that lasted the longest. It was originally established in 1895, which was late by Milwaukee standards and may account for why they remained a smaller brewer. As I mentioned earlier, Gettleman’s was purchased by Miller Brewing in 1961. Their best known label was Milwaukee’s Best beer, which continued to be made and sold under Miller’s ownership until 1971. Gettleman’s was an innovator, with Frederick Gettelman personally designing the first practical steel keg in 1933, manufactured by the A.O. Smith Company of Milwaukee. Gettleman’s was also the first American brewer to import and distribute a European beer, importing Tucher beer from Nuremburg, Germany in 1959. I found only one other brewer still in business in 1962, the Independent Milwaukee Brewery. It dated back to 1901, another very late start, and its best-known brand was Braumeister. It closed in 1964, after the company was sold to the larger G. Heileman of La Crosse. Heileman closed the brewery but continued making Braumeister for some time before selling it to the Peter Hand Brewing Co. of Chicago. Hand continued making and selling Braumeister until 1998.

 
Weber Waukesha flat top beer can
Weber Waukesha flat top beer can (photo from online sale)

You might well wonder whether there are many brewers to find west of Milwaukee along US-18. The short answer is no. There were certainly brewers all across Wisconsin, but most remained small up to Prohibition. As a consequence, many went out of business in 1920 and never came back. A handful tried to restart operations but were swallowed by larger brewers or went out of business as Milwaukee and other big city brewers ramped up regional and national advertising and distribution. The Weber Waukesha Brewing Company, in nearby Waukesha, Wisconsin, began in 1857 and operated under a number of names. Waukesha is only about 20 miles from downtown Milwaukee, so this company and Fox Head, mentioned below, may have enjoyed some of the same benefits that the big four had, or may have been able to imitate them for some time. During Prohibition, the Weber Waukesha Brewing Company operated as the Waukesha Dairy Company. When they reopened as a brewery after Prohibition, they completely modernized their plant, becoming the first brewery in the area to use stainless steel equipment. Weber merged with its neighbor Fox Head in 1958. The buildings have since been reused for other purposes and there is a historical marker commemorating the Weber Brewery on US-18 at the intersection with NW Barstow Street.

But we could have enjoyed the products of Fox Head in 1962! This brewery began in 1893 when a group of saloon owners from Chicago constructed it as a cooperative to supply their businesses. They chose Waukesha because its spring water was full of minerals and the area had been a popular health resort for some time. They also bottled and sold the spring water and used it for soft drinks, creating a ginger ale named Fox Head in 1908, which soon became the company name. Because of the Chicago connection, after Prohibition ended and the company restarted operations, there were always rumors of mob influence. Some poor business decisions in the 1950s, as the company tried to expand, finally doomed it. Fox Head bottled its last bottle of beer on June 30th, 1962. In 2015, a new Fox Head Brewing was opened, using the old trademarks. It is a true microbrewer though, making hand-crafted beers 30 gallons at a time.

 
Fox Head Beer sign on building in Waukesha, Wisconsin
Fox Head “400” Beer sign on building in Waukesha, Wisconsin (Photo by Cragin Spring at Flickr, used by permission.)

Jefferson, Wisconsin had several breweries in the 1800s and up to Prohibition, but none that lasted to 1962. The closest was the Henry Perplies Brewing Co., which closed in 1953. Even the much larger city of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, had only one brewer that made it to 1962. Fauerbach Brewing Co. began in 1868 had its own icehouse on the shores of Lake Monona until 1917. Madison harvested and sold ice far and wide before refrigeration equipment was available, shipping ice by rail to customers. Fauerbach had their own harvesting crew to supply their needs. During prohibition they produced cereal beverages, sodas, and cheeses. Of the several breweries in Madison, only the Fauerbach Brewery started brewing again after Prohibition. They expanded distribution by shipping west by railroad to Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. But they also had a difficult time competing against the larger national brands. The Fauerbach Brewery closed in 1966, as even the company’s Pepsi bottling franchise could not save them. The brewery was demolished in 1967 and condominiums were built on the site. The Fauerbach beer brand was briefly resurrected in 2005 by family members using a contract brewer, but closed again in 2009.

 
Tavern in Whiteclay, Nebraska, 1940, near Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Tavern in Whiteclay, Nebraska, 1940, just south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Public domain photo by John Vachon from Library of Congress.)

Breweries in Dodgeville, Wisconsin and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin never reopened after Prohibition. And breweries along US-18 in Iowa never made it to the 20th century at all! There were brewers in Postville, New Hampton, Charles City, Algona, and Mason City in the 1880s. Today, all I can find are a number of recent micro-breweries along US-18, in cities including Mason City, Clear Lake, and Spencer. And when researching this article, I did not find any historical breweries along US-18 in South Dakota. That turned out not to be a surprise once I discovered that about ¾ of US-18 in the state passes through Native American Reservations: the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation, the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A law passed in Congress in 1832 banned the sale of alcohol to Native Americans. The ban was only ended in 1953, giving Native American tribes the option of permitting or banning alcohol sales and consumption on their lands. So there was simply no opportunity to establish breweries.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is now the only reservation in South Dakota where the sale and possession of alcohol is still illegal. The tribe has had significant problems with alcohol consumption throughout their history, and that is likely led to their maintaining a “dry” status. The Pine Ridge Reservation covers three counties and they are among the poorest in the United States. It is home to 20,000 Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe members in an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The unemployment rate hovers around 80% and the suicide rate is over four times the national average! Per capita income for American Indians living on Pine Ridge is $7,773 versus the United States average of $27,599. It is against this background that the tribe has fought against alcohol sales for over a century and a half. Most recently, the fight went to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which in 2017 upheld a decision of the Nebraska State Liquor Commission revoking the liquor licenses of four businesses just across the state line in the settlement of Whiteclay, Nebraska. Despite the small population of the reservation, over four million cans of beer per year were sold in Whiteclay, mostly to tribal members. The existence of the stores dates back to 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt reduced the “dry” zone adjacent to the reservation to a single mile radius. This came at a time when the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, where up to 300 Lakota on the reservation were killed by the US Army, was still a fresh memory and may have set a pattern of poverty and attitude that has persisted to the present day.

 
Old Milwaukee Beer 6-pack from 1962
Old Milwaukee Beer 6-pack from 1962 (photo from online auction)

Unfortunately, since the closure of the Whiteclay stores, tribal members have begun foraging farther from home, bringing large quantities of alcoholic beverages onto the reservation for illegal bootleg sales. And there has been a surge in methamphetamine abuse, begging the question of whether drugs will simply replace the alcohol. We would have seen the poverty problem back in 1962, but today we might see some wind turbines as we drive US-18 through the reservations. Six South Dakota Sioux tribes are currently working to improve their future with development of utility-scale wind power in a project funded by a multi-Tribal power authority. They are hoping that income from the sale of electrical power will also power their future.

I found no record of any breweries on the remainder of US-18 in South Dakota and the route ended less than 10 miles into Wyoming in 1962, so we’ve come to the end of our road. If you haven’t had enough beer history yet, I suggest stopping at The Museum of Beer & Brewing back at the start of our trip in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee County Historical Society has brewing exhibit that they recently moved into The Shops of Grand Avenue, an urban shopping plaza in the heart of town, opened in 1982 in a former hotel building. The Museum is at the main entrance. You can now view the history of brewing in Milwaukee while you shop. And as a bonus, the admission fee includes a beer at the Milwaukee Beer Bar inside the mall!

 
Braumeister Beer 24-bottle case from 1962
Braumeister Beer 24-bottle case from 1962 (photo from online auction)

And if you would like to try the beers of 1962 for yourself, the following beers I’ve mentioned are still for sale:

  • Schlitz (though this is the reconstructed recipe)
  • Blatz
  • Miller High Life
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • Andeker (but only at the Pabst Milwaukee Brewery brewpub)
  • Old Milwaukee
  • Milwaukee’s Best
  • Fox Head (but only in the Waukesha, Wisconsin area)

Only Braumeister, Weber Waukesha Beer, and Fauerbach are no longer available anywhere. I’m not much of a beer drinker, so I haven’t tried any of the beers mentioned except for Miller. And that was so long ago that I can’t give any recommendation as to taste. So, I’ll be your designated driver on the next Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey and see you then!

 
 

A Roadtrip Down US-17 - The Coastal Highway?

October 2, 2018

 

Roadtrip-'62 ™ is looking at US-17 today, which today runs 1,189 miles from Winchester, Virginia to Punta Gorda, Florida. In 1962, it was a little shorter, beginning only at Fredericksburg, Virginia but having the same southern end point. Also known as the Coastal Highway, the highway’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean has made parts of US-17 prone to hurricanes. In 2004, Hurricane Charley made first landfall near the southern terminus of US-17. The hurricane then followed up the highway nearly its entire route in Florida before temporarily heading out to sea. When Hurricane Charley again made landfall in South Carolina, it ran all the way north through Virginia close to the route of US-17. While it is the US-numbered highway closest and parallel to the Atlantic Ocean coast for much of its length, quite a lot of US-17 is not near the coast. Whether we consider the current north end at Winchester or the old north end at Fredericksburg, it begins well inland.

 
Victory Monument, Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia
Victory Monument, Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia (Public domain photo from National Park Service, by Roger Wayne Green.)

From Fredericksburg, US-17 follows the Rappahannock River to near its end and then jogs south to Yorktown, Virginia on Chesapeake Bay. This is our first view of the Atlantic Ocean coast. Yorktown is the site of the final major battle in the American Revolution, where General George Washington’s army defeated the British Army under General Cornwallis with the help of French forces in late 1781. The defeat was final enough that Cornwallis surrendered and a peace treaty was signed soon after. In recognition of the United States’ victory, the Continental Congress directed that a monument be erected at Yorktown, consisting of a marble column with text heralding the surrender and victorious actions of the combined forces of America and France. No action was taken on constructing the monument until 1879! Attempts were made in 1834 and 1876, but Congress finally authorized action and appropriated funds in 1880. The cornerstone of the current monument was laid the next year, per Congresses’ intention to have the monument completed for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Yorktown victory, though it was not completed until 1884. The monument has twice been damaged by lightning, in 1942 and 1990. It was repaired in 1956, so that we would have seen it in all its glory during our 1962 visit.

The monument is part of Colonial National Historic Park, authorized in 1930, which connects the Yorktown Battlefield and Yorktown National Cemetery with nearby historical Williamsburg, Virginia and Jamestown Island. The Colonial Parkway was constructed to connect all of these sites, and runs 23 miles from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown, passing under Williamsburg. The Parkway was begun in 1931 and completed in 1957. As with many projects of the period, both the Great Depression and World War II negatively impacted the construction schedule. The tunnel under Williamsburg was built in 1942 and resulted from the need to build a road connecting the park’s major elements while preserving historical sites. Colonial Parkway is typical of National Park roadways, with no at-grade crossings of non-park roads, gentle curves, elegant landscaping, no commercial development, and a relatively low speed limit. It makes for a very pleasant drive between parts of Colonial National Historic Park.

 
Royal Artillery firing cannon, Yorktown Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia
Royal Artillery firing 6 pounder cannon at Yorktown Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia (Public domain photo from National Park Service, by Linda Williams.)

The battle occurred here because General Cornwallis had occupied the town to establish a naval base. Yorktown was a major Virginia port and economic center, and had 250 to 300 buildings and a population of almost 2,000 people around 1750. Unfortunately, though the United States won the battle and the war, much of the town was destroyed. By the end of the Revolution, less than 70 buildings remained and the 1790 census listed a population of only 661. Yorktown never regained its economic prominence. A fire in 1814 then destroyed the waterfront district as well, with additional destruction during the Civil War. You can stroll the mostly empty streets today and imagine Yorktown as the thriving tobacco port it once was through interpretive signs, some remaining buildings, reconstructions, and ruins. One of the major remaining buildings is the Nelson House, which the National Park Service did not acquire until 1968. The Nelson House was the home of Thomas Nelson, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Nelson House is one of the finest examples of early Georgian architecture in Virginia and most of the house is original.

 
Albemarle Sound Navigation Chart, North Carolina, 1961
Navigation Chart of Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, 1961, showing finger inlets separating US-17 from the coast. (Public domain map from U.S. Department of Commerce.)

From Yorktown, we continue south to Newport News, Virginia for our view of the James River, instead of heading to Jamestown. I’ll leave a description of Williamsburg and Jamestown until we get to highway US-60, as they are much closer to it. We cross the river and head through Chesapeake, Virginia and back inland through the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The old roadbed of 8 miles of US-17 is now a hiking and biking trail, converted in 2005 when the highway was moved onto a new alignment to the east. Beginning at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, we again touch the Atlantic Ocean coast at several fingers of Albemarle Sound over the next 40 miles to Edenton, North Carolina. Then, it’s back inland until New Bern, North Carolina, where we again touch the Atlantic Ocean coast at the estuary of the Neuse River. We can spend a lot of time in New Bern seeing attractions that were here in 1962. The city is home to the New Bern Firemen's Museum, established in 1955, the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, created in 1889, Tryon Palace, built in 1769, and Croatan National Forest, established in 1936. Tryon Palace is the former home of the colonial governor of North Carolina and later briefly the state capital.

New Bern was originally settled by the Chattoka tribe, who were displaced in 1710 by Swiss and Palatine German immigrants. They named the town after Bern, the capital of Switzerland and the 1st Baron of Bernbert, Christoph von Graffenried, their royal patron. The city still has a lot of historic buildings because it did not experience much fighting during the Civil War. This was due to its continuous occupation by United States forces from 1862 to 1865. It played an important part during the war though, as it was the site of the Trent River encampment, which housed nearly 10,000 former slaves as war refugees. New Bern boasted the oldest chartered fire department in North Carolina, having been formed in 1845, which was 20 years before the New York City Fire Department! But the war interrupted the early history of fire-fighting in New Bern, as members of the city’s fire-fighting companies volunteered for service in the Confederate Army at the beginning of the war. To commemorate this early history, the New Bern Firemen's Museum was established in 1955. Today, you can ride the old firetrucks and check out the old fire-fighting equipment for a step back in time. There is also an exhibit on the local Great Fire of 1922 which destroyed over 1,000 buildings in New Bern, leaving part of the city in ruin.

 
1962 Pepsi bottles
Pepsi bottles from about 1962, showing old logo

New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, my dad’s favorite drink! It was invented by Caleb Bradham at Bradham's Drug Store in 1883, as he tried to create a fountain drink that was appealing and would aid in digestion and boost energy. He originally named it Brad’s Drink and marketed it as an elixir for curing a stomach aches. In 1889, he came up with a new name, Pepsi-Cola, from the word dyspepsia, meaning indigestion. Though many people think otherwise, pepsin was never an ingredient of Pepsi-Cola. Marketing was successful, with growth occurring in both soda fountains and via bottles, and by 1910 when the first bottler convention was held in New Bern there were 240 franchisees in 24 states. Pepsi was not affected by the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act which banned substances such as arsenic, lead, barium, and coca leaves from food and beverages because Pepsi-Cola did not contain any of such impurities. However, the law forced many soft drink manufacturers, including Coca-Cola, to change their formulas. Bradham lost control of the company in 1923 due to his speculation on the price of sugar, which had skyrocketed during World War I. He bought too much at high prices while his competitors were free to buy at lower prices. After that, the company and most of its assets moved out of town and the drug store building eventually housed various businesses. Today, the building is named The Birthplace of Pepsi Store and is owned and operated by the Minges Bottling Group of Ayden, North Carolina. It opened as The Birthplace of Pepsi Store on the 100th Anniversary of Pepsi-Cola in 1998. That’s too recent for us, but we can always celebrate with a couple of Pepsis! That name was finally trademarked in 1961, though people had called it Pepsi for years. The change went along with a new advertising slogan "Now It's Pepsi for Those Who Think Young", which was promoted with a jingle sung by Joanie Sommers.

 
Tryon Palace, New Bern, North Carolina postcard
Tryon Palace, New Bern, North-Carolina early 1960s postcard (from online auction)

Tryon Palace and the North Carolina History Center is North Carolina’s premier historic site. The building was built for Royal Governor William Tryon and his family in the Georgian style that was popular when it was completed in 1770. Besides being the governor’s residence, Tryon Palace served as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina. In 1798, a fire destroyed the original palace building, but we could have seen the current reconstruction in 1962. That was the result of an extensive 30-year campaign to rebuild the palace and restore the grounds, which was completed in 1959. Besides the palace, you can enjoy the 16 acres of gardens, which are also a reconstruction. The current gardens were designed by landscape architect Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s to represent the formal garden style of 18th-century Britain. It is not known how closely they hew to the original gardens, as there are three different plans that claim to show the original gardens. The entrance to the entire complex is through the modern North Carolina History Center, which has historical and hands-on exhibits, a café, and a gift store.

The grounds also feature several other colonial era buildings. The George W. Dixon House was built in the early 1830s when part of the original palace grounds were sold after the fire. It sits on its original site. The Stanly House was built in the early 1780s and may have been designed by the same architect who designed Tryon Palace. The Stanly House has been moved twice, most recently to this location in 1966, but remains one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the South. We could have seen it in 1962 as the New Bern Public Library, a function it served from 1935 until 1965. The Robert Hay House was constructed before 1816 and is modest by comparison to the other homes of the Palace complex. It is maintained as a living history museum where you can get a first-hand feel for life in 1835 by talking with in-character interpreters who give hands-on demonstrations. The building and all furniture has been restored to give the look and feel of a home of that era. An additional building featuring history exhibits is located outside of the palace grounds; the 1809 New Bern Academy Museum. It’s located in New Bern's historic residential district and the displays interpret life in New Bern during the Federal occupation, 1862-1865.

 
Map of Croatan National Forest, North Carolina
Map of Croatan National Forest, North Carolina, with city of New Bern at top (Public domain brochure from National Park Service.)

Just southeast of New Bern is the Croatan National Forest. The forest was established in 1936 and features Atlantic Ocean coast and hiking through coastal lowland longleaf pine forests, evergreen-shrub bogs, and wetlands. Besides hiking, canoeing and fishing are popular on blackwater creeks and in saltwater marshes. These various habitats provide the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife, including carnivorous plants like Venus fly-trap, sundew and pitcher plants. You can also find endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker and the rough-leaf loosestrife. And of course, there is the larger wildlife such as deer, black bears, turkeys, and alligators. Just a few of the many trails are the Island Creek Forest Walk Trail, a 3.7 mile loop near Pollocksville, North Carolina, the Cedar Point Trail through a salt marsh on boardwalks, and the Neusiok Trail. The Neusiok Trail is over 20 miles long, beginning on a sandy beach on the Neuse River and running to a salt marsh on the Newport River. On its way, the trail meanders through cypress, hardwoods, loblolly pines, savannas and swamps. And if 20 miles isn’t long enough for you, the Neusiok Trail is also part of the 900-mile Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail that goes all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

I often mention hiking somewhere, national parks, state parks, or even railtrails. I’ve been at it long enough that I know what I need to take with me, how long a given trail might take to hike, and other factors that a newby to hiking might not know. If you find yourself in the category of want to try a hike but not knowing how to begin, you might begin with an Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hiking by Jenny at HobbyHelp. She has a lot of helpful ideas. I’m setting off in the Croatan National Forest; see you in a few hours. I’ll choose the Island Creek Forest Walk because it’s closest to US-17. The others are over our 5-mile limit away and closer to US-70, so let’s leave them for that roadtrip.

 
Fighting Stallions” by Anna Hyatt Huntington, Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
“Fighting Stallions” by Anna Hyatt Huntington, at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina (Photo by Hisland7 at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Highway US-17 next hits the coast at Wilmington, North Carolina. There, the USS North Carolina sits in the harbor as a museum ship. This World War II ship was purchased from the Navy in 1958 and arrived in Wilmington in 1962, just in time for us to see it! We finally reach the coast proper at Crescent Beach, South Carolina, traveling through coastal towns for the next 37 miles to Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Within this stretch, we can visit Myrtle Beach State Park. The Myrtle Beach area is also famous for over-the-top miniature golf courses. I love mini golf and once owned portable courses for party rentals, as I mentioned in the article Putting for Fun - Miniature Golf in 1962. So of course, I’m stopping to play some mini golf here.

Also along this stretch of coast is Brookgreen Gardens at Brookgreen, South Carolina. First opened to the public in 1932, the grounds are the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in the country. It’s displayed in a garden setting plus three indoor galleries, which contain over 2,000 works by 425 artists. The sculpture gardens are the dream of Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, to collect, exhibit, and preserve American figurative sculpture. They also established two other missions for the property, which it also achieves: to collect, exhibit, and preserve the plants of the Southeast, and to collect, exhibit, and preserve the animals of the Southeast. The last function is accomplished in the Lowcountry Zoo area. In addition to the sculptures, some of the garden areas are the Live Oak Allée, comprised of 250 year-old Live Oak trees that were planted in the early 1700s, and the Palmetto Garden, completed in 1950 and named for the Sabal palmetto, South Carolina's state tree. The current gardens are completely on the former Brookgreen Plantation, which was owned by Joshua John Ward, America’s largest slaveholder.

 
cannon at Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina
42 pounder smoothbore cannon at Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina. (Public domain photo from the National Park Service.)

After these beach towns, US-17 heads back inland again, though only a few miles off the beach and sometimes within view of the Intracoastal Waterway. Its companion route, US-17 ALT, goes even further inland between Georgetown, South Carolina and Yemasee, South Carolina. I’ll let that road go where it may; our next stop is near Charleston, South Carolina. Just before we cross the Cooper River, at Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, is Boone Hall Plantation. Boone Hall has been open to the public since 1956, shortly after the McRae family purchased the plantation and furnished the house with antiques. Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 and is one of America’s oldest working farms. They have been continuously growing and producing crops for over three centuries: once primarily cotton and pecans, currently fruits and vegetables including pick-your-own crops. Across the river is Charleston, the oldest and largest city in South Carolina. I didn’t talk about historic Charleston when we looked at news along US-176, which ends in town. But during 1962, the centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated around the country, and we could have visited the place where it all began.

Fort Sumter is most famous today because Confederate States of America forces fired the first shots of the Civil War upon Federal troops at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Fort Sumter National Monument comprises several sites in Charleston Harbor, including of course the fort. After its capture by Confederate forces, the fort secured the harbor against Federal invasion for the duration of the war. Besides the fort, Fort Sumter National Monument incorporates Sullivan's Island, which provided Charleston Harbor's first line of defense against disease or foreign invasion. Its quarantine stations checked every person that came into the harbor, including newly-arrived slaves from Africa. It’s estimated that forty percent of slaves imported to the United States came through the port of Charleston. After the War of 1812, Congress ordered the improvement of the United States’ coastal defenses, building 34 forts from Maine to Louisiana, including Fort Sumter in 1829. Since 1961, you’ve been able to take a tour boat over to Fort Sumter and spend time wandering around. The ride over includes a trip around the harbor and you might even see dolphins! You can also tour Charleston’s many historic homes, cemeteries, churches and waterfront buildings. In addition to harbor tours on various types of boats, you can take horse-drawn carriage tours, bus tours, and even narrated walking tours.

 
Owens-Thomas House, Savannah, Georgia postcard
Owens-Thomas House, Savannah, Georgia postcard

Between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, US-17 heads inland because the rivers cut deeply in from the coast, so that there is no good route to stay on the coast. Mostly sandwiched between US-17 and US-17 ALT, which approach Savannah from separate bridges, lies the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge. It is largely freshwater marshes, tidal rivers and creeks, and bottomland hardwoods, composed primarily of cypress, gum, and maples. Because access to these areas is by boat only, I haven’t been there even though it was established in 1927, so it’s plenty old enough for my roadtrip. If you stop in, you will find hiking and bicycling opportunities along the many dikes that were originally built during the 1700 and 1800s, when the area was formerly plantations’ rice fields. The city of Savannah lies across the Savannah River and is Georgia’s oldest city. You can still find cobblestone streets among the 21 historic squares and period architecture. As with Charleston, the best way to see the historic district is by carriage tour.

Beyond here, we never hit the coast again throughout Georgia except at Brunswick, where we come to the bay and estuary of the Brunswick River. This is where we find Jekyll Island, long popular as an oceanside resort for the rich. In the late 1800s, Jekyll Island became an exclusive hunting club for families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Goodyear. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District s now one of the largest preservation projects in the southeast. It’s now open to everyone, as in 1947, the Georgia state legislature established Jekyll Island as a State Park. Many of the homes have been restored to their former glory; the first one was Indian Mound Cottage in 1954. Also that year, the drawbridge to the island was opened. The next year the road around the island was paved and a beach pavilion was constructed at one of the few beaches open to Negroes in the south during the segregated period. In 1962, we would have seen a brand new, full-fledged tourist resort area, with the Peppermint Land Amusement Park opened in 1956, and the Aquarama and first 18-hole golf course opened in 1961 and 1962, respectively.

 
Maxwell House Coffee Plant, Jacksonville, Florida
Maxwell House Coffee Plant, Jacksonville, Florida…”Good to the Last Drop”

For more information on Jacksonville, Florida, see my posts about the end of US-23. After Jacksonville, US-17 moves increasingly inland: so much that it eventually ends on the other coast! On the way across the state, we can visit Palatka Ravine Gardens, now Ravine Gardens State Park, in Palatka, Florida. The ravines are a natural feature created by a spring-fed creek, which supplies underground water that bubbles up and carries the sand and soil downstream, eroding the ravine banks. Beginning in 1933 and running through at least 1936, the ravines were transformed into this garden by the federal Works Progress Administration. The project kept up to 300 men busy each year and resulted in construction of an administration building, concessions building, entrance station, limestone fountain and gardens, suspension bridges, dams, a sprinkler system, terracing and construction of retaining walls, and road improvements. For the gardens, the men planted over 40,000 azaleas and 270,000 other plants on the slopes of the ravines. The city operated the park for many years, however, as the 1960s ended, the Gardens became increasingly difficult and expensive, resulting in the closure. The City offered the park to the State of Florida and in 1970 Ravine Gardens officially became a Florida State Park. From the 1.8 mile trail system, you can see the creek and plants of the garden. The garden's peak flowering period is still azalea season, from January to March. But you can also see some of the hundreds of remaining azaleas earlier and later, as they experience a "rolling bloom”.

 
“Southern Belle” and flowers at Cypress Gardens, Florida postcard
“Southern Belle” and flowers at Cypress Gardens, Florida postcard

Highway US-17 also goes through Orlando, Florida and Kissimmee, Florida, right through the neighborhood of Walt Disney World. It’s really hard to imagine as you drive through the massive development of the area that stretches for probably 20 miles, with theme parks, motels, restaurants, more theme parks, gift stores, and more, that back in 1962, none of it was here! This was still a flat area of forests, cattle pastures, and swamps. The Walt Disney Company didn’t even begin purchasing land until 1964. The only tourist attraction we would have seen in the area was Cypress Gardens, 30 miles southwest of Kissimmee in Winterhaven, Florida. Cypress Gardens has been called Florida’s first theme park, and since it opened in 1936, that might be true. It began as a botanical garden planted by Dick Pope Sr. and his wife Julie. In 1932, Mr. Pope convinced the local branch of the federal Works Progress Administration, the same US government office that funded Ravine Gardens up the road, that it would be better to pay the men to beautify and rebuild the local canals and chain of lakes. But after spending about $5,000 of government money, local opposition to the project became so heated that it was canceled. Mr. Pope repaid the funds and continued on his own, and when Cypress Gardens opened it had 8,000 varieties of flowers from over 90 different countries.

During the World War II era, he introduced water skiing exhibitions as entertainment for servicemen stationed in Florida. By the time the war was over, Cypress Gardens was on its way to becoming the "Water Ski Capital of the World". Many of the sport's landmark firsts were made here and over 50 world records were broken. Movies were filmed at the park, including portions of “This is Cinerama”, a wide-screen format I discussed in my article on highway US-16 in Detroit, Michigan. During the 1950s, the third unique attraction of the park debuted: the women dressed as colorful Southern Belles in the crinolines reminiscent of the Antebellum South, who posed around the garden. During the American Civil War Centennial, including 1962, young men dressed in Confederate Army uniforms posed with them. By that time, Cypress Gardens was at its peak. Mr. Pope even welcomed the announcement of the construction of Walt Disney World, figuring that anything that brought more visitors to Florida would also help his business. But by the time Walt Disney World opened in 1971, travel patterns and demographics began to change as people took shorter trips to a single destination. The gas shortages of the mid-1970s hurt him even more. Visitors came to the new Orlando theme park, stayed a few days there, and often left Florida without coming south to Cypress Gardens. Cypress Gardens tried to respond to the competition by expanding and adding some theme park-like attractions, but they couldn't match Disney. I first visited in both parks in 1975, when Cypress Gardens was still at the height of beauty and relevance, during that transition period.

 
Water ski show at Cypress Gardens, Florida postcard
Water ski show at Cypress Gardens, Florida postcard

By the mid-1980s, Mr. Pope’s son sold the park to the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishing corporation, who was on a theme park buying spree at the time. Along with acquiring Cypress Gardens in 1985, they also bought the Sea World parks, Circus World, and Stars Hall of Fame. But new owners, who poured a lot of money into new attractions, did not help enough. Passing through a couple of other owners, Cypress Gardens closed in 2003 and again in 2009. It’s now reopened as a part of Legoland Florida, which opened in late 2011. Buried in the new theme park are Cypress Gardens' most popular features, including its lovely gardens and a water ski show. The gardens still hold a magnificent collection of native plants, including azaleas and camellias. Even the huge Banyan tree that was planted as a seedling way back in 1939 is still standing. The water skiing show is a bit different, with acts such as water skiing LEGO soldiers. They’ve also constructed LEGO sculptures of their famous Southern Belles and other familiar Cypress Gardens sights.

   

Our trip down US-17 ends at Punta Gorda, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico side of the state instead of the Atlantic Ocean side where we started. If it were still 1962, we could have visited Everglades Wildlife Park and fed a deer, looked at some alligators, and bought some useless gifts. Oh well, I guess I don’t really need any of that anyway, so I’ll see you next time on Roadtrip-'62 ™ for something different. And sorry you didn’t get to see Disney World on this trip!

 

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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Weather on February 22, 1962 for Adrian, MI, from the National Climatic Data Center:

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Smokey Bear is the longest running public service ad campaign in Ad Council history, running since 1944. At the beginning, Walt Disney loaned Bambi for use on a poster for one year, but that image proved so popular that it is still being used. The original message was slightly different, as "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires." I hope you enjoy this ad, similar to what you might have seen in 1962, and heed Smokey's message.

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