ON THE ROAD IN 1962
Welcome to Roadtrip-'62 ™! Our next highway on the countdown list is US-21. Today it runs only 393 miles from Wytheville, Virginia to Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina. Back in 1962, it was considerably longer: an extra 450 miles in West Virginia and Ohio running north to Cleveland, Ohio. As with so many other US-numbered routes, it was shortened when the interstate freeway system was completed. In the case of US-21 the truncation happened in 1971. But you could see it coming already in 1962, when US-21 was moved to freeway alignments in some parts of Ohio, such as from the north side of Akron to Massillon. I’ll have more about freeways closing US-21 later. But the interstates could replace almost all the rest of US-21 if North and South Carolina wanted to. As you can see from the map below, I-77 and I-26 run very close to US-21 all the way south to Orangeburg, South Carolina. This leaves only the southern-most 105 miles of US-21 without an interstate replacement today!
I have two pages devoted to Cleveland, so I’m not going to discuss it again here. Instead, let’s begin our look at US-21 a bit farther south, at Massillon, Ohio. To get there you can still travel a route numbered 21, as some parts of former US-21 between Cleveland and New Philadelphia, Ohio are now renumbered OH-21. Unlike many historical museums that are modern creations, The Massillon Museum has historical roots and we could have visited in 1962. In fact, it appeared on Rand McNally maps of the period, as the Baldwin Museum. It was originally named the Baldwin Museum when it opened in 1933, as it first occupied the former home of Frank Baldwin, who donated his home upon his death on the condition that it become a library and museum. The home was already historic by that time, having been built in the early 1830s by James Duncan, an early canal proponent and land speculator who founded Massillon in 1826. The original collection featured ethnological and archaeological artifacts of Dr. Abraham Per Lee Pease and Native American artifacts of Captain Christian L. Baatz, the Museum’s first curator. The building we would have visited in 1962 included the original home and a new wing for the library, with a rotunda in the center. Local architectural firm Albrecht & Wilhelm created the plan and the building opened in 1938. By 1991, it was obvious that more room was needed to house the collections so the closed department store, the Giltz Building, was purchased and renovated. The Massillon Museum moved there in 1996 and the library still occupies the original building.
Continuing south, you can easily find some parts of former US-21 in southern Ohio, as they are now renumbered OH-821. And some parts of former US-21 in northern West Virginia are now renumbered as a local highway 21. These will get us to Charleston, West Virginia home of the Shoney's Big Boy Museum. It’s not your usual corporate museum, but simply a towering Big Boy statue and sign with several display cases below. The displays contain some small-scale Big Boy memorabilia, including menus, coffee cups, photos, and a commemorative plaque. The historical plaque credits Alex Schoenbaum with starting what became the Shoney's Big Boy chain of over 1300 restaurants. He began just in front of this site, on Patrick Street, in 1947 as The Parkette Drive-In. In 1952, The Parkette picked up the Big Boy franchise and was renamed Shoney's Big Boy. It would close in 1975, so we could have stopped here on our roadtrip. By 1982, Mr. Schoenbaum and his successors had filled his franchise territory with about as many Shoney's Big Boys as it would fit, so they dropped the Big Boy franchise and renamed the restaurants simply Shoney’s to allow them to expand further. The company went into bankruptcy in 2000 and today is down to around 250 locations.
Farther south in West Virginia, from Beckley to Bluefield, US-21 ran together with US-19, on the West Virginia Turnpike since 1954. This road is the other major part of the new freeway alignments I mentioned above. The Turnpike is a toll road that provided a shortcut to US-21 through the mountains, so let’s look at that shortcut. When opened in 1954, the West Virginia Turnpike was originally a 2-lane road, not a freeway! It still looked much the same in 1962. It was finally upgraded to interstate standards in 1987 when the Memorial Tunnel and the Stanley Bender Bridge, which formed one approach to the tunnel, were bypassed. As one might expect in a coal state like West Virginia, 300,000 tons of coal were removed during bypass construction! A distinctive sight on the Turnpike were the service plazas with their Glass House Restaurants. There were three of these, at Beckley, Morton, and Bluestone. The Glass Houses were replaced with modern food court style facilities in the early 1990s.
Little Glade Mill Pond and Blue Ridge Parkway, near US-21, North Carolina (Aerial photography by Wayne McBryde.)
Highway US-21 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherry Lane, North Carolina, at about Mile Point 230 of the parkway. Construction of the parkway began in September, 1935 at the North Carolina / Virginia state line north of here. The section crossing US-21 was one of the first completed, in 1937. Approximately half the parkway was open by the early 1950s and the National Park Service launched a ten-year program to complete construction by 1966. Though it was open here much earlier than 1962, the final link of the Linn Cove Viaduct was not completed until September 1987! Today it covers 469 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. The parkway is one of the most beautiful roads in the country, running mostly on the ridges of the highest mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. It’s one of my favorite roads because of the frequent parking turnouts with wonderful views off the mountains. In addition to the beauty of the roadway itself and the surrounding mountains, you can find historic sites, waterfall hikes, dining, camping and more along the route.
At the south end of US-21 is Hunting Island State Park. This park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal Program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Several buildings built by the CCC are still in use here. It’s South Carolina’s most popular state park, attracting more than a million visitors a year. The park includes five miles of beautiful beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon and an ocean inlet. There is also a nature center highlighting the local land and marine wildlife. Hunting Island State Park also has the only lighthouse in the state that is open to the public. You can climb the 167 steps to the top to get a panoramic view of the Atlantic Coast and the surrounding maritime forest. This lighthouse was originally constructed in the 1850s but destroyed by Confederate forces in the early days of the Civil War. The lighthouse we see was constructed in a new location ten years after the war ended. If you want to explore more, there are over 9 miles of hiking trails on this semitropical barrier island. Until about 1980, US-21 went to the south end of Hunting Island, but erosion destroyed part of the highway. The state decided to build a new entrance to the park at the north end of the island, so that’s where Roadtrip-'62 ™ will end for today. See you next time!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2019, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2019, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.