Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking for roadside treasure

The cooler months are when I choose to do most of my traveling around the Sunshine State, not just because of the more comfortable weather. Mainly because the light is so much better, with less humidity and great blue skies. In summer, I tend to stick close to home or if I do travel, I go out of state. November through April, however, I hit Florida's roads in the "Adventure Mobile" whenever I can.

Between destinations there are always opportunities to make new roadside discoveries. While I don't claim to be an expert on the American roadside, I do like searching older commercial areas for roadside gems like old gas stations, neon signs, or vintage restaurants. At other points in my life, I thought old commercial strips were rundown and dilapidated. Now I see these roadside relics as windows to the past, a past that is more threatened every day as my state continues to become more developed. So each road trip becomes a mini-treasure hunt and I'm excited to make new discoveries all the time.

I also try to re-photograph signs that I shot in the pre-digital age using my old film camera with my new digital SLR. Photoshop is wonderful tool for helping to enhance roadside images. I am also constantly in search of roadside relics to post to the Society for Commercial Archeology's Facebook page, which I co-administer. It is because of the influence of folks in that organization that I have learned this way of seeing, where a drive down the highway is not a matter of getting from point A to point B, but rather an opportunity to make new discoveries. On this next to last day of the year, I am thankful for this way of seeing and hoping 2011 proves to be a fertile year of new roadside finds.

The first five images are from a short stretch of US 17 in DeLand. When searching for roadside treasures, the pre-interstate US highways are always a great place to start.

I discovered this cute sign on State Road 40 outside Astor.

Mid-century modern architecture is fun to discover in places you don't expect it. This is the back of the fire department in Palatka.

This funky little church is in Hastings Florida.

Three gas stations in St. Augustine- I'm not sure what this one was....

I'm pretty sure this was a Pure Oil gas station. One can tell it was former gas station by looking for the spot where the pumps used to be – there's usually a patch in the concrete.

Formerly a "Batwing" Phillips 66 station

Fraternal organizations often have interesting buildings and great signs – this one is in Palatka.

Originally in the Ponce de Leon Shopping Center near St. Augustine's town square, this push plate on the door is the only evidence of this site being home to a former Woolworth's.

This is Florida's oldest diner, Palatka's Angel's Diner from 1932, a real roadside treasure!

I'm fairly certain that these two Orlando structures
were once drive-thru dairies.


  1. Debra Jane Seltzer has helped me determine that the first St. Augustine gas station was probably a Sinclair station.

  2. Something else you should know about our former Woolworths here in St. Arrrgustine:

  3. Thanks Rick! I never knew that. There is a historical marker near the pool where the manager poured the acid in it. There are also images in the state archives of conflicts at St. Augustine beach. But I didn't know about Woolworth's.

  4. From wikipedia:
    "In 1955 Lapidus created the Ponce de Leon Shopping Center near the plaza in St. Augustine, the Nation's Oldest City. The anchor store, Woolworth's, was the scene of the first sit-in by black demonstrators from Florida Memorial College in March, 1960, and in 1963 four young teenagers, who came to be known as the "St. Augustine Four" were arrested at the same place and spent the next six months in jail and reform school, until national protests forced their release by the governor and cabinet of Florida in January 1964. Martin Luther King hailed them as "my warriors." The Woolworth's door-handles remain as a reminder of the event, and a Freedom Trail marker has been placed on the building by ACCORD, in its efforts to preserve the historic sites of the civil rights movement."