Discovering North America
Men (and we fathers in particular), seem to have a genetic predisposition toward signs such as these. But many women are also known to be under the spell. Sometimes our vehicles actually seem to veer toward exits on their own. “Must stop!” demands our DNA.You’re in the midst of a perfectly planned road trip vacation when it happens. Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, it finds you – that sign. Usually it reads something like, “Historic Marker, 500 feet.” Or “Point of Interest, Next Right.”
So we do, thus building in all of those beautiful little detours that, while perhaps costing a bit of time, also add such mystery, discovery and surprise adventure to road trips. And isn’t that what we’re all really after?
I love seeing signs like those mentioned, but I also enjoy discovering and writing about tucked away places that managed to avoid maps, guidebooks and signposts for years; places where a bit of pop culture history might just have brushed up against. creating detours, if you will.
Oh, we get to all those national parks soon enough, and the battlefields and the museums. Absolutely. But hey, when the Brady Bunch House, or the place where the cheeseburger was invented, or the actual Field of Dreams is nearby, there’s always that tug on the steering wheel – that invitational lure of wonder and intrigue. So we’ll drive a little longer that night to make up for it, right? No problem. All part of the journey – “listening” to the road as it prods us to be flexible and wander more.
I’ve met many people at KOAs over the years who, like my family, also look at road trips as constant works in progress; always open for revision. So to start the new year, I thought it’d be fun to share a few of our favorite lesser-known “detours” around the country; specks on the map that all hold some sense of history, whimsy, charm, weirdness, silliness or gravity – something for everyone!
“Embrace the detours,” I once heard someone say. And why not? That’s where you often find not just the heart of a road trip, but its soul, as well…hey, what does that sign up ahead say?
Toothpick Birthplace – Union Oyster House
41 Union Street, Boston, MA
We love this place. Established in 1826, the historic Union Oyster House is officially America’s oldest restaurant and was a favorite spot of J.F.K.’s. (Ask for table 8, which was his). BUT- the toothpick was first used in the United States here at this restaurant!Calvin Coolidge Boyhood Home
Plymouth, VT– 6 miles south of U.S. 4 on VT 100A, midway across the state.
It was here at his boyhood home that vacationing Vice President Calvin Coolidge received a message from Washington D.C. informing him of the death of President Warren Harding. Coolidge is buried in the town cemetery.
“Make Way for Ducklings”
Public Garden, Boston, MA
In Robert McCloskey’s 1941 classic children’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings”, Mr. & Mrs. Mallard are looking for a place to live. Every time Mr. Mallard finds a place, Mrs. Mallard says it is not a good place to raise a family. They finally decide on a place in Boston along the Charles River and today you will find some very real bronze duck statues inspired by this famous book.
“Mary Had a Little Lamb”
How many times in your life have you recited “Mary Had A Little Lamb?” But did you know the poem was based on a real little girl, a real little lamb and a real little schoolhouse? This is the original Redstone School and it was used to teach the children of District Number Two on Redstone Hill in Sterling from 1798 to 1856. It’s also building where Mary Tyler (1806-1889) went to school, followed by her little lamb.
Birthplace of Basketball
782 State Street, Springfield, MA
Dr. James Naismith invented basketball at this site on a cold, autumn day in 1891. He was the physical education instructor at the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) and the athletes at his school needed a sport to keep them in superb condition. Since it was too cold to train them outside, Naismith had to think up a new indoor activity. He remembered a game he played as a child called “Duck on a Rock.” Changing a few rules around, he came out with the sport “Basketball.” Today, a McDonald’s near campus occupies the exact site of the “Naismith Gym.” Inside are photos and some information describing the location’s history.
Birthplace of Volleyball
Corner of High and Appleton, Holyoke, MA
Volleyball was invented here in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1895 by William G. Morgan, an instructor at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). As Director of Physical Education. Morgan decided to blend elements of basketball, baseball, tennis, and handball to create a game for his classes of businessmen that would demand less physical contact than basketball. The original YMCA where the games was created burned down in the 1940’s and today a marker commemorates the game’s creation (a Dollar Store sits on the actual site). As well, the interesting Volleyball Hall of Fame is located in Holyoke at 444 Dwight Street.
Hamburger Birthplace/Louis’ Lunch
261-263 Crown Street, New Haven, CT
Where the hamburger was invented in 1900. Today, each one is still made from beef ground fresh each day, broiled vertically in the original cast iron grill and served between two slices of toast with cheese, tomato and onion. (And no ketchup!)
In the 1950s, the tiny town of Gilmanton was made reluctantly famous, or infamous, thanks to the late Grace Metalious, author of the notorious book Peyton Place. The novel, supposedly based on this rural community where the author lived, touched off the largest scandal in the area’s history. It contained salacious tales of overt sex and adultery, hot stuff in 1956, and went on to sell over a million copies (as well as spawning a successful TV series and two movies).
355 N. Washington Street, Knightstown, IN
Starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, the movie Hoosiers recounted the thrilling 1954 Boy’s State Basketball Championship between powerhouse Muncie Central and tiny Milan High School. This is the gym that played host to the team in the film.
“A Christmas Story” Museum
3159 West 11th Street, Cleveland, OH
Don’t shoot yer eye out! The quirky, charming 1983 holiday movie starring Peter Billingsley (in search of a Red Rider air powered BB gun) was shot in this very house. Today, it’s a “Christmas Story” museum!
Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum
223 North Terrace St., Atchison, KS
On July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart was born in this Gothic Revival cottage. Today it’s an award-winning museum, displaying a great number of Earhart artifacts. You can even see the bed where the famed aviator was born.
“A League of Their Own” Stadium
1st St & Rr 3, Huntingburg, IN
This stadium, originally built in 1894, was used in the filming of the 1992 hit movie, “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. When Columbia Pictures decided to use this site for “A League of Their Own,” they expanded and renovated the old park in 1991, to make it feel even more nostalgic and true to the 1940’s period of the film.
Hinckley Fire Museum
106 Old Highway 61, Hinckley, MN
On September 1, 1894, a raging fire ended up destroying six towns, and over 400 square miles. Located in a restored railroad depot, this museum commemorates the forest fire that destroyed the town in 1894. Photographs, newspaper accounts, and items from the fire are displayed.
Thomas Edison’s Last Breath
Henry Ford Museum, 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI
Perhaps the most curious item on display at this museum is also the smallest: A simple glass test tube sits in a Plexiglas case with a sign that reads, “Thomas Edison’s Last Breath?” Verified in a letter written by Charles Edison, the inventor’s son, the test tube is one of several in which he collected the last breaths of his dying father. He presented the test tube to Ford because Ford was his father’s dearest friend.
Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station
Cloquet, MN – Highway 33 about 3 ½ hrs north of Minneapolis
This is the world’s only gas station ever built by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This working Phillips 66 service station is open to the public, and is located at the corner of Route 45 and Route 33 in Cloquet, Minnesota (outside of Duluth).
Shortest Street in the World
McKinley Street – Bellefontaine, OH
McKinley Street, named after President McKinley, is the world’s shortest street. It’s just 17-feet long, and it’s located right near the first concrete street in America, also located here in the small town of Bellefontaine.
Bob Dylan Boyhood Home
519 North 3rd Avenue East, Duluth, MN
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth and spent his first six years in this port city at the end of Lake Superior. The Zimmermans lived on the top floor of this house, which incidentally was auctioned off on eBay in 2001 for $94,600. When Dylan was in kindergarten, his family moved to his mother’s hometown of Hibbing, a mining town about 75 miles north of Duluth.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1204 Kenwood Parkway, Minneapolis, MN
This Victorian house was the exterior of Mary Richard’s house (before she moved to the apartment building in season ive). This was the place that also supposedly housed Phyllis and Rhoda, though from the outside it doesn’t seem nearly big enough to be an “apartment” house. Nevertheless, it remains one of TV’s most recognizable landmarks.
Winslow Arizona was immortalized in the early 1970s by the Eagles in their song “Take It Easy.” Today, the city has turned “this very corner” into a park right on historic Route 66 in the middle of town. A bronze sculpture of a young man wearing blue jeans, with a guitar in hand, resembles the song’s co-writer Jackson Browne. I asked him once if it was him. He just smiled.
Apple Computer Garage
2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, CA
In 1975, two bay-area teenage tech-heads, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, started a firm in this, the Jobs family garage. It was called The Apple Computer Company.
The Brady Bunch House
11222 Dilling Street, Los Angeles, CA
Here’s the story of a lovely single-story house: Some trees have grown over and the owners put up a fence to keep tourists off the property, but other than that, it looks just as it did in the early 1970s. (Private residence, please do not disturb.)
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard’s Honeymoon
181 Main Street, Oatman, AZ
The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County and it was here that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon on March 18, 1939. (They had been married earlier that day in Kingman, Arizona and stopped here along old Route 66 on their way back to Hollywood.)
12925 N Saguaro Blvd, Fountain Hills, AZ
The tallest fountain in the world (here in the desert) shoots eight tons of water as much as 625 feet in the air (70 feet higher than the Washington Monument), at the rate of 7,000 gallons per minute. It is the signature element of a master-planned residential community called Fountain Hills, built by McCullough Properties. Robert McCullough, you may remember, also built Havasu City, with the London Bridge as its primary tourist site.
Beach Boys Landmark/Foster’s Freeze
11969 Hawthorne Boulevard (just north of 120th Street), Hawthorne, CA
The Beach Boys grew up in Hawthorne, California, and the “hamburger stand” mentioned in their hit song, “Fun, Fun, Fun,” was actually this very Foster’s Freeze (which they nicknamed “Frostie’s”). It seems that Brian Wilson spotted a friend here driving by in her daddy’s T-Bird. This Foster’s Freeze is still open for business.
Mork & Mindy
1619 Pine Street (just a few blocks from the Boulder Mall), Boulder, CO
This was the exterior for the house used in the late ’70s and early ’80s for the popular Mork & Mindy Show TV program. The show, featuring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber, focused on an alien who lands in Boulder, Colorado.
Coxcomb Hill, Astoria, OR
The one-of-a-kind Astoria Column has been seen in many films that have been shot in Astoria, including “Kindergarten Cop”, “Free Willy”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III”, “Goonies” and “Short Circuit”. The tower is 125 feet tall and is located on top of 600-foot Coxcomb Hill. A 164-step spiral staircase ascends to a viewing deck, where a spectacular view of the lower Columbia region can be seen.
First Espresso Cart
520 Pike Street, Seattle, WA
The world’s first espresso cart was established below the Seattle Monorail terminal at Westlake Center in 1980. It’s called Monorail Espresso, and it’s still in business today.
Sick’s Stadium (former site)
2700 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, WA
At the former site of Sick’s Stadium today is a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse. Just outside the front door is a bronze home plate with a metal statue of a player holding a bat. The inscription reads: “Batter Up! You are standing on the former site of Sicks’ Seattle Stadium, home of the Seattle Rainiers and Seattle Pilots. If the year were 1942, you’d be in perfect position to knock one out of the park.”
Aurora Avenue Bridge at North 36th Street, Seattle, WA
Lurking under the north end of the Aurora Avenue bridge is one of the coolest art pieces in Seattle, the Fremont Troll. He’s been here since 1990 and was sculpted by four Seattle area artists (Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter and Ross Whitehead) for the Fremont Arts Council.
Butch Cassidy Robbery/Montpelier Bank Building (former site)
833 Washington Street, Montpelier, ID
This building housed the original “Bank of Montpelier” and is the site of a famous Butch Cassidy bank robbery on August 13, 1896. Today, the site is an unoccupied storefront. (But look for details of the famed robbery on a plaque outside the building.)
Rosyln Café, Roslyn, WA
This was the first TV show to shoot entirely on location in (central) Washington, although the real-life Roslyn (population during filming: 875) was supposed to be the fictional Cicely, Alaska. You can’t miss the whimsical mural featuring a camel painted outside the Roslyn Café. In the show, a woman named Roslyn was said to be a co-founder of Cicely.
401 West River Rd., Louisville, KY
The Belle is recognized as the oldest continuously operated Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world. Built in 1914, today the Belle spends her days taking passengers along the Ohio River.
706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN
Opened in 1950 by a local radio station engineer named Sam Phillips, some of the most legendary moments in rock and roll history were captured at this tiny Memphis studio. The first Elvis recordings, Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” are just a couple of the classic moments.
Original Dr Pepper Soda Fountain/Dr Pepper Museum
300 S. 5th Street, Waco, TX
Dr Pepper was created, manufactured and sold beginning in 1885 here in the Central Texas town of Waco. Dr Pepper is a “native Texan,” originating at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store (originally located in Waco at the corner of 4th and Austin, it can now be seen here at this museum).
Muddy Waters’ Cabin/Delta Blues Museum
1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS
The Delta Museum contains thousands of artifacts related to Blues, but perhaps none is as stunning as the cabin where Muddy Waters grew up. In the cabin sits the life-size wax statue of former Clarksdale resident, Muddy Waters.
Tupelo Hardware Store
114 W. Main St., Tupelo, MS
Elvis fans often consider Tupelo Hardware the second most important Presley site in Tupelo after his birthplace. It was here that Gladys Presley bought her son his very first guitar. The business was founded by George H. Booth in 1926 and is still owned and managed by the family’s third generation under the leadership of George H. Booth II.
540 South Main Street, Memphis, TN
Here at the Arcade, you can sit in a booth (on the very same cushions no less) that a young Elvis sat on while sipping malts during his breaks as a driver for Crown Electric. After he became famous in the late 1950s, he still came, but he’d sit by the side door to avoid being recognized right away. There’s even a small silver plaque that reads, ”Elvis Presley’s Booth Since 1953.” The Arcade is the oldest restaurant in Memphis; it opened in 1919.
Biedenharn Candy Company Museum
1107 Washington Street, Vicksburg, MS
This museum is in the restored 19th century candy store and soda fountain where Joseph Biedenharn first bottled Coca-Cola in 1894. Coca-Cola memorabilia, a bottle collection and antique bottling equipment are displayed.
256 Middle Street, New Bern, NC
This is where Pepsi was invented back in the late 1800s by a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham. Today, the Birthplace of Pepsi is owned and operated by Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New Bern, Inc. and first opened its doors on the 100th Anniversary of Pepsi-Cola. If you stop in on a hot day, they’ll happily serve you an ice cold Pepsi, free of charge.
Dallas (the TV show)/Southfork Ranch
3700 Hogge Drive, Parker, TX
Tour guides now squire visitors through the “Ewing” mansion and 41-acre estate, pointing out memorabilia from the show: the gun that shot J.R., Lucy’s wedding dress, saddles used by the stars, etc.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Skyscraper
510 Dewey Street, Bartlesville, OK
The H.C. Price Company Tower is the only skyscraper built by Frank Lloyd Wright. This innovative building not only changed the horizon of the Oklahoma prairie, but also the world of architecture. Today, this interesting landmark serves local, regional and global audiences as a fine art complex dedicated to art, architecture and design.
Hank Williams’s Last Cadillac/Hank Williams Museum
118 Commerce Street, Montgomery, AL
The official Hank Williams Museum is located in Downtown Montgomery, where the country legend lived from 1937–1953. Appropriately, it houses Hank’s 1952 Cadillac in which he made his final journey.
Fountain of Youth
11 Magnolia Avenue (off San Marco Avenue, N.), St. Augustine, FL
On April 3, 1513, Ponce de Leon discovered what he considered to be the fabled Fountain of Youth. This archeological park contains foundations and artifacts of the first St. Augustine mission and colony, plus, Ponce de Leon marked the spot where the spring was found by leaving a stone cross in the ground.
327 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ONT
At this unique shoe museum you’ll find over 10,000 shoes ranging from Chinese bound foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to chestnut crushing clogs and Elton John’s platforms.
“Roxanne” – Town of Nelson
Nelson is located at the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 3A, at the western tip of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, 26 miles (41 km) northeast of Castlegar.,
After producers could not find a satisfactory ski town in America to film Steve Martin’s popular update of Edmund Rostand’s book Cyrano De Bergerac, they headed up to this picturesque town in British Columbia. Today, local walking tours are given in this town of about 10,000 which document many of the film sites from “Roxanne.”
Birthplace of Canada
More than 100 years ago, a small group of elected officials gathered here in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. This historic event of 1864 led to the founding of Canada. Visiting today, you can relive and learn about the history of the Island and the history of Canada, as this is her official birthplace.
Birthplace of Ice Hockey
Long Pond, Windsor, NS
It is believed that this is the birthplace of Canadian hockey. According to scholars, in the early 1800’s, King’s College School Boys began adapting the Irish field game of Hurley to the ice here on Long Pond. The “Long Pond” which appears to have been the venue of the first substantiated hockey in Canada, can still be seen on Howard Dill’s property just off the campus of what is now King’s-Edgehill School.
Olympic Park/Olympic Stadium
4549 Pierre-de-Courbertin Ave, Montreal, QB
Montreal hosted the 1976 Olympic Games and today, Olympic Park is now home to a number of activity and tourist sites. They include swimming, the Biodome, and views from the top of the tower that supports the dome over Olympic Stadium.