US Highway #1, conceived of in 1926, serves as the only uninterrupted route along the Atlantic Coast of the United States stretching from the Canadian border to the tip of Florida. Although today I-95 is the primary travel route along the Atlantic Coast, US 1 still takes the casual driver or tourist through a wonderful glimpse of many of America’s lost treasures.
In search of the history and beauty of many forgotten and neglected places along US 1, South Carolina photographer James “Jimmy” Henderson set out to travel the 2,390 mile-long road. Making seven trips between the fall of 1997 and 2001, Henderson photographed many locations that for him captured the essence of each region and the abundance of spectacular views rarely seen by those traveling the I-95 superhighway. As a child Henderson and his brother Tommy often wondered how long US 1 (known to them locally as Two Notch Road) was and where did the road end? What was beyond the stretch of the pavement they traveled frequently with their parents?
In 1995, before beginning his graduate studies in Media Arts at the University of South Carolina, wanderlust captured Henderson as he revisited these old questions. New questions soon developed, inquiring why this road no longer served the intended function of its construction, and what distinguished one stretch of it from another. An even more inquisitive thought arose which greatly influenced Henderson’s need to take on this journey – what geographic and ideological notions do people have about the American landscape, especially along US 1? For Henderson, the many questions posed are answered in his exhibition titled “A Road Less Taken: Photographs by James Henderson” on display at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum in Columbia.
The 2,390 miles (3,846 km) stretch of road begins at Fort Kent, Maine and ends in Key West, Florida. US 1 traverses many of America’s historic states including Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The major cities along this route include Portland, Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Raleigh, Columbia, Augusta, Jacksonville, and Miami. However, along this 2,390 mile stretch Americana and American history can be found everywhere.
Taking five years to complete, construction on US 1 was finished in South Carolina. Until 1931, US 1 was constructed in multiple sections representing two major stretches – from Fort Kent, Maine south to Cheraw, South Carolina and from the Florida Keys north to Cheraw. This year the town of Cheraw (birthplace of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie) celebrates the 75th anniversary of US 1 and the distinction of this small town as the “last link in a national chain,” as noted by Wayne Washington of South Carolina’s “The State” newspaper.
The highway was once home to many motels dotting the landscape with names like Stardust, Wishing Well, and Thoroughbred. These colorful motels of yellow, baby blue, soft pink, and pale green were popularized during the 1950s and 1960s when America’s roads took vacationers south to the sunny beaches of Florida and the Carolinas and north to the hustle and bustle culture of New York City. However, when construction of the superhighway I-95 was started in 1957, US 1 slowly became a road less taken by those traveling along the Atlantic coast. Today, it is mostly used by those living in the vicinity of the road, often as a connector to other routes and highways. For many drivers, local names for regional stretches of US 1 are commonly used. In parts of South Carolina the route is known as Two Notch Road, a Colonial name designating the road as safe for travel by wagon. Most Floridians know US 1 as the Blue Star Memorial Highway. The length running through Boston is still commonly referred to as Boston Post, a Colonial mail route.
Through each town and city that the highway traverses remnants of the past are interspersed with the present. In many smaller towns, the past is minimally present, as much has disappeared over the last 30 years. Henderson began to see history unfolding, as areas of “old-timeyness” popped up in remote areas along his journey. Ruins of Colonial America, closed train stations, dead motels are everywhere telling stories of the past. Henderson expresses that the entire trip, through its many parts, was a voyage of discovery, of “being there, attuned and immersed in the moment.” He also states that his intent was to capture “what is lost and what is found. He believes that “as our society changes, the world around the road – and the road itself – changes. What I find fascinating are the pockets of history that still stick out from the modern creation, and the modern creation that continually replaces the old. And I, a photographer finding both the historical and the modern, was there.”
Henderson’s images include numerous looks into the past, of places that still offer a nostalgic view into once flourishing institutions or towns. For instance, in Scarborough, Rhode Island, a photograph of a building ruin holds a unique view of a decayed structure, yet life springs forth with new vegetation reminding us that with death comes new life. At the Florida border, a once grand welcome sign in the shape of the Sunshine State stands hidden in the trees, rusted and neglected. In Swainsboro, Georgia the City Hall stands at the intersection of North, South, East and West Main Streets, making it easy for residents and tourists to find their way to the heart of downtown.
Several historic highlights from Henderson’s trips are documented in this exhibit. His photograph of Fort Griswold in Groton, Connecticut, a battle site in the Revolutionary War, captures a desolate and eerie place. In 1781 Fort Griswold was the site of the bloody massacre of American Revolutionaries led by the traitorous Benedict Arnold. In Guinea, Virginia, near the battlefield at Chancellorsville, stands the house where Stonewall Jackson died. Jackson, a hero of the Mexican and Civil Wars, was mortally wounded by friendly fire and died on May 10, 1863.
Several towns offer a unique glimpse into Americana – the quirky and the humoresque. In Georgia, about eighty-five miles west of Savannah, is the town of Santa Claus. Less than one-quarter square miles in size, the town celebrates Christmas everyday with images of jolly old St. Nick adorning the City Hall. In Stratford, Connecticut, a street sign in front of a funeral home reads “Dead End.”
Other photos capture the true beauty of the American landscape, begging drivers to stop and appreciate the grandeur and diversity of the Atlantic Coast. In Cape Neddick, Maine, the “Nubble” Lighthouse perched upon its hill is beautifully silhouetted against a dramatic sunrise that shimmers on the waters of the Atlantic. In Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania an old bridge creates the frame for a vista of foliage set against the rusticated stone harkening back to an era of lush, largely uninhabited land.
Today, we all want to reach our vacation spots via the fastest route to have more time to spend relaxing and seeing the sights of our destinations. However, we often forget about what there is to see along the way. Just as with life, there is so much to experience and see through our journeys. As museums, artists, and photographers serve as preservationists of the past, so too can the casual driver or diehard traveler connect with the vast history found along America’s roads.
Henderson’s photographs, approximately fifty in all, can be seen in Columbia, South Carolina at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. On view from January 13 through March 24, 2007, “A Road Less Taken” will take the viewer on a journey along US 1 and provide a glimpse into America’s past and present. Plans are underway to travel the exhibition to locations along US 1 from Fort Kent to the Florida Keys to bring Henderson’s photographs closer to home for many local travelers, or those who venture beyond the reaches of their state.
For more information regarding this exhibition, please see the website at www.cas.sc.edu/mcks/ or Henderson’s website at www.members.aol.com/roamingus1/. Hopefully your travels along US 1 will be as fulfilling as those of Jimmy Henderson. Don’t forget to take your camera and factor in a little extra time to stop and take in the sights along all roads less taken.