Man pens book about Highway 301 businesses

You may have never heard of Tim O’Gorman or any of his books but if you are local you might want to check him out, especially his third and latest book, Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail.

If you are like O’Gorman and have a passion for exploring old motels, restaurants, and service stations still intact before they are only memories you will want to get a copy of this book. Or maybe you just want to remember your community the way it was decades ago. The postcards are a great reminder.

Everyone local who has seen the book, such as Bobby Wrenn, has been thrilled with what they found about old local haunts that have since closed. “It brings back a lot of memories for me,” said Wrenn. “There is one post card in the book that is still a mystery to me. Hopefully, someone will remember the business and can tell Tim something about it.”

O’Gorman says his book documents the variety, evolution, locations, and history of roadside businesses that catered to numerous travelers along Hwy. 301.

In the 1940s and 1950s, during the “Golden Age of the Automobile”, U.S. Highway 301 was a heavily traveled east coast pathway to Florida, rivaling U.S. Highway 1 in popularity.

It was an easy stop. The tourist business was thriving in Emporia, Greensville County, Jarratt and neighboring localities back then. Things changed when Interstate 95 was built. All of the businesses located on the 301 corridor saw patronage drop substantially and eventually they had to close. Reste Motel is one of the few motels still open.

Given the nickname of “The Tobacco Trail” because of its route through the tobacco growing states of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, Highway 301 extends from Delaware to Sarasota, Florida, a distance of 1,100 miles, said O’Gorman.

Generously illustrated with over 430 images, 254 of which are postcards, Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail documents the roadside history of Virginia’s portion of Highway 301 including motels, gas stations, restaurants, and other travelers’ services that catered to tourists when the highway was at its peak.

In Prince George County (South Crater Road) a lot of people will recognize the La Salle Motel, which is still doing business as well as others such as the Bancroft Motel, Heath’s Court, Joy Young Restaurant, the Continental Motel, and Quality Court Motel, South, which offered bridal suites, putting green, tennis court, shuffleboard, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and lawn games.

Other postcards include Ellyn Motel, Brook’s Tourist Court (also named Motel Arthur and Young’s Motel) and remains intact as well as Hollycrest Motel, Holiday Inn, Congress Inn/Bollingbrook Inn and The Claremont which remains intact but is unoccupied.

Postcards from Petersburg you might recognize include the Sycamore Tourist Home, which is located at 606 Sycamore St., the Strother House, The Gables Restaurant, Dutch Garden Restaurant, Smith’s Motel Court, Petersburg Motor Court, Windsor Court, Prince George Motel, Colonial Heights motels and restaurant postcards include Swift Creek Farms Restaurant & Motel. Most of the motel portion has been demolished but the restaurant has remained intact currently the site of Carrini Italian Pizza & Restaurant.

The Swift Creek Motel and Swift Creek Farms Restaurant advertised “every modern convenience” on their postcard. The business is now named the Colonial Inn.

Postcards of Matoaka Manor say it was a tourist home/cottage court offering hotel rooms, cottages, and breakfast. It is located at 3597 Boulevard and is still intact.

The Colonial Inn was a tourist home that opened for business in the 1920’s and was located at 3416 Boulevard behind Pino’s Pizza in Prince George. Lana’s Restaurant, built int he 1940s, was located at 3008 Boulevard but is no longer standing.

Old Oaks has been demolished but once offered private baths, hot water heat, locked garages, and the choicest of home cooked foods.

New Brick Tourist Home advertised hot water at “all times” and was later renamed the Roses of Picardy and continued to expand through the 1960s becoming a multi-building motel which remains intact.

Maple Manor advertised “real Virginia ham and chicken dinners” on its postcards, along with Beautyrest mattresses, steam heat, running water in rooms, and free locked garages. It later became part of the Roses of Picardy Motel complex.

The Roses of Picardy got its beginning as tourist homes in the 1930’s but grew to became a motel of mixed designs, including a hotel, cottage, and motor court style accommodations. Roses of Picardy now accommodates a variety of shops and businesses.
Other postcards include Arnette’s Restaurant, Westover Guest House, Howard Johnson Restaurant, Pickwick Lodge, Peggy’s Tourist Inn,

While some of the buildings remain standing today, time has not been friendly to most as they have either been demolished, repurposed, or have become derelict, said O’Gorman, former Director of the U.S. Quartermaster Museum.

“But taken together they are a reminder of the time when traveling meant driving through towns and country sides at much slower paces and when it was an adventure that offered a variety of experiences that today’s interstates, with their monotonous roadways and homogenous and corporatized travel centers, can never replace.”

It is hoped that readers of Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail will be inspired to seek out the roadside structures along Highway 301 that still remain and appreciate their significance before they are gone, he said.

Although O’Gorman’s book only became available a couple of weeks ago he has already been told of postcards and information that is not included in the book. So a second edition is expected sometime in the future.

O’Gorman, who lives in Chester and is originally from Emporia, Kansas, is also the author of “Spending the Night on Virginia’s Main street: A Postcard History of Motels Along U.S. Highway 1 From Arlington to South Hill, 1920-1965.”

This book documents the history of motels, tourist courts, and other overnight lodging that prospered along Virginia’s historic Highway 1 from 1920 to 1965, before the arrival of the interstates.

The book features over 400 illustrations including over 320 vintage postcards and is similar to Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail.

O’Gorman also has a book exploring U.S. Highway 1, which was officially established in 1926 running from New Kent, Maine to Miami, Florida, and eventually extending to Key West.

Virginia’s stretch of Highway 1 covers 200 miles beginning in the north in Arlington County then passing through Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg before arriving at South Hill, the last town in Virginia before reaching the North Carolina border.

Until Interstate 95 was completed in 1964, Highway 1 was the most heavily traveled highway in Virginia; Virginia’s “Main Street”.

His interest in historic sites stem from the roadside history they represent and the importance of documenting rapidly disappearing historic resources.

O’Gorman continues to serve as a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

O’Gorman is working on a second edition for Spending the Night on Virginia’s Main Street. Since the book was written many people have sent him additional postcards and history. He credits the postcards he receives to the person who sent it to him in his books.

“Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail” can be found online through Amazon or by contacting Gorman at (804) 796-2827 or email varoadside@gmail.com. The book is printed on demand and costs $30 on Amazon.

O’Gorman also authored another book, Spending the Night on the Pike. In 2010, Highway 1 was designated an Historic Highway. The stretch of highway between Richmond and Petersburg, long known locally as the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, or “Pike” for short, was an important stopover for tourists driving to and from Florida and the number, and variety, of travel accommodations attest to the Pike’s popularity.

Using over 160 postcards along with over 55 other images including some provided by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Chesterfield County Historical Society, the book provides a history of motels, tourist courts, tourist camps, etc. that flourished from 1920 to 1975.

But Spending the Night on the Pike is not a history of postcards. It is a history of what postcards tell us about travelers in the first half of the 20th century and of the evolution of the lodging that accommodated them.

“For many tourist courts and motels, postcards are the only record remaining of these once vibrant businesses and are the source of clues that help identify buildings that still remain but are hidden or disguised,” O’Gorman said.

“For those motels still operating, their postcards give us a glimpse of their former glory, when they were new and polished, before the arrival of the interstates that siphoned off the tourist business.

And they tell of the time when motels were family-owned “Mom and Pop’s” and proudly advertised that fact on their postcards, he noted. “It is also a nostalgic look back for those who remember the time when road trips required driving through towns instead of around them and of a time that seems less complicated, less stressful, and less rushed,” O’Gorman said.

“And for those who take the time to look, the motels, tourist courts, and tourist cabins still standing provide us a reminder of that earlier time.”

Featured Photo:
Tim O’Gorman holds a copy of his latest book, Traveling Virginia’s Tobacco Trail, which looks at history along Highway 301.

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