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The Great American Road Trip!

July 22, 2017

Four thousand miles, seven days and one heck of an experience! With only one week to do it, Brittany of BVL Historic Preservation Research and husband Matt set out on a quest of lifetime: to travel as far west, to see as much of America as possible. From the Rockies to the Great Smokies, through the plains of Kansas and the cornfields of Nebraska, from Beale Street in Memphis to Broadway in Nashville, from Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL to Coors Field in Denver, CO, from Route 66 to the Blue Ridge Parkway, here is a glimpse of their Great American Road Trip.

"SEE AMERICA FIRST!" - National Park Service, 1916

 

Being a professor at the College of Charleston and my husband, an officer with the City of Charleston's police department, extended vacations during most of the year are near impossible for us. So when my husband came home from work one day in early July with news that he had the next seven days off, we took full advantage! "Let's just get in the car and see how far west we can get," he said. That was all it took, and by 3AM the next morning, with an atlas and bananas, we set out to see the Rockies...and all the Main Streets in between.

 

DAY 1:

Charleston, SC to Memphis, TN

 

Our first stop: Birmingham, Alabama!

 

We cruised through Birmingham and made sure to stop at America's oldest professional baseball park, the c. 1910 Rickwood Field, and the city's anchor preservation project, the c. 1927 Alabama Theatre ❤️.

READ MORE on Birmingham's historic theaters.

 

STOP #2: City of Memphis, TN!

From Graceland to Beale Street, the survival and USE of the city's historic buildings are what make the Home of the Blues still the home of the blues. The City of Memphis has taken considerable action in preserving its buildings, to preserve its music culture. In the past, the city purchased nearly all the buildings along Beale Street to ensure the street's survival, and its working!

Think about it, would you rather: listen to blues in a 2017 storefront or listen to blues in the same downtown saloon where BB King got his big break in the 1940s?! We know where we'll be!!

READ MORE about the role of Memphis in the American Music Triangle and its links to other music cities, such as New Orleans and Nashville.

 

Day 2:

Memphis, TN to Kansas City, MO 

 

Stop #3: Route 66, the Mother Road! Hearts. Exploding.
 

We celebrated the 91st birthday of Route 66, one of the first roadways of the federal highway system in the 1920s, by having a nice cold beer in Avilla, MO at Bernie's Bar And Grill {+75-year-old establishment pictured below}. Thanks to local residents and small business owners along the historic highway, as well as programs like the Heritage & Historic Preservation - NPS Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, Route 66 Alliance, Driving Route 66 and Route 66 associations in AZ, KS, IL, CA and many others, the road is still ALIVE! 

Despite its decommission in the 1980s and the construction of FIVE new interstates to replace the route, many portions still remain. Next time you find yourself bisecting the country in one way or other, find a strip of Route 66. Yes, it may take you an extra 45 minutes (or if you are like us, 2 hours) to get to your destination, but you will NOT be disappointed. Make the journey count and cruise at 35, rather than speed at 75, for the best way to see (and save) America!

ALERT: Congressional funding for the NPS' Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is set to expire in two years. Show and share the Route 66 love in any way you can to ensure proper funding is allocated to America’s greatest roadway. Our future depends on it!!!!

Learn more about the National Park Service initiative to preserve Route 66!

 

 Stop #4: Independence, MO!

 

Checked an item off our bucket list: experience portions of the Oregon Trail! Everyone remembers playing Oregon Trail, but what we sometimes forget is that IT REALLY HAPPENED! Real human beings transversed the western half of our country seeking better opportunity - and it wasn't as easy as a click of the mouse to secure rations (or ford a river).

 

Courthouse Square of Independence, MO served as a major embarkment point for both the Oregon Trail and the Sante Fe Trail. This city was the last image many saw before crossing the wide Great Plains and through the treacherous Rockies. We sunk our feet right into this square, closed our eyes and took it all in {and then followed that up with a nice cold beer in the Courthouse Exchange, run by incredible locals that keep Courthouse Square alive}. Both the National Frontier Trials Museum and the National Park Service have a presence on Courthouse Square, and just down the road one can visit the Victorian-era home of President Harry S. Truman at the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.

 

As we made our way through Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, we saw the hard work of many locals and organizations to preserve the portions of the trails that are still survive. Although major interstates have replaced the routes in many locations, if you look close you can see symbolic wagon wheel divots flanking dirt roads along Interstate 70 in Kansas and Interstate 80 in Nebraska. To know it exists is one thing, but to SEE IT, that is absolutely surreal. #preservationmatters

 

READ MORE about the historic trails of the NPS.

 

(PS - we also saw portions of the Lewis & Clark and Pony Express on our way across the plains and squealed with joy.)

 

 Stop #5: Kansas City, MO!

 

We rolled into Kansas City just in time for dinner, and after checking into the historic c. 1925 The Aladdin Holiday Inn Hotel (listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its representation of the city's Gilded Age history - the thing is capped with a gilded roof and the terra-cotta and limestone detailing was incredible!), we went to dinner in the Kansas City Power & Light District, which CAME TO LIFE at night! With the 1930s KCP&L building in the background (the oldest building west of the Mississippi until Seattle’s 1960s Space Needle) & the old gas lighting overhead, our wine tasted mighty fine in the KCMO.

 

Day 3:

Kansas City, MO to Denver, CO

 

Stop #6: We almost made it to the Rockies! How could we NOT go to a Rockies game?! 

Day 4:

Denver, CO to Breckenridge, CO

 

Stop #7: Pikes Peak and U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO! {both registered under the National Historic Landmarks Program}

 

"America the Beautiful" was written from up here in 1893 and once you reach the summit of Pike’s Peak (14,115 feet above sea level), you know exactly why! "Pikes Peak or Bust” was a slogan for pioneers and immigrants in the 1859 Gold Rush to Colorado and also for our road trip. We had a goal of making it to Pike’s Peak before turning back east, and we did it in 3 days.

 

After regaining our balance and stomachs from the 19-mile drive up and back down off the mountain, we stopped at the incredible mid-century modern wonderland that is the United States Air Force Academy. The highlight? The peaks of the 1960s chapel on campus, in perfect harmony with the Rockies in the background. Once a subject of controversy, the chapel is now one of the most prominent examples of midcentury modern American academic architecture. A perfect example of the importance of architectural integrity (architecture has so much power!) and how one generation’s “eye soar” can be another generation’s masterpiece.

 

 

 

Stop #8: Town of Breckenridge, Colorado! The largest historic district in Colorado and an amazing mining town turned ski haven!

 

After getting a beer at the Breckenridge Brewery (how could we not have cold beer in the Rockies?!) we walked the streets of the downtown and were amazed at the number of diverse historic buildings. Pedestrians are the main focus in Breckenridge’s downtown, and similar to Charleston's King Street, the buildings (all different shapes and sizes) flow harmoniously as one struts down the wide sidewalks. An American Main Street at its finest.

 

READ MORE from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service on the surviving Breckenridge home of an escaped slave who journeyed from South Carolina to Colorado…and his pivotal role in Colorado history: 

 

https://savingplaces.org/stories/preserving-a-slice-of-african-american-history-at-the-barney-ford-house#.WuukoWaZPxR

 

 

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/co1.htm

 

Day 5:

Breckenridge, Co to Nebraska City, NE

 

Stop #9: Georgetown, CO!

 

Stumbling into this old silver mining town was the silver lining in our bittersweet drive out of Colorado (Colorado was just too darn pretty and RAW!)

 

This old gal of a city is known as the “Silver Queen of Colorado” and was founded during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859. The silver boom collapsed at the end of the 1800s and the town dwindled but was brought back to life in the 1950s as a fancy, trendy ski destination. The historic main street was been the backdrop of SO MANY movies (mostly Christmas-themed chick flicks…obsessed). It is experiencing places like this that made our road trip across America completely priceless.

 

Check out the recent story written by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on Georgetown’s Hotel de Paris Museum.

 

 

Stop #10: Nebraska City, Nebraska!

 

After bisecting the cornfields of Nebraska from Colorado and touring the historic neighborhoods of the capital, Lincoln, we spent the night in Lied Lodge & Conference Center - a hotel owned by the Arbor Day Foundation, which sits right smack in the middle of the 260 acres of National Historic Landmark Arbor Day Farm.

 

Not only did we get the most amazing Nebraska sunset show after a storm, but from our room we could see the c. 1855 J. Sterling Morton estate. Morton was the Secretary of Agriculture under President Cleveland, and the founder of America's Arbor Day in 1872 when he planted 1million trees in Nebraska. Yes, Mr. Morton. YES. 🌲🌲🌲#Americathebeautiful (side note: we missed a tornado by one day.)

 

 

Day 6:

Nebraska City, NE to Nashville, TN!

 

Stop #11: Nashville, TN! 

 

Thanks to a National Trust for Historic Preservation Preservation magazine article {link below}, we knew to go straight to Acme Feed & Seed once we hit Broadway. We spent the night dancing to the most amazing local musicians in this 1890s gem before heading back to Charleston the next morning through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

 

{MORE on Acme's rehabilitation: https://savingplaces.org/stories/music-city-marvel-acme-feed-seed#.Wuuox2aZPxR

 

Day 7:

Nashville, TN to Charleston, SC 

 

Stop #12, the final stop: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS: 

TEN states in SIX days and over a dozen of America's Main Streets (both active and abandoned) visited. 

Our country is beautiful and diverse, but it's the Main Streets that keep "Small Town America" alive. 

We MUST protect our Main Streets, for without them, America is lost. 

 

 

 

 

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