Sunday, September 29, 2013

When this was somewhere

About a mile from my house, an unimpressive two lane road heads south out of Apex through the unincorporated communities Friendship, New Hill, and Bonsal. There is nothing inspiring about this road. It passes small brick ranch houses, unprosperous country stores, and a few long shuttered and decaying businesses. This is “Old US 1”, a route that shadows the new four lane Claude E. Pope Memorial highway (US Route 1), and the CSX Railway tracks heading south.

At the intersection of Old US 1 and New Hill Hollerman Road you may notice an abandoned restaurant with some small structures in the back. This is the former site of “Troy’s Camping Cabins”. This isn’t a very impressive structure, but it represents a mildly interesting part of local history.
Troy's Camping Cabins in 2013
From the 1920’s until the 1960’s Route 1 was the main road between New York and Miami. Babe Ruth, Bonny & Clyde, and the Great Gatsby sped down this road in a hurry to get somewhere else. They drove through tobacco fields and small towns on their way from the Big Apple to a winter vacation in Miami. It was an exhausting drive that took days. Back then cars and roads were unreliable, with frequent breakdowns and stretches of muddy dirt and washboard gravel.

Each small town along the way tried to capture a few dollars as the travelers sped through. Roadside diners, gas stations with Coca-Cola machines, and motels provided basic services, and mechanics fixed flat tires and overheating radiators. An enterprising constable and justice of the peace could finance the town budget with bonanza of speeding tickets and traffic fines – payable immediately in cash.
Apex Highlights
Route 1 got its start when the original 13 colonies started stringing together footpaths and trails into a system of standard routes between cities. It became a wagon road, carrying freight wagons, Conestoga’s, and stage coaches. In 1802 a busy traveler could average fifty three miles a day along the route. Many of these cities were located at the fall line; the place where boats could no longer navigate upriver from the ocean. This included Trenton, Philadelphia, Richmond, Raleigh, and Augusta – all cities along Route 1.

The railroads quickly took over as the main route for commerce, following the same path. Trains dominated transportation until automobiles made their appearance in force around 1910. By 1915, the route was designated the “Atlantic Highway, and stretched from Canada to Southern Florida. By 1922 it was called U.S. Route 1.

In North Carolina Route 1 takes a path through Raleigh, and then downtown Apex, and on to Sanford - pretty much following the railroad. My hometown of Apex was an unremarkable farming town with brick buildings lining the unpaved main street. Just southwest of town, travelers could stay the night at Troy’s Camping Cabins at New Hill. Troy’s was an old-style car motor hotel with separate cabins.

The motorcar
The first cars were a novelty. Long distance travelers would have to stop and sleep where they could find a place. If no inn was available, they could pull over into a farm field and set-up tents of sleep in the car.
“The autocamper and his family may go where they choose, may stop where and when they like, may ask odds of no man because they are in the wide domain of the Roadside,” - Autocamping, by F. E. Brimmer, 1923
Good stopover sites developed into campgrounds, and then local farmers built cabins and restrooms for motorists. These accommodations had varying standards of quality and cleanliness. Troy’s was one of these old style campgrounds – it looks well maintained on the postcard.
Troy's in its heyday - 1950's?
Eventually travelers got tired of roughing it, and opted for single building motels. Later, in the 1960’s as the interstate highway system was built, big chain motels like Howard Johnsons and Quality Courts took over the business, leaving places like Troy’s literally in the dust.
In addition to cabins, Troy’s featured a restaurant. Babe Ruth stopped here and was cooked a special chicken dinner. Local legend says Bonnie & Clyde also paid a visit between bank robberies. By the 1970’s Interstate 95 had put Troy’s out of business.

The cabins are still there – nicely painted and boarded up. The restaurant is closed. Business is a bit slow in New Hill.

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© 2008 Raoul Rubin