Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

What are unsuspecting motorists’ typical reactions when they encounter a seven-foot praying mantis standing alongside a highway? Or a giant shoe, three stories tall? How about a huge steamboat, complete with paddlewheels, miles from navigable waterways? They might range from exclamation – “wow!” – to sheer dis­dain – “tourist trap!” – but the fact is, the eye-catching object or structure has accomplished its task: it attracted the attention (if not awe) of travelers.

Larger-than-life advertising gim­micks – from the fantastic to the fabulous to the funky – dotted the nation’s roadways during the first half of this century. And the reasons are quite simple. They could catch a speeding motorist’s eye more easily than a one­-dimensional billboard. The mimetic architecture was conveniently identified by a population less literate than today’s. Most important, they attracted the curious who might not otherwise stop and spend money at these strange and wondrous places.

The few surviving out-of-proportion examples represent a different era, when overt displays of entrepreneurship were applauded rather than condemned. The extant advertising objects are not just large; they embody a larger-than-life mindset of a period when possibilities were limited only by imaginations, an era before city officials, township supervisors, and zoning boards worried that businesses might offend residents and visitors by blatantly advertising their wares and services. Actually, the diversity and exuberance inherent in funny-shaped signs and whimsical buildings lend a human touch often Lacking in uni.form signage and architecture deemed proper by Corporate America today.

Most early entrepreneurs looked to the main highways to find the greatest number of potential customers, and in Pennsylvania that meant the Lincoln Highway. When created in 1913 by the Lincoln Highway Association to be a transcontinental highway for the nation, the Lincoln Highway ran from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. It entered Pennsylvania from Trenton, New Jersey, angled southwest to Philadelphia, from which it crossed to the southern tier of the Commonwealth, passing through Gettysburg, Adams County, Greensburg, Westmoreland County, and Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, before leading to Ohio. The route north of Philadelphia has been superseded by U. S. Route 1, while the remainder of the old Lincoln Highway is now U.S. Route 30. Usually Route 30 follows the original Lincoln Highway, but occasionally the two diverge, such as at bypasses around cities – Lancaster, York, and Pittsburgh­ – where once the Lincoln ran straight through town.

Today, many ambitious business owners (or their equally overzealous advertising agencies) market their firms or services as “the world’s largest,” “the world’s only” or “the world’s best.” But years ago, entrepreneurs along the Lincoln Highway employed truly unusual, often unique, oversized structures to attract attention. For instance, a few miles south on Business Route 1, in Penndel, is what looks to the uninitiated Like an airplane zooming in for a landing on a diner. The Airplane Family Restaurant and Diner is topped by a towering silver airplane, a Lockheed Super G Constellation, complete with propeller, about twenty­-five feet in the air. The one hundred and thirty passenger, four-engine airplane, was purchased new by Cubana Airlines in 1954 and later served various airlines around the globe. It was decommis­sioned and moved to Penndel in 1967 to serve as a cocktail lounge. The airplane’s seats have been removed and its blue shag carpeting and mirrored ceiling recall a dated sixties discotheque or nightclub. Until recently the plane was rented for parties, but leaks in the roof have since closed it. The restaurant beneath the airplane remains open, featuring – what else? – aviation-theme decor and menu.

The multilane Roosevelt Boulevard carries Lincoln Highway motorists into northern Philadelphia. Early travelers on the Lincoln Highway would have found what resembled Greek temples on both sides of the city. Not religious, educa­tional, or banking buildings, these temples dispensed gasoline for the Atlantic Refining Company! One of the company’s elegant stations was located at the intersection of Roosevelt (original­ly Northeast) Boulevard and Hunting Park Avenue, serving those entering or exiting Philadelphia via Broad Street. Its oval-shaped “temple” contained machinery and a storeroom and was surrounded by fifteen pumps.

A similar station was built in West Philadelphia at Walnut and 40th Streets in 1918; its “temple,” containing a salesroom and cashier’s office, was completely circular. An article in National Petroleum News of the day described the temple’s interior as being “finished in mahogany and bronze, while the dome and sides are in the white tile … flanked by an imposing Ionic colonnade to the rear.” Both the temple and the colonnade were illuminated with concealed lighting. Service stations such as these, erected during the City Beautiful movement, were meant to silence critics who opposed the inelegant look of traditional gasoline stations.

Heading west from Philadelphia, the Lincoln Highway follows Lancaster Avenue through tony Main Line commu­nities, where few old roadside attractions remain. One exception survives – Bob Swartz’s Camera Shop in Ardmore, on which an extra-large camera hangs as an advertising sign. Bob Swartz opened his store in 1950 and designed the sign the following year. He has considered repainting the eye-catching sign and restoring the neon. Like many towns, however, Ardmore no longer permits new overhanging signs, assuring that creatively designed signs like the giant camera will ultimately disappear from the suburban landscape and, in many cases, from the urban environment.

Large bowling pins seem to have been an early roadside staple, and one example can still be found in Paoli. A similar example remains near Chambers­burg in Franklin County, but two – one between Downingtown and Coatesville in eastern Pennsylvania, and one farther west in Greensburg, Westmoreland County – were recently demolished.

At the intersection of Routes 30 and 100 in Exton, a stone building advertises “restaurant” and “ice cream” in yellow letters, but the Guernsey Cow is no longer in business. It was once “interna­tionally famous for our … Golden Guernsey milk,” but it was probably better known for its huge cow-shaped billboard across the street. Opened in 1931, the building is scheduled for demolition, slated to be replaced by the expansion of an adjacent mall. West of Downingtown, Ice Cream Junction is housed in a caboose mounted on railroad tracks and surrounded by a water tower and other railroading­-related paraphernalia.

East of Lancaster is the former Dutch Haven, a landmark known to motorists by its windmill. Dutch Haven offered “Pennsylvania Dutch” cooking and souvenirs, beginning about 1950, but closed in the early 1990s. The complex originally included Animal Haven, the Railroad Model Showcase, and Chief Yellow Hand’s Indian Trading Post, among other attractions. Now part of the “Village of Dutch Delights,” they have been converted to modern enterprises such as Dienner’s Country Bar-B-Q. Repainted and reopened in 1993, the Windmill offers handcrafted items but still sells its famous shoofly pies, a traditional “Pennsylvania Dutch” dessert made with molasses, raisins, and brown sugar.

Just ahead at the intersection of Route 896 is the Fulton Steamboat Inn, a full­-size replica of a steamboat. Its inspiration is the birthplace (some twenty miles to the south) of engineer and inventor Robert Fulton (1765-1815), whose Clermont was the first commer­cially successful American steamboat. Built to serve customers of a recently­-built (and incredibly vast) outlet mall, the four-deck boat offers amenities never dreamed of in Fulton’s time. Its family cabins feature queen-size beds and bunk beds with headboards shaped like captains’ wheels, and the Clermont Cafe is decorated – need one ask? – in a nautical theme.

Closer to the City of Lancaster is Dutch Wonder.land, an early-1960s amusement park encircled by a mono­rail. Curiously enough, the park emphasizes Pennsylvania Dutch themes, but it is fronted by a huge castle which contains a fourteen thousand-square-foot gift shop, hailed as “one of the largest in the nation.” One area is crammed with every type of souvenir imaginable, including Dutch Wonderland rulers, Dutch Wonderland shirts, Dutch Wonderland keychains, Dutch Wonderland magnets, Dutch Wonder­land ashtrays, Dutch Wonderland baby bibs, Dutch Wonderland mugs, Dutch Wonderland jewelry, Dutch Wonderland dish towels, Dutch Wonderland plates, Dutch Wonderland trays, Dutch Wonderland tumblers, Dutch Wonder­land bumper stickers, Dutch Wonderland shot glasses and so on and so on ….

Just east of Columbia, Lancaster County, once stood the curious Far East Kennels. In keeping with its name, the kennels featured pagoda-style architec­ture and decoration.

Beyond the Susquehanna River, four miles east of York near Hellam is Shoe House Road, which leads to the famous Haines Shoe House. Mahlon “The Shoe Wizard ” Haines built a shoe sales empire in central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland that comprised more than forty stores. Haines boasted that his business was the largest chain of shoe stores owned by one person, and that his company raised its own cattle for leather. He had a flair for outlandish advertising, and the Shoe House was his ultimate gimmick. Not only is the house shaped like a shoe, but so are four surrounding flower beds and a doghouse.

Built in 1948 of stucco over a wood and wire framework, the Shoe House contains a living room, three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, a dinette, and a garage, but it is only spacious enough for a small family. The shoe motif pervades the house and even includes a stained glass window with a likeness of “The Shoe Wizard.” Haines offered the house free to elderly couples who could live for a weekend like “kings and queens,” all at his expense. Beginning in 1950, it was also offered to honeymoon­ers who had a Haines Shoe Store in their hometown. After Haines’ death, it served as an ice cream parlor, but deteriorated until it was bought at auction by his granddaughter Annie Keller. She restored and briefly operated it as a tourist attraction, but now the Shoe House is dosed and has been on the market for the past year. Its fate remains uncertain.

On the east side of York is the site of Playland Pool Motel and its circular, “world’s largest motel pool.” The motel was built in the 1960s; the pool was above ground, and the rooms were also elevated so that the entrances encircled the pool. The Playland once advertised, “it has everything,” but it was demolished in 1992, and the land is vacant and for sale.

A few large attractions do remain between York and Gettysburg. The Thomasville Inn (formerly the San Remo Inn), west of Thomasville, is a bar and restaurant advertised by an immense windmill. West of New Oxford is Paul’s Model Railroad Shop housed in two vintage railroad passenger cars. Five miles east of Gettysburg is the Lincoln Logs Restaurant and Tavern, built to resemble a giant log house; the facade and five dormers are covered in red-and­-white painted logs. Old post cards depicting the roadhouse proudly proclaim, “The Rustic Bar, the Ball Room, and the Dining Room both interior and exterior have the rustic touch.”

A few doors west of Gettysburg’s town square was the Blue Parrot Bistro, originally a tea room when early travelers passed through town. Advertised as “One of America’s Best Tea Rooms,” it once featured a story-tall parrot outlined in incandescent bulbs perched above a two­-story vertical sign, “Tea Room DeLux.” The Tudor-style building still houses a restaurant and tavern.

Between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, at the edge of Caledonia State Park, is Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum, which features Miss Ellie, a huge talking elephant. Situated between the old Lincoln Highway and Route 30, Mr. Ed’s small museum is jammed with every imaginable object with an elephant motif – just name it and it was made in the shape of an elephant, or decorated with one! A gift shop offers elephant souvenirs, all sold by Mr. Ed himself. Ed Gotwalt started his collection when he received an elephant trinket as a wedding gift in. 1967, and admits that his wife persuaded him to open a museum when it outgrew their home. Gotwalt had always wanted a large elephant for his collection and found Miss Ellie for sale at an amusement park in Ohio.

Closer to Chambersburg, at the west end of the Fayetteville bypass, is the Lincoln Lanes Bowling Alley, distin­guished by a large yellow bowling pin and orange ball. West of the bowling alley is George and Nick’s Chicken and Seafood House, recognizable by its sizable chicken whose eerily glowing yellow eyes pierce the night sky. At Erik Von Dar Tattooing, the entire building is painted in fantasy themes, resembling an immense tattoo. Opposite the tattoo parlor is the Cumberland Valley Visitors Station, housed in a re-created train station, with a restored 1942 Pennsylvania Railroad caboose nearby. Built in Altoona, the “cabin car,” as it was called, has round windows and a streamlined cupola. The style was so popular that the Lionel Company made an O-gauge model of it in the 1950s.

West of Chambersburg, the Lincoln Highway scales Tuscarora Mountain, the first of a series of mountain ridges. In the 1920s, roadhouses were erected at every mountaintop to catch the business of those whose radiators were steaming from the steep climb. Roadhouses and lookout towers stood at the tops of Tuscarora Mountain, Scrub Ridge, and Sideling Hill, but none was as famous as Bill’s Place on Rays Hill. While many enterprises have been advertised as the “world’s largest,” Bill’s Place prided itself on having “the World’s Smallest Post Office.”

William (“Bill”) Wakefield opened his “place” on June 10, 1923, according to Pittsburgh Press writer Gilbert Love, who literally walked across the Keystone State in June 1962. “When you get there,” Love wrote, “you find a rambling structure full of souvenirs, chinaware, toys, tricks and what not – and I mean what not. … For years Bill’s place boasted that it had the smallest post office town in the country, and it doubtless was. Residents [of Rays Hill] were Bill, his wife, his two sons and a hired man,” all served by the six-by-eight foot building.

Bill’s contract with the postal service was canceled “during an economy drive in 1954,” continued Love. “This bothered Bill more than somewhat, because many tourists used to send cards from the smallest post office, and they usually bought more than cards. A big sign now proclaims sadly – ‘HAD the Smallest Postoffice.'” Wakefield sold Bill’s Place the following June. When the Pennsylvania Turnpike was rerouted around the Sideling Hill Tunnel several years later, the building was demolished by the road cut. All that remains are fragments of the roadway that lead to where Bill’s Place once stood.

Past Breezewood, the old Lincoln Highway leads to Everett, and just before town is Bill & Fred’s Ice Cream Emporium, shaped like a dollop of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup and a cherry. The road continues into Bedford, while Route 30 bypasses the town. On the west end of Bedford, next to Lashley’s Garage, is the Coffee Pot. It has served as a lunch stand, a Greyhound bus station, and in its final days as a tavern, but it’s been closed for years. It looks quite a bit different than its depictions on vintage postcards, when it was covered with metal; today, the brick underneath is exposed and painted red and white. The Bedford Fairgrounds across the street probably accounted for much of the Coffee Pot’s business in the early days. In a 1986 Pittsburgh Press article, former owner Wilson Lashley recalled another owner, known to patrons simply as Ma, who owned a pet monkey. Lashley remembered Ma “in her eighties, sitting up half the night over a gin and Squirt, while her monkey climbed over everyone and everything at the bar.”

About eight miles west of Bedford is Schellsburg, a tiny town with antique shops lining the road. As the Lincoln Highway climbs out of town, the original alignment branches to the south, while Route 30 cuts past Storyland, a 1950s kiddie park filled with giant re­creations of nursery rhyme characters. At the entrance a giant Pied Piper surprises passing motorists, while inside the park Humpty Dumpty and the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe (among others) await visitors who never come. The Pied Piper was recently repainted and Storyland’s entrance repaved, but the park has been closed for years.

Ascending the next mountain ridge brings travelers to one of the best-known roadside attractions, a steamboat seemingly stuck on a mountain. The Ship Hotel was the inspiration of Herbert Paulson, a Dutch immigrant who opened a stand just above the Grand View Point in the mid-1920s. Within a year, Paulson had purchased the Grand View stand and expanded it, calling it the Grand View Point Inn. He enlarged it the following year, enhancing it with a castle-theme and matching gas station.

Paulson’s son Walter recalls the layout and the challenging engineering of the building, anchored by three steel I-beams under the road and eighteen steel piers. The hotel had four floors, three of which dangled down the hill below road level! The top floor had a dining room, gift shop, and lookout deck; the second and third floors had hotel rooms; and the bottom floor served as a garage for hotel guests.

In 1931, Paulson – affectionately commissioned “Captain” by friends and customers for his love of the sea­ – wanted to again enlarge the inn. He considered a fish-shaped building but “he didn’t have enough money for a fantail or long bow, and a [larger] castle would block the view,” recalls Walter Paulson, “so he finally decided on a ship,” which was built over the piers of the earlier building. The Ship seemed quite authentic, complete with observa­tion decks outfitted with a captain’s wheel and telescopes, and ringed with life preservers. Inside, a mural reached around the ceiling, portraying “Captain” Paulson’s adventures at sea. Herbert Paulson’s granddaughter Clara Gardner recalls that the upstairs rooms were called “first class,” and the budget­-priced rooms on lower floors were called “second class” and “third class.” Employees living on the bottom floor “joked that they lived in the steerage.”

The Ship Hotel kept a logbook, which duly recorded the visiting celebrities of the day such as Clara Bow, George Burns, Joan Crawford, Henry Ford, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Tom Mix, J. P. Morgan, Buddy Rogers, and Rudy Vallee. Walter Paulson remembers George Raft and also Mary Pickford, “who thought it was the most beautiful view.” The Ship Hotel’s ninth log, which runs from September 1936 to June 1938, contains more than one hundred thousand names, representing visitors from every state and seventy-two foreign countries.

The Ship Hotel became instantly famous, but business eventually declined as motorists began using the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike (see “America’s Dream Highway” by Dan Cupper in the fall 1990 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage). The Paulsons sold the land­mark hotel in the 1970s, and the new owners attempted to revive it. Christening it Noah’s Ark, they covered half of it with wooden planking and erected a zoo next to the gasoline station. The venture failed and today the Ship Hotel remains deserted, awaiting future generations to climb its deck for a grand view of “3 states and 7 counties.”

Stoystown was bypassed in the early 1930s by Route 30, where the Kings and Queens hotel, bar, and restaurant is located. It’s an old roadhouse redecorat­ed to look like a castle. Beyond the Route 219 cloverleaf is Second Time Around, a resale shop, best known for its giant pray­ing mantis out front. Reportedly made about 1970 for Dinosaurland near Front Royal, Virginia, the fiberglass mantis is decorated for each holiday – during December it’s dressed as Santa Claus, and in October it’s costumed as a ghost.

The Zeppelin, a restaurant in a life-size blimp, was built in Jennerstown about 1926. John Schmucker, born in 1910, remembers “there was a counter with stools inside the Zeppelin, and a good meal cost thirty-five to fifty cents. It had eight or ten round cabins in a semi-circle around it, and I think they came as a kit, even the Zeppelin, and had to be put together …. Without the tourist trade, there was nothing you could have lived on here .. .. It’s surprising how fast business went down when the Turnpike came in; it cut traffic one third right off the reel. The Zeppelin struggled for a few years then went vacant. The blimp left in forty-five, about when everybody wanted to go to a regular motel.”

The Zeppelin was moved to Ohio, just south of Edinburg, and housed a diner for several years, but has served as the office to Bob’s Motel since 1972.

Idlewild Park, west of Ligonier, was established in 1878 by Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial Mellon family as picnic grounds to entice customers to use its Ligonier Valley Railroad. Noteworthy is Fairyland Forest, a kiddie land of fairy tales come to life. Added in 1956, it features life-size re-creations of Little Red Riding Hood, Three Men in a Tub, and other childhood story and fairy tale characters. Idlewild Park is now operat­ed by the Kennywood Corporation, which runs the Kennywood Amusement Park in Pittsburgh.

West of Idlewild lies the Loyalhanna Gorge, where Route 30 splits into one­way lanes on each side of Loyalhanna Creek. Before the divide was construct­ed, both lanes traveled the south side, where Sleepy Hollow Restaurant still remains. It began as a gasoline station and sandwich stand in the 1920s and was bought in 1931 by three brothers, who built the current roadhouse in 1940. Sleepy Hollow was made to resemble a giant log house, much like the Lincoln Logs Restaurant and Tavern near Gettysburg. When the westbound lanes of Route 30 were moved across the creek in 1954, Sleepy Hollow lost half its drive­-by customers. Although a small concrete causeway was built across the creek, it often floods in winter and spring. The restaurant building retains much of its early character, but it closed recently and has yet to find a buyer.

East McKeesport once offered two large attractions, although they have since vanished. Local residents recall a giant windmill atop the long-gone Gypsy Tea Room at McKee Road. Better remembered, the Crystol Lighthouse was a popular restaurant topped by a tall lighthouse. Owner Robert “Red” Crystol featured a floor show every night along with the Crazy Crystols Orchestra. He also lured patrons by offering free spa­ghetti and chicken every Thursday night.

The Lincoln Highway took two routes west from Pittsburgh to Ohio. The original route ran north along the Ohio River through Ambridge and Beaver. This route was tortuous to early drivers as it wound through business districts of dozens of communities. Today, the Ohio River Boulevard bypasses these towns. Overlooking the boulevard in Rochester is DeAngelis Delightfully Different Donuts, a local chain known for its 1960s­-era signs topped by ten-feet-tall donuts.

Before the Ohio River Boulevard could be built, officials of the Lincoln Highway Association realized the need for an alternative route, and in 1928 the Lincoln Highway was changed to a more southerly route through Clinton and Imperial. Strangely enough, from Pittsburgh through several miles of West Virginia to the border of Ohio, no larger­-than-life artifacts remain. Whether or not this section of the Lincoln Highway ever had any remains a mystery.

From east to west, the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania has amused, amazed, and awed motorists with its strange assortment of oddities that would seem more appropriate in carnivals and in amusement parks. Many today may decry the remaining examples as silly or tawdry, but nevertheless they are mute, often neglected landmarks of showmanship in an era that changed forever the ways in which consumers looked at wares and services.

 

The Lincoln Highway Association is actively working to identify, preserve, interpret, and improve access by the general public to the extant Lincoln Highway and its associated historic buildings, structures, and sites, particularly the period from the highway’s initiation in 1913 to its legislative demise in 1928. The organization publishes a quarterly magazine, The Lincoln Highway Forum, and conducts annual conferences. Individuals interested in learning more about the organization’s activities should write: Lincoln Highway Association, Suite 108, 1810 West Grant Road, Tuscon, Arizona 85745; or telephone (602) 882-0906.

 

For Further Reading

Andrews, J. J. C. The Well-Built Elephant and Other Roadside Attractions. New York: Congdon and Weed, Inc., 1984.

Baeder, John. Gas, Food, and Lodging. New York: Abbeville Press, 1982.

Barth, Jack, et al. Roadside America. New York: Fireside, 1986.

Heiman, Jim, and Rip Georges. California Crazy: Roadside Vernacular Architecture. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1985.

Langdon, Philip. Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain Restaurants. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Liebs, Chester. Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1985.

Margolies, John. The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Marling, Karal Ann. The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

 

Brian A. Butko has spent the past seven years researching the Lincoln Highway and has written A Guidebook to the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, which will be published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, this winter. He served as associate producer for the WQED-13/PBS productions “Pennsylvania Diners and Other Roadside Restaurants” and “Stuff That’s Gone.” With Rebecca Shiffer he co-authored an article entitled “Moonbeams and B-Movies: The Rise and Fall of the Drive-In Theater,” which appeared in the summer 1994 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage. He is currently working on a book about the Isaly Dairy/Klondike ice cream companies.