Most people know about Highway 1 on the west coast, called Pacific Coast Highway, but how much do people know about the “other” Highway 1 – on the east coast? In previous articles, we’ve went down Route 66, across The Lincoln Highway, followed The Great River Road through the center of our nation, and now we are going to take a trip up the east coast. I must admit that I was surprised to learn that the route is about 2,400 miles long, but I was not surprised about some of the historic places the route travels through along the way.
A little bit of history tells us that when the road system was laid out in the 1920’s, U.S. 1 was mostly assigned to the existing Atlantic Highway. U.S. 1 is considered to be the easternmost main north-south US highway, but parts of Routes 9, 13, 17 and 301 are closer to the ocean. While U.S. 1 generally parallels Interstate 95, between Jacksonville, FL and Petersburg, VA the highway is much farther west (inland). The route connects most of the major cities of the east coast including Miami, Jacksonville, Augusta, Columbia, Raleigh, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Providence, Boston and Portland.
I’m going to start our journey up this historic road in Key West, Florida, because that is where mile marker zero is located (see photo). One day I hope to see in person the sign that starts this month’s adventure. The southernmost piece of U.S. 1 is a 125-mile stretch of scenic two-lane road called the Overseas Highway, which connects the string of small islands known as the Florida Keys. It was originally built in the 1930’s after the Florida East Coast Railway Overseas Railroad was ruined by a hurricane in 1935 (see photo).
Our first pit stop heading north is St. Augustine, Florida, which is along A1A (a beach-front alternate to U.S. 1). Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States. If you ever get the chance to visit this historic city, don’t pass it up. Some of the streets are so narrow that four men standing side-by-side can span the entire width. With patio cafes, stone buildings and history all around you, it really is an incredible place. The city used to be surrounded by walls, and if you were outside when the gates were closed at night, you got to sleep with the gators.
When you get to Georgia, the route goes inland and generally becomes very rural, passing through marshes and past former plantations. Enjoy some sweet tea, fresh peaches, and old-time southern hospitality while traversing the rugged landscape of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. In South Carolina, U.S. 1 is not too far from NASCAR’s original speedway in Darlington. If it’s not race weekend when you are passing through, you might want to go exploring in the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. North Carolina boasts about their combination of natural beauty and man-made wonders. In Raleigh, stop by the Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum, the only Harley-Davidson drag racing museum in the world, located on the second floor of one of the largest Harley dealerships in the country. Also in Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of History has exhibits about everything from the state’s role in the civil war to its medical history and engineering.
Within Virginia, U.S. 1 is called Jefferson Davis Highway by state law. Driving through this portion of the route takes you back in time, back to when this country was just getting started. George and Martha Washington’s Mt. Vernon home for 45 years was the first president’s favorite retreat from military and political life. Ferry Farm was Washington’s boyhood home, where he supposedly chopped down his father’s cherry tree. Old Town Alexandria lets you stroll down cobblestone streets while enjoying 18th century architecture and popular shops and restaurants. Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery, or learn more about the toll the Civil War took at the Richmond Region’s American Civil War Center. You can also visit the ghostly battle sites in Chancellorsville, Petersburg and Fredericksburg.
In Washington DC you will find federal landmarks such as The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Dome. These landmarks symbolize our national pride and identity. Check out some of the free attractions in DC such as the powerful icons on the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. It would be hard to just “drive through” Washington DC and not stop for a few days – there is a lot to see.
As we continue north, we arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, where they have the only remaining Civil War-era naval vessel and all-sail warship built by the Navy, the USS Constellation. Baltimore is also the birthplace of American railroading, and home of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum. You might feel even more patriotic at Fort McHenry, the majestic location where Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814 (see photo).
Many interesting attractions can be seen in America’s original capital city (Philadelphia), like the nation’s only theme-park based on the “Sesame Street” television program. It’s a place where you can meet all your favorites like Big Bird, Elmo and Cookie Monster. Or you can visit the more traditional sites “Philly” has to offer, like the Rocky Steps, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted), and the Betsy Ross House, to name just a few.
Our next stop on this imaginary trip has become one of my personal favorites – New York City! U.S. 1 winds through some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city, offering many unique delis and diners to tempt your taste buds. Want to see some wildlife? No, not Times Square (although there are some “wild” folks out there) – I’m talking about the nation’s biggest urban zoo – the Bronx Zoo. Home to over 4,000 animals, the zoo has recreated the Himalayan Highlands, an Asian Jungle and the African Congo. And, if you have some time to relax, the New York Botanical Gardens is an excellent place to stop and smell the roses.
U.S. 1 runs along the shore of the Long Island Sound in Connecticut into the heart of New Haven, home to Yale University, which is one of the world’s finest learning institutions. A great place to stop in Connecticut is Mystic. The Mystic Seaport is home to the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence. Built in 1841 in New Bedford, MA, she sailed on 37 voyages around the globe during an 80-year whaling career. The vessel came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1967.
Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it has one of the largest amounts of historic landmarks. In Massachusetts, learn about the state’s seafaring heritage, and travel back in time at a living history museum that recreates life in 1627. In Plymouth, gain a new perspective on the Pilgrims’ travel struggles on route to the New World by boarding the Mayflower II, a full-size replica of the original ship that brought the Pilgrims to our shores (see photo). Continuing with an ocean theme, the sea beckons you to explore New Hampshire. Honor and celebrate America’s military history at the USS Albacore Museum – a humbling eye-opener to the sacrifices made by America’s sailors. It’s also home to the research vessel that was the basis for the modern submarine.
As we travel north into Maine, the coastline becomes rocky and scenic. Visit Maine’s oldest lighthouse, the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, built in 1790, which is also the second oldest lighthouse in America (see photo), or take a ride in a restored streetcar at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport. This is the world’s oldest and largest electric railway museum, with more than 250 trolleys you can climb aboard. Once you get north of Portland, U.S. 1 turns northeast and becomes a beautiful two-lane road that winds along the coast to Calais. From there, it heads north along the Canadian border, until it eventually turns west and then ends at the Clair-Fort Kent Bridge in Fort Kent, Maine.
From the warm, soft, white sand of the Florida Key’s, to the tall timber town of Fort Kent, home of an annual dogsled race (it snows a lot there), these two places could not be any more different! Taking a drive up the east coast of our great country along this old route, properly done, could take months – but it would be the vacation of a lifetime. I hope that you all enjoyed this trip up the “other” Highway 1, and learned a little more about this not-so-famous route.