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Remembering Roadside America

Preserving the Past as Landscape and Place

John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle

Publication Year: 2011

The use of cars and trucks over the past century has remade American geography—pushing big cities ever outward toward suburbanization, spurring the growth of some small towns while hastening the decline of others, and spawning a new kind of commercial landscape marked by gas stations, drive-in restaurants, motels, tourist attractions, and countless other retail entities that express our national love affair with the open road. By its very nature, this landscape is ever changing, indeed ephemeral. What is new quickly becomes old and is soon forgotten. In this absorbing book, John Jakle and Keith Sculle ponder how “Roadside America” might be remembered, especially since so little physical evidence of its earliest years survives. In straightforward and lively prose, supplemented by copious illustrations—historic and modern photographs, advertising postcards, cartoons, roadmaps—they survey the ways in which automobility has transformed life in the United States. Asking how we might best commemorate and preserve this part of our past—which has been so vital economically and politically, so significant to the cultural aspirations of ordinary Americans, yet so often ignored by scholars who dismiss it as kitsch—they propose the development of an actual outdoor museum that would treat seriously the themes of our roadside history. Certainly, museums have been created for frontier pioneering, the rise of commercial agriculture, and the coming of water- and steam-powered industrialization and transportation, especially the railroad. Is now not the time, the authors ask, for a museum forcefully exploring the automobile’s emergence and the changes it has brought to place and landscape? Such a museum need not deny the nostalgic appeal of roadsides past, but if done properly, it could also tell us much about what the authors describe as “the most important kind of place yet devised in the American experience.”

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-xiv

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pp. xv-xxii

How is early Roadside America to be remembered? Along almost any urban thoroughfare or rural highway in the United States today, there are relics left over from the early days of motoring—something derelict and essentially abandoned, something still standing but substantially modified in reuse, or, more ...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

Without shared information from reliable personal recollections and/or archives familiar to a few alert local residents, the authors would not have been able to complete the research behind this book. We are beholden to all. In addition we wish to thank Carol Ahlgren, Minneapolis City Planning Department, ...

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1. The Journey Begins

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pp. 1-28

Our collaboration as authors, which now continues in this, our eighth book focused on the history of Roadside America, began in the summer of 1973, along a stretch of the Old National Road (U.S. 40) in downstate Illinois ...

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2. Observing Roadside America

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pp. 29-60

With the coming of mass motoring, Americans in ever-increasing numbers answered the siren song of the open road, not so much as migrants moving to new places or as business people traveling for work, but more as motorists making use of increased affluence and leisure time to explore the nation’s highways as ...

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3. Learning from Roadside America

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pp. 61-94

When the editors of Fortune commissioned “The Great American Roadside” in 1934, enthusiasm for unfettered automobility was high. James Agee gushed with more than a little optimism. The nation’s nearly 1 million miles of improved highway constituted “the greatest road the human race ...

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4. Preserving Roads and Roadsides

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pp. 95-132

Nowhere was twentieth-century modernism embraced quite as fully as in the United States, at least as evidenced along the roadside. Nowhere were so many cars manufactured and so many roads built or rebuilt. And nowhere else in the world were towns and cities so substantially reinvented, as they were essentially ...

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5. Historical Museums and Roadside America

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pp. 133-170

Modernism’s penchant for discard was nowhere more evident than along America’s highways. If early Roadside America little lent itself to the actions of preservationists, then what about the collector’s instincts? And, better still, the instincts of the museum curator? Remnants of the past traditionally accumulated ...

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6. Experiencing the Past as Landscape and Place

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pp. 171-208

Can Roadside America’s rapid and ever-changeful evolution be remembered more accurately?1 How might a very fluid past, and yet one most significant in the American experience, be better assigned historical meaning and thus better sustained in public memory? Material culture is an essential key. The concern ...

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7. The Road Continues

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pp. 209-232

Those who train their talents on cultural memory usually choose edifying qualities to assert the need for special stewardship—whether it be a matter of aesthetics or a matter of fundamental historical centrality. Roadside America may or may not qualify on grounds of beauty. However, it clearly does deserve ...


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pp. 233-236


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pp. 237-272


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pp. 273-284

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338333
E-ISBN-10: 1572338334
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338234
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338237

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 124 photographs
Publication Year: 2011