Discovering Roadside Attractions

Lisa Fritscher November 11, 2010 2 Comments

Hollywood Wax Museum in Gatlinburg, TN

You too can dream of Jeannie at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Gatlinburg, TN


The 1950s were the decade of car culture, when gas was cheap and families took to the open road, many for the very first time. The interstate highway system was authorized in 1956 and construction began immediately in many states, but the first statewide segment (Nebraska’s Interstate 80) was not completed until 1974. Instead, families relied on state roads that took them on meandering journeys through big cities and small towns.       

The History of Roadside Attractions      

Beginning in the 1940s, roadside attractions sprang up around the country in an effort to lure visitors to stop. In the days before air conditioning and drive-through restaurants, the promise of a cold beverage was ample enticement, such as Wall Drug’s free ice water. Some roadside attractions featured exotic animals, quirky shopping or just really big things–such as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Many roadside attractions have been torn down or rotted away, while others still stand as a testament to a simpler era.       

Gatlinburg Sky Lift Crockett Mountain

Travel 1800 feet up Crockett Mountain on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift


South of the Border     

If you have ever driven Interstate 95 along the East Coast, you are aware of just how endless that drive can feel. Although modern construction has ensured that you are never far from fast food and gas, try to imagine how that drive must have felt in 1949. At the time, you would have been driving US 301. There was literally nothing around, just road stretching into the wilderness as far as the eye could see.     

South of the Border North Carolina

South of the Border is just south of the North Carolina border


Alan Schafer grew up in tiny Dillon County, South Carolina, across the border from a dry county in North Carolina. He had previously managed a beer distribution facility and a café for his father, and he realized that drivers on 301 could use a break. In 1949, he opened a small beer stand in Dillon County to attract both long-distance drivers and North Carolina residents in search of alcohol.       

Pedro - South of the Border

Pedro was once known from Philadelphia to Daytona Beach


South of the Border was an instant success and, only a year later, Schafer added a 10-seat restaurant. Gift shops and motel rooms were next. Schafer traveled to Mexico in 1954 to establish connections for the Mexican theme and returned with two employees, both of whom were nicknamed Pedro. The character became the focus of advertising in a billboard campaign that stretched from Philadelphia to Daytona Beach.       

Giant Sombrero - South of the Border

You can take the elevator to the top for only $1 per person


Today South of the Border is more than 350 acres, encompassing a 1950s-style motel, a campground, six restaurants, a dozen shops, an amusement park, an indoor reptile exhibit, two gas stations, two 18-hole mini golf courses and a convention center. But perhaps the most fun of all is the giant sombrero. For only $1 each, you and your family can take the elevator 200 feet up to the brim for an exciting view of, well, the surrounding countryside. Still, it’s so kitschy that everyone should do it once in their lives.     

Giant Advertising Icons       

Paul Bunyan Log Cabin Homes

Paul Bunyan stands guard over the Log Cabin Homes sales center in Rocky Mount, NC


Have you ever heard of the Muffler Man? Spotted in various incarnations all over the United States, these advertising icons were extraordinarily popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s. According to an article at Roadside America, all of the original Muffler Men came from a single mold owned by Prewitt Fiberglass, later International Fiberglass. The first Muffler Man was allegedly a giant Paul Bunyan developed for a café on Route 66 in Arizona. Later incarnations were Native Americans, cowboys, spacemen and even the Uniroyal girl, who appeared in both a dress and a bikini.       

We found a Paul Bunyan Muffler Man in Rocky Mount, North Carolina this summer. As the story goes, he used to be Stan the Tire Man in Salem, Illinois. He was acquired by the Log Cabin Homes sales center in Rocky Mount in 2007.       

Daniel Boone Roanoke Rapids North Carolina

Who knew Daniel Boone was a Shriner?


Daniel Boone, located in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, has a rather funny story attached. He used to perch atop the nearby Elmo Garner Jewelers and Home Improvement shop, but ran afoul of a sign ordinance. So his owner dedicated him to the Shriners Club where he resides today. His trademark Shriners cap is actually an overturned oil drum.       

Uniroyal Girl MNO

MNO was a bizarre place, but the Uniroyal Girl looks great!


Thanks to Roadside America, we were even able to locate a Uniroyal girl back in Rocky Mount. The rather mysterious young lady clad in short shorts and a bikini top sports blonde hair and a belly button ring. But to find her, you have to make your way to an out of the way place called MNO–which allegedly stands for Men’s Night Out. The gate was open, so we took some photos. The complex is a bit bizarre, and I think the name speaks for itself. I wouldn’t recommend taking the kids at night, when the place is open! I was freaked out enough during the day!      

Apparently there once was a fried chicken fast-food chain called Yogi Bear Honey Fried Chicken. The chain may be no more, but some of the icons remain–in someone’s backyard in Rocky Mount. Yogi, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith have definitely seen better days, as Ranger Smith is missing a hand, but it’s good to know that the statues still exist.


Yogi Bear and friends Rocky Mount, NC

Visit Yogi Bear and friends in a backyard in Rocky Mount, NC


Forgotten Cities   

Slave Cemetery in Halifax North Carolina

A forgotten slave cemetery in Halifax, NC


The United States is dotted with towns that time forgot. One example is historic Halifax, North Carolina. Hugely important in the Revolutionary War as the first colonial town to call for independence, Halifax was a thriving part of the cotton trade until the mid-1800s, when the new railroad bypassed the city. Today, only around 300 people remain. Interesting sights here include the grave of the only Masonic Grand Master in the United States, a long-abandoned slave cemetery, a September 11 memorial and a ruined old amphitheater. The city is adorable and well maintained, with a few restored buildings open to the public.    

The Truly Bizarre    

Titan I Missile Cordele GA

A Titan I Missile towers over Krystal in downtown Cordele, GA


Some roadside attractions are just impossible to classify. In Cordele, Georgia, we happened upon a Titan I missile, built in California but donated to the Cordele Rotary Club in 1969. The city has built up a great deal since then, and today the missile is in a gas station parking lot, towering over the Krystal restaurant across the street.   

Just as random is the Rock Garden of America, located in a front lawn along the main highway near Littleton, North Carolina. It’s literally a pile of rocks hand-labeled with the state where they were found. I think the idea is that anyone who stops by can contribute a rock, but I’m not exactly sure. Anyway, it was definitely interesting to see.     

How to Find Roadside Attractions       

Rock Garden of America Littleton North Carolina

Leave a rock from your home state at Littleton, NC's Rock Garden of America


The examples above are just a few of the attractions we have found in our journeys. Roadside attractions are literally everywhere, dotting the landscape along America’s highways and byways. Just by keeping your eyes open as you drive along, you are bound to spot a few. If you want to do a more systematic search, however, I highly recommend visiting the Roadside America website. You can search by city and put together a personalized driving map of the attractions that interest you. It’s a great family activity, breaks up the monotony of a long drive, and costs only the price of gas. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce your kids to the history of Americana.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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2 Comments to “Discovering Roadside Attractions”
  1. avatar Pros and Cons of GPS and Maps for Road Trip Navigation says:

    [...] Discovering Roadside Attractions Planning Ahead for a Family Trip – Tips and Advice Staying Connected on the Road: Internet Options for Travelers Family Travel Planning: Dining and packing for small travelers Are We There Yet? Keeping Kids Entertained on the Road VN:F [1.9.6_1107]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)VN:F [1.9.6_1107]Rating: 0 (from 0 votes) About the Author: Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions. Tags: road trip, Road Trip Checklist, RV TravelTips and Hints [...]

  2. avatar Jude says:

    I’m planning a similar “roadside attraction” tour but on a motorcycle and I’m pulling my hair out trying to track down the location of the uniroyal gal at MNO. Best I’ve got is somewhere on 97 and “hidden” from the road. Can you provide an address or large landmarks that I can google? Someone mentioned the Deer Run mobile park but that doesn’t come up in searches either. Any guidance you can provide would be wonderful – if you could please email it to me???? Thanks