Richard Stanley Farneski 2017-09-02 02:37:35
Florida’s Forgotten Roadway... The Woodpecker Route A Journey From Macclenny to St. Petersburg America’s love affair with traveling began in 1913 when Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile manufacturing process with the assembly line. Ford’s ability to turn out more automobiles, enabled more American’s to travel. Since then, individuals and families have taken to the road to visit and explore the United States. This new-found accessibility to other parts of the country prompted many to head South to Florida. With the increase in automobiles traversing the landscape, it would be years before highways and byways would see a significant upgrades and expansion. With travelers heading South from the Northeast and New England, they would find themselves upon a unique roadway, the Woodpecker Route. The Woodpecker Route is one of the oldest motoring routes in the country. It funneled travelers into South Carolina then onto Florida, beginning just after the end of World War I in 1919. In 1922, as automobile travel flourished, the Automobile Legal Association’s Automobile Green Book listed the woodpecker Route as a viable way to Florida. The 1922 publication described the route as being from “Augusta, Georgia to Lake City and Jacksonville, Florida.” The route was just that, the Woodpecker Route. It didn’t have a number assigned to it. The route started in Greenville South Carolina and ended in Saint Petersburg, Florida. For residents of New England and the Northeast, the Woodpecker Route was the “Gateway to Florida.” Instead of bypassing Southern towns, as the Interstate system does today, the Woodpecker Route went right through the heart of them. It allowed travelers to come into contact with the Southern lifestyle and Americana. No 24-hour rest stops or fast food restaurants, just real towns and real people. What Woodpecker Route travelers found were quaint Mom & Pop motels, home cooked meal restaurants and filling stations with the attendant sitting out front. Many remnants remain of a bygone era. Old style gas pumps, showing their faded legendary oil company logos, and abandoned restaurants and motels dot the Woodpecker Route. Why the name, the Woodpecker Route? Woodpeckers were in abundance along the entire route. The Woodpecker Route, State Highway 121, in Florida went through Macclenny, Lake Butler, Worthington Springs, La Crosse, Gainesville, Williston, Lebanon Station, Crystal River, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Prior to 1960, the majority of the Woodpecker Route in Florida, aside from the small towns was pine forests, churches, orange groves, cemeteries and grazing pastures. Travelers would enjoy a peaceful journey all the way from Gainesville down to Saint Petersburg. Much of the single lane highway was asphalt paved, with some sections poured in concrete. Northern visitors were entering a whole new world with their visit to the Sunshine State. Warm weather, orange groves, the Tarpon Spring Sponge Docks and the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters were alluring and tempted many not to return home. The artistic and colorful official logo sign of the Woodpecker Route is popular with art collectors, antique aficionados, interior decorators and those interested in birds. Retracing the original Woodpecker Route in Florida will take you back to a simpler time in Florida history. Once they passed through the towns, travelers were treated to many roadside billboards and roadway signs. There wasn’t much in terms of regulations and standards when it came to roadway signs in the first 30 years of the 20th century. Most communities named their in-town streets, but once outside the city limits, road signs were lacking with beneficial information. Back then, numbered routes and posted speed limits were unheard of. Drivers were expected to travel with common sense and usually asked for directions, as road maps weren’t readily accessible. With more automobiles taking to the roads and traveling farther, communities created their own road signs to inform travelers and slow their speed. This was evident at railroad crossings, intersections and curves. Not only did communities place their own signs, commercial roadway advertising came into prominence. Goodyear Tires, Standard Oil and local businesses often placed signs with their logo along side directional information and safety messages. But often was the case, the advertising overshadowed the intent of the sign, to bring vital information to the traveler. So overbearing were the signs, travelers, instead of catching a passing glance of the signs, often slowed down or came to a complete stop to take in the information, other than the promotional message. As the lack of a standardized roadway system continued to build, Florida adopted the recommendations of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in 1925. During the next 10 years, travelers on the Woodpecker Route and other Florida roadways witnessed more uniform roadway signs. The Florida legislature enacted laws governing the placement and amount of roadway signs and billboards too. Originally, US highway routes in Florida were shaped as a shield. Later on, in an effort to cut costs, the shield was replaced by a square sign. To help tourists easily navigate around Florida, the State made US route signs color coded. The color coded system would be abandoned a short time later, as the Florida Sun faded the signs easily and proved costly to replace them. The Federal Highway Administration eventually forced Florida to adopt a standardized black and white format or risk millions of dollars in federal highway funding. Florida argued it would be easier for drivers to follow a colored marker, the federal government thought otherwise. Florida officially stopped making colored US Route signs on August 27, 1993. Existing stock of colored signs was erected until the inventory ran out in 1996. Colored Florida US Route signs are highly coveted by collectors and hard to find. The historical road markers are popular décor items found in eateries, sports bars, and saloons. Traveling the original Woodpecker Route is gaining interest, as traveler grow wearing of the multi-lane, high speed limit interstate highways, I-75 and I-95. In 2005, the State of Georgia designated State Route 121 officially as “The Woodpecker Trail”. Such designation has attracted many to enjoy the southern communities, farmlands, parks and historic homes. Efforts in Florida designate State Route 121 and portions of Highway 441 as the Woodpecker Route have staled. Even without the designation, travelers, historians, nature lovers and the just plain curious will find enjoyment taking in all the Woodpecker route has to offer. Used with Permission. Richard Stanley Farneski is a freelance writer focusing on Florida art history and historical architectural design.
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