Three Centuries of the American Roadhouse


I love understanding American history….making sense of the childish stuff we were taught in school. When I can FEEL what it was like, it becomes real.


The historic settlement of this country is actually a study of transportation systems. The first settlers arrived by ship, and rivers played a huge part in the exploration of the wilderness, transportation of goods to market and then movement of people to western lands. Roads were built throughout the colonies to provide access for commerce in settled areas and for explansion into undevelopment regions. 
 

source:Catawba County NC

The Great Wagon Road lead south through Appalachian Mountain valleys by the mid 1700s and people were settling in areas such as the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. By the 1770s Daniel Boone had blazed a trail, known as the Wilderness Road, from Fort Chiswell in the Shenandoah Valley a bit north of present day Wytheville through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

The Log House 1776 Restaurant is a 200 year-old home made of huge sawn cedar and oak logs. The Wilderness Road passed just behind the original part of the house, making the house a prime resting place for travelers. Now Wytheville is located at the junction of Interstates I-81 and I-77 and considers itself the “Crossroads of Southwestern Virginia.” We discovered the Log House 1776 Restaurant by chance on a trip to visit a friend in South Carolina. We had been driving about 3 hours from home, used our gps to look for a restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal there in December 2009. We stopped again,  but got bumped because we had failed to make a reservation and, having learned that lesson, stopped a third time for another enjoyable meal.

The Restaurant was an inn for travelers, providing food and lodging. Sleeping accommodations were rustic, to say the least. Four or five to a bed was normal. Less expensive indoor sleeping arrangements could be made for loft space in the barn. Now people can enjoy beverages in the tavern or meals in several rooms of the old log house. Located at 520 East Main Street about 5 miles off I-77 and 3 miles from I-81,  call 276-228-4139 for reservations.

Finishing touches are fun with cork flooring on the way to what is now the bar  , horseshoes set into the flooring in the back hallway near the kitchen and marvelous Native American artifacts and homespun decor throughout.

 

 

 

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Flash forward 60 years into the 1830s. People in the young United States began to settle the Ohio Territory whose lands extended west to the Mississippi River. Congress decided to provide funds for a National Road to help with the westward expansion of the nation. Now designated U.S. Route 40, this roadway provided access for mail delivery. States along the route quickly erected tollgates and tollhouses to help defray maintenance costs, a similar story in our time.

The Red Brick Tavern was built in rural Madison County in 1836 about 26 miles west of what is now Columbus,  right around the time the National Road was being laid across the midsection of Ohio. An inn and tavern, its primary purpose at that time was to serve travelers. Sleeping arrangements for most people were up to 5 in a bed and people were requested to take off their boots to sleep.

However, six Presidents also stayed at the Red Brick Tavern in better accommodations in a large room on the ground level, now used as a dining room for parties.  Think about it…this was the super highway of the times and the Red Brick Tavern was proud to be able to provide lodging.

As many old houses claim, this one has a ghost. It’s the classic tale: a woman (presumably one of the original family of owners) learned that her fiancée had found someone new, became despondent, and killed herself. According to the legend, before the woman committed suicide she embroidered a sampler which now hangs in the second floor hallway. REMEMBER ME, it says. Her ghost is said to be responsible for the fact that the sampler is stained blood red–so dark that it’s nearly unreadable.

source: Red Brick Tavern website

 

Today, the tap room and restaurant are lively and the food is well made and moderately priced. The wait staff is very friendly and it will be worthy of a repeat visit next time we are in the area. By the way, we found the Red Brick Tavern also by gps, searching for a place for lunch. The meal was so good and the place so interesting, we returned with friends for dinner. The Red Brick Tavern is located at 1700 Cumberland Street, London, Ohio about 3 miles off I-70.  Phone number is 866-491-1577.

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Now we need to zoom ahead to the time right after World War II. In a nation recovered from the Depression, people were buying cars and travelling. The trip from Nashville to Memphis could be driven via U.S.Route 70 and also via Tennessee Highway 100. Highway 100 winds southwest from Nashville closely following the northern end of the old Natchez Trace before heading west, in a zig-zag pattern towards Memphis.  The Trace, was a footpath where pioneers heading to Texas in the 1830s walked through southern Middle Tennessee, crossing a corner of northern Alabama, and then traversed Mississippi to the River at Natchez, where riverboats were less expensive than the perhaps more easier float down the rivers from Nashville. Today, the Natchez Trace is a linear National Parkway and well worth a ride.

Source: TouringDepot.com

source: Loveless motel website

Highway 100 served the driving population with an easy route to Memphis, 234 miles long and taking about 5 hours. (The Interstate 40 route today takes just a bit over 3 hours.) Towns and villages along the way provided restaurants and roadside motels. Lon and Annie Loveless purchased a small roadside tea room in 1951, set up picnic tables in the front yard and sold chicken from the front door to travelers on Highway 100. 

Soon they modified the old house into a dining room and enlarged the menu to include country hams that they cured, smoked and carved on the premises. Lon Loveless ran the motel and handled the hams while hungry crowds were drawn to Annie’s homemade preserves and from-scratch biscuits – one of few secret recipes that has remained unchanged to this day.

When I-40 was complete, the motel fell into disuse and finally shut. When I lived in Nashville in the mid 1970s and again in the 1990s, the motel was closed but it has since been renovated for shops with Southern foods and country crafts available.

All that time, however, the crowds have flocked to the café for the breakfast biscuits and country ham and for the fried chicken dinner…..yummm, just thinking about it makes me want to plan a trip. The Loveless Café is located at 8400 Tennessee Highway 100 just before the entrance to the Natchez Trace. Telephone is 615-646-9700.

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There are countless other roadhouses throughout the United States…get off the Interstate sometime and drive on the highways that parallel it. You will get to your destination a little later but you will have explored a piece of America that may give you an appreciation of what the people before us worked to build.

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