When is an interstate more than an interstate?
When it’s I-95.
Did you know that I-95 is the nation’s longest north-south interstate. It runs 1,920 miles from Maine to Florida, and crosses 15 states — the most of any interstate. I-95 sees about 565 million long-distance trips (greater 100 miles) annually.
And all of this time, you probably looked upon it as just a road. It’s anything but; and according to Barbara Barnes, author of What’s Great About I-95: Maine to Florida
, travel along I-95 can be both fun and educational, as long as you know where to look.
Even in the South. So if you are up for some exploring, Barnes recommends 10 little-known gems to visit that are within a couple miles of the interstate.
1. The Civil War Life – The Soldier’s Museum
, Exit 126 in Virginia. Barnes says the museum is so close to I-95, you can see it from the road. As for the museum itself, it tells the story of the War of Northern Aggression from the perspective of both sides, including the soldiers, slaves and civilians.
2. Tobacco Farm Life Museum
, less than two miles east of Exit 107 in North Carolina. Local families, proud of their flue-cured tobacco heritage, started a museum that’s more like a walk through a historical tobacco community that demonstrates their slow Southern lifestyle. If you go, you’ll come away knowing the hard but happy life of a Depression era tobacco farm, she says.
3. Ava Gardner Museum
, Exit 95 in North Carolina. Mid-1900’s glamour girl Ava Gardner started life here in rural North Carolina and ended up on the big screen and in the arms of Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable. As their website states, this museum chronicles her life from “Crabtown Girl to Tinseltown Legend.”
4. Swamp Fox mural tour
, between Exits 108 and 135 in South Carolina. More than a dozen building-sized murals scattered throughout Clarendon County tell the story of a local hero, the Swamp Fox (aka Francis Marion) who, against all odds, out-witted British forces during the Revolutionary War.
5. As I-95 crosses over the scenic Great Pee Dee River near MP 175 in South Carolina, try humming Way Down Upon the Swanee River
. When Steven Foster wrote that song in 1851, he first used Mississippi’s Yazoo River in the lyrics but it didn’t have the right sound. He changed it to Way Down Upon the Pee Dee River
but that was rejected too. He finally settled on Suwannee River, but misspelled it in the written version.
6. The interchange at Exit 109 in Georgia is named for Christmas Moultrie, a slave born on Christmas Day 1863 on the Mulberry Plantation, which grazes I-95 near here. When slavery was abolished, Christmas became an accomplished market hunter, a hunter with the cunning and determination to make a living tracking and selling birds and game.
7. Butler Island, Exit 49 in Georgia, may have changed the course of the Civil War. Proprietor and slave-owner Pierce Butler made the mistake to taking his anti-slavery wife to his plantation on Butler Island, which can be seen from I-95. She kept a diary of the atrocities, published it after their divorce and, once the British Parliament read it, they refused to fund the Confederacy. Take Exit 49 in Darien to visit the ruins (although there’s not much more to see than a plaque).
8. Gamble Place
, Exit 256 in Florida. Disney isn’t the only act in town. The Gamble family (of Procter and Gamble fame) was inspired by Disney’s 1937 full-length movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
. They built their take on Snow White’s ‘village’ near James Gamble’s rustic Florida Cracker-style hunting lodge and an old citrus packing house. It’s located only 1.5 miles from I-95.
9. From I-95, gaze east into the dense forest where Trapper Nelson, a New Jersey transplant, lived off the land in the mid-20th
century. His lifestyle attracted the attention of more civilized folk: movie stars and heiresses braved the swampy wilds of his domain to watch him wrestle gators and play with snakes. Visit his camp, preserved on an island in Jonathan Dickinson State Park
, as part of the Loxahatchee River Tours.
10. Near MP 59 in Florida, try to spot The Rosemary Scrub Natural Area, a 14-acre strip of land miraculously saved from development by the interstate. You heard right – the interstate, which severed an access road where a strip mall had been proposed. Without access, the plot of land became useless to developers and eventually was preserved in its natural state.
For 25 years, Barbara Barnes dreamed of writing a manual to clue interstate travelers in to the interesting facts and stories found along the route. Inspired by her father’s entertaining tales during family road trips as a child, Barnes looked to her experience as a travel agency owner, school board director and layout designer to turn her dream into a reality.
Currently the publisher and owner of Opal Publishing Company, the parent company of Interesting Interstates, Barnes has published What’s Great About I-95: Maine to Florida, a unique guide to the fascinating things that lie along this busy interstate. The book is available for purchase through Interesting Interstates, all major online booksellers and select bookstores primarily along the eastern seaboard.
photo credit: courtesy of Opal Publishing Company/Interesting Interstates