19 November 2013

Lost City: Virginia Edition: Horne's

Given the number of boarded-up and abandoned motels that line its edges, Highway 301, which runs through eastern Virginia and Maryland, must have had a livelier past. I imagine that, before the huge interstate 95 was built, it was the thoroughfare by which residents of Washington D.C. drove to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic shore.

Today it is a sad, small tract. One of the only survivors of those more touristy times stands in Port Royal, which is best known as the town were the Union caught up with John Wilkes Booth. Horne's is a combination restaurant, gas station and gift shop, and an absolute trip back in time to an era when a well-scooped ice-cream cone and a junky little souvenir keychain were enough to etch a permanent holiday memory into a kid's brain.

This Horne's was opened in 1960 (there were others), a time when a family vacation still meant piling in a station wagon and driving somewhere. The right side of the place as you walk in is dominated by a restaurant and soda fountain. Ice cream seems to be the place's calling card. To the left are unending aisles of the kind of nostalgic and kitschy crap that nobody needs but everyone seems to want when on vacation—novelty greeting cards, license plats with your name on them, etc.—as well as a wide selection of candy and treats that you may have thought they stopped making in the 1980s.

It all reminded me of the Stuckey's that used to dot the highway on my family's 1970s road trips to Florida. That is no accident. Bob Horne, the founder of Horne's, was a salesman and used to sell candy to Stuckey's. When Stuckey's decided to make its own candy, Horne opened his own place in 1948 in the Stuckey's model. The headquarters of the business was actually in Florida. Soon, Horne's was a chain, with outlets up and down the east coast. There were more than 60 at one point, all open 24 hours a day. The slogan was "Look for the Yellow Roof." In 1964, Bob Horne sold all his restaurants to the Greyhound Corporation.

The building of new interstates killed Horne's the same way it killed Stuckey's. The chain declined in the 1970s. The one in Port Royal is the last location. It is under independent ownership.

It's kind of a sad place. But the help is friendly and the patrons seem to enjoy the food. And if you need a tank of gas, some out of season Christmas ornaments or a "fashion scarf," this is your place. 

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