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Bulloch History by Roger Allen

U.S. 301 becomes major highway

    Everyone in Statesboro knows what an important role United States Highway 301 has played in the growth of Bulloch County over the last 80 years. Begun in 1926, 301 was originally designed and intended to be part of U.S. Highway 17, and a spur of U.S. Highway 1. To the north of Bulloch County, 301 bore the name of “Burton’s Ferry Road,” and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region was known as “The Tobacco Trail.”
    Its northern terminus was Baltimore, and it’s southern terminus was Tampa, Fla. Over time, the route 301 travels was changed. Highway 301 now starts in Delaware and ends in Sarasota, Fla. Once it became popular with Florida-bound tourists, it earned the nickname of “The Highway of Southern Hospitality.” Georgia’s section of US 301 also shared the designation of U.S. 25 and State Roads 4, 15, 23, and 67.
    As 301 became the preferred route of travel for tourists coming or going from Florida, it was decided to create a National Highway 301 Association to promote tourism in the cities along its way. Statesboro mayor and grocer Alfred Dorman was elected vice president of the association, which was headquartered in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Dorman was the owner of grocery stores in six Georgia communities, a charter member of the Statesboro Rotary Club, a member of the board of directors of the Sea Island Bank, and president of the Georgia Wholesale Grocers Associations.
    Travelers from Washington, D.C., to Florida would regularly set their trip so as they would stop overnight in the Statesboro area, due to a promotion program the 301 Association ran touting the highway as “The Comfortable Ride to Florida.” As a result, local restaurants developed regional and national reputations for excellence. One traveler was overheard to say that “In the future we are routing ourselves at all times to place us around Statesboro at dinnertime.
Two of the favorites were: Mrs. Bryan’s Kitchen, which opened as a small one room restaurant but soon opened additional rooms to feed the hungry masses that came through their doors; and Joe Franklin’s Drive-In Restaurant. There were also three very popular restaurants in the newly-annexed area of Andersonville.
One of them, Bill Strickland’s Friendly Restaurant, was absorbed by the adjacent restaurant, the “301 Grill”, which were then combined and renamed “the Chicago Grill”; and the Nic Nac Grill, which was renamed the Dinner Bell. As segregation was still an issue, the colored tourists who passed through Statesboro were usually found eating at Mrs. (Odella) Lee’s Restaurant” on College and Main, or at “Ella’s Diner”, which offered good food and clean rooms, on Elm Street just off of 301.
    Another Bulloch Countian, Joe Zetterower, started a program of planting flowering trees on 301. His plan was to put dogwoods every 300 feet along 301 all the way from its beginning to its end. This earned him the nickname “Dogwood Joe” amongst his friends, as he was most passionate about his plan. In Statesboro, one of his friends, Joe Stubbs, the owner of the Tobacco Trail Motel, donated $50 to plant a mile of dogwood trees along the highway.
    In 1958, a study done by the Department of Transportation and the 301 Association found that in the first quarter of the year almost 59% of the cars that passed through Statesboro on 301 had out-of-state license plates, while in the second quarter 57% of the cars had out-of-state plates. With the opening of Interstate 95 some 50 miles to the east, things began to change.
    In 1971, the Bulloch County Travel Industry paid for a promotional program which put up a 800 square foot billboard in Sumter, South Carolina where 301 split off from I-95, which stated that 301 was “The Recommended Route to Disney World”. By 1973, the National 301 Association was defunct, and the future looked bleak. However, several agencies stepped up to help win more traffic for the inland areas away from the interstate.
    One such group was the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, which began a program promoting specific areas for their tourist attractions, including the Tobacco festival in Statesboro, and the Marsh Hunting Preserves.
    Recently, U.S. 301 from Statesboro to Interstate 16 has been widened and improved to a multi-lane divided freeway as part of the Governor’s Road Improvement Program (GRIP), and is scheduled to be improved even further. U.S. Highway 301 is not dead, by any means.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger dodger53@hotmail.com

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