The rapidly spreading popularity of the automobile in America spawned the development of a new kind of roadside commerce in the first half of the twentieth century. As a major center of American commercial activity and a northeastern crossroads, New York State saw the rise of many homespun efforts to pull motorists curbside to spend money. As roads improved and speeds increased, many of those efforts took outsized and fanciful forms.
In New York, some prime examples of these attractions still exist, and have survived despite the development of the limited-access interstate highway system. One of New York’s more notable roadside amusements capitalized on the newfound interest in dinosaurs in the 1930s. Petrified Creatures Museum, a primitive kind of “Jurassic Park,” opened in Richfield Springs along Route 20 in 1938, and still operates, despite the death of its founder John Mlecz in 1997.
Not far away, The TePee [sic], a 40-foot in Cherry Valley beckons to the same stream of motorists. The TePee is an excellent example “programmatic” architecture, or a building designed to indicate its purpose, which in this case is selling Indian-inspired gifts to tourists. In Buchanan, motorists would easily identify the Gallon Measure Service Station as a place to buy gasoline, or that they could get an ice cream cone at the Twist-o-the-Mist in Niagra Falls, or fresh duck and eggs at the Big Duck in Hampton Bays.
Large fiberglass statues that once simply served to advertise local merchants have become attractions in their own right. Albany’s Big Nipper, a 25-foot fiberglass construction of the RCA-Victor mascot, sits high above Broadway. The Amoco Man in Elmsford is one of many fiberglass statues otherwise known as “muffler men” or Paul Bunyon statues, made by International Fiberglas, standing 20-feet tall while holding the merchant’s signature product.
Main Street to Miracle Mile, Chester Liebs, Johns-Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1985, 1995.
Mid-Atlantic Roadside Delights, Will Anderson, Will Anderson & Sons Publishing, Bath, Maine, 1990.
“The Big Duck,” Rick Brand, New York Newsday, 1995.
The New Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com), Mike Wilkins, Ken Smith, Doug Kirby, Simon & Schuster, 1992.