The boom in car ownership and the construction of the US interstate highway system in the 1920s ushered in a new era of leisure travel in the US. As Joann M Dowling writes in her introduction to The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, “The need to eat, break, relax, take in the scenic wonder of the landscape, or even fix a flat tire drew travelers from the road.”
This need was catered to initially by the creation of roadside parks but by the 1950s standardised guidelines on the design of rest stops were introduced by the American Association of State Highway Officials. “Yet the proscribed pragmatism was quickly usurped by a desire to create one-of-a-kind sites, ‘state ambassadors,’ as one highway professional referred to them,” Dowling says.
Thus, each state competed to create rest stops that reflected its unique culture, heritage and landscape. “It reached its pinnacle in the late 1960s and can be seen most powerfully in the Midwestern and Southwestern states. This design movement was a kind of regional branding that sought to define ‘local’. In the West, regional design met the grandeur of the landscape and acted as a powerful tool for communicating a sense of place,” Dowling explains.
Rest stops were constructed in the shape of giant teepees, oil drills and even wagons, recalling pioneer days.
With the advent of modern service stations and new roads which bypass the old routes however, many of these rest stops are falling out of use and into disrepair. Before they vanish, Texan photographer Ryann Ford has documented many of the finest examples in this new book, The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, published by powerHouse books.
Lead image: Rest stop at Winona, Texas, from The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, by Ryann Ford. Published by powerHouse Books