Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats"

Eric B
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2011/08/22 23:03:00 (permalink)

Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats"

One piece of transportation history that seems to be in the process of being forgotten is the Clemente Travel Center, also known as "State Road" in New Castle, Delaware.
Right in the center of the mid-Atlantic roadway corridor, nestled between the New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington metropolises and Atlantic City and the coastline (and on the outskirts of Wilmington, DE), this roadway stop billed itself as 
"The Place Where the Nation Meets and Eats".
It was the major rest stop and transfer point for the interstate bus system (Greyhound and Trailways). Even the express buses to the deep South or cross country (such as the ones we used to take, whose first city after leaving New York was Richmond) pulled off of the I95, and headed a few miles down US13, (like they were going down the Delmarva/Eastern Shore Line), to make the stop, and then had to cut across DE Rte. 273 (Frenchtown/Christiana Rd.) several miles to pick up the 95 again in Christiana.
The stop consisted of a really large cafeteria in the front (very big dining area), and likely a gift shop, as well as the ticket counters for the buses. And of course, restrooms. 

In the back was the door to the long platform running straight ahead, with the bus bays on both sides.
Behind all of this was parking space, and behind that a marshy area with a small road, a pond, a freight track, a park, and the end of a creek eventually leading to the nearby Delaware River. A nice sunshiney place in the morning, and the gateway to the cozy, peaceful looking Eastern Shore.
As far as food, what I most remember is the cheesecake, which had a similar creamy texture to NYC's famously unique Junior's, though tasted a bit different, and had some crumbs on top.
My first time there may have been in '75 on the return bus trip from my aunt in central Virginia. But I'm not sure. (On the way down, we had met my aunt in the city and she drove us down. First time to the South). I know on my next trip down there, in '80, the bus stopped there both ways. I had liked it so much on the way down, I looked forward to making ths stop on the way back.
Four years later, I chose Virginia's then largest city, Norfolk, to attend college. When driving, we usually took the 13 all the way, and I suggested Clemente's as one of the stops, which then we always did. 
At first, when coming back home for the holidays or summer, I flew. But then, I became ever so curious about the cities I was flying over (and we had passed by without stopping, whether by bus or car). So I began taking the bus; either the 12 hour trip via the western "Peninsula" and mainland (Richmond, Washington, etc), or if going straight, the more direct 9 hour, but non-interstate (little towns and traffic lights) Delmarva peninsula. Both routes came back together at State Road.
I continued making the trips down there, even after leaving college.
Time began running out for the Center, when the Baltimore Travel Plaza opened, which was closer to the 95, being right near an exit in eastern Baltimore. Service then began moving into the new stop, which was in addition to Baltimore Downtown (the former Trailways station, with the Greyhound station closed after the merger).
The June, 1991 Russell Guide (which I managed to get), still listed some mainline runs, and all the Eastern Shore runs at State Road. That year's trip (to both my aunt, and Norfolk; a huge triangle), was my last time there. My next two trips; my first Florida ("expansion") trip, that summer, and the second one, a year later; the super expresses all stopped at the new Travel Plaza. 
By the fall '92 Carolina Trailways schedule, State Road was reduced to a flag stop, and the new crossroads between the Eastern Shore and the 95 corridor was nearby Wilmington (which is kind of out of the way for the buses going straight to New York, as it is past the turnoff to 295, which is the mainline highway heading to the Delaware Memorial Bridge to New Jersey, while 95 goes through Philly). Previously, Wilmington was part of the local route to Philadephia).
All mainline service used Baltimore Travel Plaza instead.
Eventually, the super expresses from New York to Richmond and beyond no longer stopped even there, but instead began using the Maryland House, which was a rest stop in the median of the highway (i.e. between northbound and southbound roadways), not too far north or east of Baltimore. Of course, this was faster and more convenient than even the Travel Plaza since it was right in the highway.
On my next Norfolk trip, in late '92, Clemente's was but a dark, shuttered derelict we zipped by between Odessa and Wilmington. (The meal stop was now at a lesser fast food chain {Roy Rogers?} in Maryland somewhere).

Forward 13 years later, in '05, I got down to Norfolk again, and was surprised with a new expressway in the Delaware portion of the route (DE 1) bypassing most of 13. The bus did still use 13 in that highly commercial stretch through New Castle and Wilmington Manor. Trying to remember exactly where the Center was, I looked out for it, and could recognize it, next to the "colonial house" looking office building, and by now I could see it appeared to be turned into a furniture store.
More recently, with the wonders of Google Maps, including Street View (expanded into even rural areas), I could see that it was in fact a little shopping strip, anchored by the furniture store in front. The stores are mainly lesser chains, that can be found all over the east, but are unknown in New York. There's even a dance studio, now.
I'm not completely sure whether it's a new building or not, but the way it looks, it looks like it's simply the old one with a new façade, and the platform enclosed into the other stores, with pretty much the same (though newly paved) roadway around the facility the buses used to use. When the buses used it, the north side was inbound, and the south side was outbound. Now, a sidewalk to the stores and grassy strips are where the south bays were, and the north side appears to be the loading area in the back of the stores, and the former bus entrance is now gated off. Also appearing the same, is the big parking lot behind the whole complex.
Looking it up online, I could not find ANYTHING about "Clemente's Travel Center" or even "State Road". Even searching the slogan "Where the Nation Meets and Eats", only turned up an old New York Magazine (Mar 3, 1969 "Tracking the Action to Bowie") on Google Books, briefly mentioning it in passing! On the actual site, there is no sign that it was ever there. 

So I knew I had to write this dedication to it.
I find that the name of the plaza is The Shoppes of New Castle You would think at least a page like that would mention it was the former Clemente travel center. They should have called it "Clemente Plaza" or at least "The Shoppes at State Road".

Full version:
post edited by Eric B - 2011/08/22 23:30:37

4 Replies Related Threads

    • Total Posts : 11463
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    Re:Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats" 2011/08/22 23:08:11 (permalink)
    Interesting blog you have there, but you shouldn't use other's pictures because you're using their bandwith...  Wiki or not.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    Re:Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats" 2011/08/23 16:51:06 (permalink)
    Thanks for the nostalgia..I live about 20 miles from there and never knew
    Tony Bad
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    Re:Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats" 2011/08/23 16:56:54 (permalink)
    My uncle drove buses for a lot of years, so when ever I traveled with him he'd know all the truck and bus stops. Clemente's was a frequent stop. It was a neat place. It looked sad after it closed, then one trip, it was gone.
    Thanks for the memories!
    Eric B
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    Re:Forgotten major "Roadfood" center: Once "Where the Nation Meets and Eats" 2011/08/23 22:09:37 (permalink)
    Yeah, there's like no sign it was ever there. Don't know how they could ever let a memory like that slip away.
    BTW, Chester, PA was two stops down, on the buses to Philly.
    Now, the Eastern Shore buses use some rest stop further down in Delaware, past Dover. (And they don't even use Baltimore Travel Plaza anymore either).
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