In the small town of Starke, Florida just after World War II the citizens and business leaders set out to increase the amount of visitors to their town in order to receive a portion of the tourism dollars that poured in to Florida. They had a parallel goal of bringing in big business to the area, which would in turn boost the economy by providing jobs, the need for more housing, and all the support services that big industry requires. With these lofty goals in mind they sought to have a new Interstate Highway run through Starke, serving as a distribution and supply route for the big businesses they hoped to attract. However, like many other small towns in the nation, with the passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1956, those dreams were defeated, never to be brought back to life.
According to the article, the livelihood of the residents of Starke always depended on the transportation system and the desire for bigger industry, in one way or another. After the war the Boosters in the area were constantly searching for ways to increase the tourism, revenue and appeal of the small town. Even in their “boom” years, the population never exceeded much more than 3,000 and even then the infrastructure was pushed to the max with every available hotel, house, room, etc. being lived in when businesses like Big Dad Manufacturing moved in to the area. While the Boosters did have some success getting several businesses to relocate to Starke, it was not enough to convince the state or the Federal government to put them on the map by running the new Interstate system through the town. The leaders in town knew if they could just get that roadway, they would receive the answer to their prayers. After all, when they were able to increase the width of Highway 301, the main thoroughfare through the area at the time, they saw a huge increase in traffic and in revenue to the area.
It also seems that many small towns around the country were misled by the federal government about the Federal Highway Act of 1956. As the article states, “the New Federal system will be designed primarily as military highways with no gasoline stations, no restaurants, and no tourist attractions along their way.” (p.463) If this was truly the intention of the Federal government, they failed in this regard because by the 1960’s small towns like Starke that were bypassed by the Interstate system were feeling the full effect. If they truly wanted this to be the case, then those roadways should have been closed to any traffic other than that directly related to the military. Such a huge endeavor as a national interstate system, however, could not be limited in its use in such a manner. It simply wasn’t realistic or cost effective.
While the Interstate Highway system wasn’t the only thing that affected the economy in Starke, it was certainly one of the hardest things for the town to recover from. Even if the Interstate Highway system had not developed in the country when and where it did, small towns like Starke still would not have had the “motor court” or hotel and restaurant business that they had anticipated. The simple fact that vehicles have become more economical and get better gas mileage makes the over night stops of years gone by obsolete. Why stop in the small town when you can make it to the next larger town? Other than to rest your eyes, stretch your legs, use the restroom or grab a Slurpee at the 7-11, the draw of the scenic route or a nostalgic drive just don’t fit into our way of life any more. In addition, while road traffic and travel by automobile was the preferred means of travel in the 1950’s and 1960’s, today it is just as easy and usually cheaper to jump on a plane, arrive at your destination a few hours later, and not have to worry about a cross country trip. The love of the road trip is not as prominent now as it was then, and this also served to detract from the small, one industry, somewhat agricultural areas of the country.