Traveling I-95: A guide to enjoying Interstate travel with trivia and unexpected sights
A Little Planning Can Enhance Your DriveA little pre-trip research can dig up some curious trivia to spice up the trip and you don't have to exit to get the benefit. You don't even have to slow down. Sometimes a stretch of interstate is interesting just for the unique history of the land it was built on. I-95, for instance, courses over a few gems.
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History in Massachusetts, Virginia, and South CarolinaIn Massachusetts, Exit 48 takes you to Danvers. Maybe it doesn't sound like an intriguing stop but Danvers used to go by the name of Salem Village -- THE Salem Village. In fact, I-95 shoots right through the old neighborhood of some victims of the witch hysteria of 1692. Rebecca Nurse, a 71-year old women accused and hanged for witchcraft, lived about one mile from I-95. Her house still stands and can be visited from June 15th to Halloween.
In Virginia, just north of Richmond, I-95 goes through Spotsylvania County, grazing the Civil War's bloodiest battle sites -- Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, Wilderness and Fredericksburg. About 100,000 men were killed or wounded in these battles. But here's the most unusual part: this is where Stonewall Jackson was hit by friendly fire. His left arm was amputated, and buried near the site of the attack. Just his arm. It has its own headstone, which can be found in the Ellwood Family Cemetery in Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park about 13 miles west of today's interstate. After surgery, the rest of Jackson was ported for further care to a more sterile environment but he soon died. His body (minus the arm) is buried at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington City, Virginia.
In South Carolina, where all you see are trees along the road, the interstate passes through land that holds the remnants of a peculiar story.
A man from Switzerland was intent on starting a village at 33 degree latitude. Jean Pierre Purry was convinced that the perfect living conditions resided at that latitude. It didn't matter it if was north or south; it didn't matter what continent it happened to be on. So in 1730, dozens of families followed him to the wilds of what would eventually become South Carolina. Poor soil and malaria cut the experiment short; everyone dispersed to more favorable latitudes. Today all that hints of the episode is a road sign for southbound travelers: Switzerland is at Exit 18 but there's nothing to see at the exit.
Odd Sights in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and MaineSometimes travelers pass things along the interstate without noticing them, much less knowing their fascinating stories
In New Jersey you come face to face with the ice age. When glaciers grinded south from Canada thousands of years ago, they covered all of New England but stopped right where the Perth Amboy exit is today. You can identify the spot precisely; like a bulldozer, the glacier pushed a ridge of rocks and debris ahead of itself and when it retreated, a hillside called a terminal moraine was left behind. The interstate goes right through that ridge just north of Exit 10 and is marked, by coincidence, with a water tank on the east side of the road atop the hill.
In Philadelphia there is so much to talk about it's hard to fit it all in. Visible from the interstate is the spire of Christ Church where George Washington and Betsy Ross worshiped. Sparks shot tower, where ammunition for the Revolutionary War was produced, is just feet away from the road. But there's one thing -- clearly seen from the highway -- that most travelers never notice. Two-mile long Petty's Island, to the east in the Delaware River, parallels the road around mileposts 24-25. In the 1800s Pennsylvania was a haven for religious freedom but what some people wanted was the freedom to gamble, which they found in abundance on Petty's Island. Not only did people row over to the island to gamble but also to duel. It was a lawless and wild place. Today the oil company CITGO owns it and, from the interstate, you can easily see their empty, rusting oil drums.
In Maine, the interstate passes over Kennebec River near MP 134. If you had this vantage point in 1775, you would have seen Benedict Arnold and a thousand soldiers scrambling up the river during the Revolutionary War. The target was Canada; Benedict Arnold intended to support an attack on Quebec. The town of Skowhegan, just a few miles from I-95, proudly speaks of their role in the Quebec Expedition. Arnold and his men camped on an island in the middle of the Kennebec there in the town. A few artifacts from those days were found on the island and today are displayed in their museum.
Stories Behind the NameOn your trip down the interstate don't overlook simple but fun stories behind the names. The whole state of Delaware, for instance, hides an interesting story behind its name. In 1610, the suffering pioneers in Jamestown, Virginia trudged to their ships intending to give up the idea of staying in America and return home to the British Isles. Just in the nick of time, Lord de la Warr arrived by boat from England and escorted them back to Jamestown to give it another go. The state, river, bay and even the Indian tribe are named after him.
Not heading down I-95? Every interstate will give up some secrets with some targeted research. Google Earth is a gold mine for interesting bits of trivia. It turns the traditional "are-we-there-yet?" leg of the trip into "you won't believe what's just down the road!"
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Barbara Barnes wrote What's Great About I-95 as an exciting, totally new concept in travel guides. Perfect for interstate travelers ages 8 - 98, their ride suddenly zips by faster, thought provoking conversations erupt without warning. An odd phenomenon happens; everyone in the car actually looks forward to the next 30 miles! Order from Amazon -- What's Great About I-95
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author