I wake up every morning just hoping to discover or learn at least one new thing – something that I will be able to take away, hopefully forever as a piece of my life. One successful day in particular, started during a drive into Buffalo, New York.
Drops of rain began falling heavily as we drove along, but that was more or less to be expected on a day like this. Grey clouds had been collecting through the morning, and being in the north eastern states, some type of storm was inevitable; you learn to pretty much just wait for it to happen. Passing cars moved swiftly, kicking up mist over the slippery ground. My ears drowned deeply into the sound of our tires as they sailed along wet road, like a strip of fresh velvet being dragged across pavement as smooth as silk. The rain turned to a quiet drizzle, if only a few moments later; I became intrigued, watching as it fell onto the car windows. It was like every raindrop held an entire delicate world all its own, so effortlessly erased by the back and forth motion of windshield wipers – so many gone before they even had a chance to be noticed. These drops resemble the numerous fragile pieces of our lives that we so quickly throw away. See, many people can recognize an enchanting world within every raindrop rested atop the petals of a blossoming pink dahlia, but fail to notice how captivating they can still be when sat upon faded glass. Between the tick-tock of wipers, drops crawled up the glass sporadically, like veins trying to wiggle away – quickly fading tails trailed behind, like comets in a meteor shower. Each drop fell to the windshield with a satisfying clicking sound; one of those sounds you could fall asleep to. I might have actually drifted off into a dream if I wasn’t always so distracted by my surroundings.
Our steady cruise along the rain soaked roadways of I-90 was brought to a sudden halt, when glancing to our right we noticed a large sign reading “Dixie.” The sign towered over us at the freeway’s edge, above what appeared to be a collection of abandoned buildings sprawled atop cracking pavement. With rain still held at a minimal drizzle, we found our way across the road, approaching the inside through an open space formerly holding a door. As I got closer, I began to notice that collections of weeds were now protruding powerfully between splits in the parking lot; by appearance, it seemed like this place was forgotten a long time ago. Glass had been almost completely busted from the door frame and what remained tucked into the edges resembled sharp rock candy – though I’m sure it would have been much less pleasant to chew. Cubic blue shards crunched at my feet as I set forth into the crashed opening, only to be greeted by dripping ceilings, all falling directly into dirty puddles. Grimy tabletops and mold encrusted booth seats lined one wall of what appeared to be a former diner. There was still so much to be discovered – beyond the soggy ceiling tiles draped over bar stools, dusty dining arrangements, moldy showers and cracked tile floors was an interesting history.
People regularly ask what it is that draws me in so much to these places – why must I photograph them? This particular situation exhibits one of the main reasons for just that – it won’t be here forever. Each half-cracked table lamp holds a story – every single empty table quietly tells of a life that was once here. Sometimes it’s difficult to write about something until it becomes no more than a memory, which is why I feel such a strong desire to write about so many of these crumbling places.
Created by J.P. Walters and John Geske, under the name of Dixie Trucker’s Home, the Dixie would become known years later as the oldest truck stop in America. The Dixie began in the early 1920s as no more than a small sandwich stand in a truck mechanic’s garage. After generating all kinds of buzz between locals, the first full stop was established in 1928 at the intersection of U.S. Route 66 and Route 136 in McLean, Illinois. From this year on, the stop would cater to needs of truckers as they transported goods. Even during the great depression, business remained lively, as truckers would continue to drop by in need of a meal and place to sleep.
The Dixie presented some of the country’s first drive-up and drive-in movies as entertainment for guests and local citizens – these shows would occur on weekends and always remained free. Parking was provided in a lot between the Dixie and the cabins, where guests would spread out blankets and be treated to a show. From wonderful live performances, to film presentations where a screen would be popped up, the Dixie had it all. Unfortunately, the start of World War II halted any kind of merriment and movie going during the weekends and these joyous events were cancelled indefinitely.
In 1965, a fire swept the original building, leaving the fuel pumps and cabins unscathed. The surrounding community rushed in to help in cleanup efforts – one citizen using his tractor to pull a cabin into place near the pumps. After only one day of closure, the Dixie reopened with that cabin acting as their main building. It seemed that nothing would stop this business from continuing strong.
This particular stop near the Erie, Pennsylvania border was opened in 1960, with construction completed the same year as the stretch of I-90 that it sat on. First operating as a Green Shingle, the property was later bought by Dixie, who ran it for some years before finally leaving it all behind. After sitting vacant, practically forgotten for over a decade, the derelict structure was demolished only 13 days ago on May 19, 2015. While some abandoned spaces sit in an austere state, others remain adorned with fragments of the past, displaying a beautiful collection of stories hiding beneath their dust – this was one place that truly had so much to tell.
In 2012, the entire Dixie franchise was purchased by Road Ranger, including the original stop remaining on Route 66. It’s unknown what will come of this now empty lot, but these photos will always remain as some of the little documentation left of a structure that once sat atop this land. These photos will serve as memories of a life before all was discarded as trash, and proof that at least someone was listening.