In the thriving 1930’s tourists driving from the Great Lakes to Florida for a warm vacation would take Highway 21 through Wytheville, Virginia. The vital transportation corridor helped the small country town grow, including the old Esso gas station. In 2011 the gas station was renovated and opened as a museum, giving visitors a look at history during an interesting time.
The museum is a part of the Willow Brook Jackson/Umberger Homestead Museum Interpretative Site along Tazewell Street adjacent to the Regional Visitors Center. Start with a nice tour through the visitor center to learn about the town and region before asking about the museum. Sometimes a guide will take visitors to the museum, other times visitors walk on their own.
You will immediately recognize the gas station design. Old gas station design. A small covered front area with a single large gas pump. At one time gas stations were vital with cars that had small gas tanks and didn’t get very far on a single full tank.
Inside the walls and display cases are filled with newspaper clippings, vintage maps, tools, and other artifacts from the 1930’s-1950’s. It’s interesting to take a peak at the world from that time. But with any great story comes a great tragedy.
In the summer of 1950 the town was struck by a wave of polio. The deadly disease ravaged the county, causing the locals to cancel large events and avoid contact with anyone else. Signs were put up along Highway 21 warning tourists to avoid the county, but to please come again next year. They never returned. Once the Great Lakes to Florida traffic was rerouted, it never returned.
Exploring this history at the small museum was fascinating. Today people use nearby I-77 and I-81 to great from the Great Lakes region to Florida, completely bypassing the town altogether. But if you happen to be looking for something to do, or looking for a place to spend a night along the way, Wytheville is a great place to explore.
If you would like to view more photos from Wytheville, Virginia, please visit my website at http://photography.southeasterntraveler.com/Virginia/Wytheville/
The Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum Information
Address – 975 Tazewell St, Wytheville, VA
Website – www.wytheville.org/museums/museums.php
Phone – 276-223-3330
Admission – Adults $4, Age 6-12 $2
Getting There – From Exit 70 on I-81 turn toward town, then turn left at the first traffic light. Take the first right turn onto Tazewell Street. Continue along this street, past the museum, to the Regional Visitor Center. Park here, then use the paved trail leading back to the museum.
Handicap Accessibility – The trail to the museum is accessible, and the museum is one-story making it easy to get around.