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Rolling Down Route 64
By Tom Harrison

Rt. 64 signThe Washington County Travel and Tourism Authority is working with Bluewater Media who is filming two upcoming programs for UNC TV. One program is the 4th, (and last), installment in a series about boating in eastern North Carolina that will be called, Cruising Carolina: The Sounds, with author Claiborne Young. The second program titled, US 64 - North Carolina’s Heritage Highway, will chronicle the unique history and heritage found along Highway 64. There are many things we take for granted in life, one being our roads. North Carolina has some of the best highways and best highway signage in the country. As a point of fact, North Carolina has more miles of state maintained roads than any other state according to the 2004 report from the US Dept of Transportation. Texas is a close second. (See Public Road Length Chart)

“…these two lanes will take us
anywhere.” Bruce Springteen, Thunder Road

It is easy to forget that Highway 64 is a US Highway. Sometimes we are guilty of believing it is a North Carolina Highway from Manteo to Murphy. (In reality the easternmost town on Highway 64 is Nags Head and the western most town in North Carolina is Wolf Creek, 566 miles west). But US 64 has the same roots as its more famous cousin, Route 66. Both US Highways were born in 1926 as part of the US Highway system that is numbered from Highway 1 to Highway 830. Route 66 ran from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA but was decommissioned in 1985. Route 64 lives on!

Our Route 64 that we hop on and off of at our leisure without giving it a second thought is actually the 8th longest US Highway, (the longest US Highway is US 8 that runs from Provincetown, Massachusetts to Bishop, California). While we all know the eastern end of Highway 64 is at Nags Head, it may be surprising to some that western end is 2,326 miles west near The Four Corners, (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah & Colorado), at a town called Teec Nos Pos in the Navajo Nation. Traveling westward beyond North Carolina’s borders Route 64 passes through such notable places as Chattanooga, TN, Memphis, TN, Fort Smith, AR, Muskogee, OK, Tulsa, OK, and Taos, NM.

Highway 64 wasn’t always the same length nor did it follow the same route. From 1932 – 1974 the western end of our historic highway was Santa Fe, NM. Now it bypasses Santa Fe entirely. The eastern end was Fort Landing on the Alligator River up until 1933. From there you had to travel by ferry over the Alligator River and then board another ferry at Manns Harbor. There are Dare County residents, including Stan White of Stan White Realty and Construction who remember growing up in Manns Harbor and having to take the ferry to Manteo to go back and forth each day to school!

Every town from Raleigh east, (and probably from Raleigh west as well), has bypassed at some point in time as the NCDOT answered the call to speed travel east and west through North Carolina. Plymouth businessman and town councilman, Shelton McNair, remembers when One of many black bear crossing Rt. 64Route 64 zigzagged through Plymouth along East Main from where Freeman Furniture World is presently located, past the high school to Washington St., then turned south one block, where it continued west on 2nd St., to Wilson St. and joined the present route. The present bypass through Plymouth was created in 1951. Some day in the future the current bypass will likely be bypassed again to whisk tourists to the beach at 70 mph.

Filming in Plymouth for both UNC TV programs, (US 64 - North Carolina’s Heritage Highway and Cruising Carolina: The Sounds) began on July 28th. The focus of the Washington County portion of the Route 64 program will include Pocosin Lakes NWR, Somerset Place and the local herring fisheries. Williamston’s Sunny Side Oyster Bar and Columbia’s Palmetto Peartree Preserve, Alligator NWR, and local herring fisheries will also be included from our area. Due to the scope of the project that extends from one end of the state to the other, Tereasa Dalton with Bluewater Media states that the program will take over a year to film and edit. It is expected to air during UNC TV’s Festival fund-raising drive in February of 2010.

But you don’t have to wait and see it on TV! You can experience it right now from the comfort and convenience of the front seat of your car. North Carolina’s Route 64 is more than a means of getting from point A to point B. It is a road that chronicles the westward settlement, expansion and heritage of a determined people from the mountains to the coast. Route 64 is a thread that connects stories of resolute individuals, families, businesses, history, and wild places. It is a testimony to the people who carved out a place and prospered along the length of this historic route. Only by stopping to investigate the hidden secrets along Route 64 can its treasures be discovered. The fearless that are willing to get off the interstates and bypasses and slow down to experience rural roads across this great State will not be disappointed.

North Carolina’s own Charles Kuralt made this observation about the alternative, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. From the Interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs, and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place."

For the intrepid travelers who invest the time, Route 64 will provide a plethora of entertainment, education, and simple pleasures while revealing the real North Carolina.

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Rt. 64 in Plymouth, NC at sunrise