Breezewood: The Neon Jumble

Breezewood, Pennsylvania, just might be the prettiest-named ugly place in the America. This unincorporated town in the south of the state is actually home to almost 1,500 people, but is most famous for its neon strip of fast food restaurants, trucks stops, gas stations, and motels tucked snugly into an asphalt armpit between Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

It has always been a place for travelers. Local Native Americans blazed the first trails in the area; Conestoga wagons rumbled the routes on their way west. In 1940, an interchange was built connecting the then-new Pennsylvania Turnpike—a toll road—with the town’s stretch of U.S. Route 30.

Then in the mid-1960s, a stretch of Interstate 70 from the Maryland state line to Breezewood was completed. And things got weird.

Pennsylvania had the option to use federal money to build an interchange for the new highway at Breezewood, but—because of a technicality in the road funding law—declined to do so. Local merchants also lobbied against a putting in an exit for fear travelers taking any new bypass would also bypass them.

Instead the state extended I-70 to meet up with the Route 30 terminus, looping motorists on a detour down into a valley through two stoplights and past a bevy of businesses.

Today more than six million cars per year travel through Breezewood. If they had a choice (they don’t), it’s likely most would breeze right by.

This piece, written by Traveler‘s editor in chief Maggie Zackowitz, appeared in the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Maggie on Twitter @Mzack0.