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Afton Mountain: Victim of Progress

Part 1 – Part 2

Part 1

Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton MountainWhen you’re driving along Interstate 64 in Virginia, as you cross Rockfish Gap, you’ll find Exit 99.  From the Interstate, what do you see?  A single motel, named The Inn at Afton (formerly a Holiday Inn), and a bunch of signs for Shenandoah National Park.  However, if you take US 250 to the same location, you not only see The Inn at Afton, but also the Afton Mountain Convenience Store, a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, the Skyline Parkway Motel, and a tourist information center.  Why the difference?  These other businesses all predate Interstate 64, and were designed for maximum visibility from US 250.  Interstate 64’s alignment takes it behind a ridge which blocks the view of all of these businesses except for The Inn at Afton.  For establishments that get most of their business from the highway, visibility is key.  In the middle of the 20th century, Afton Mountain was the place to stay, with lodging, food, and an unbeatable view.  Then enter Interstate 64.  These businesses were not visible from Interstate 64, save for the Holiday Inn.  In addition, the nearby cities of Waynesboro and Charlottesville offer more modern accommodations with far more services, such as restaurants and entertainment, nearby.  In 2003, only the convenience store, The Inn at Afton, and the tourist information center remained.  The remainder of Afton Mountain had been closed up, abandoned, and left to rot – a modern ruin.  However, despite its dilapidated state, Afton Mountain remained an excellent example of what the face of commerce looked like in the middle part of the 20th century, with many of its vintage buildings fully or nearly intact.  As such, Afton Mountain is like a time capsule, looking back to a bygone era of once-modern accommodations for weary travelers.


Afton Mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with traffic crossing Rockfish Gap via Interstate 64 (top left), and US 250 (lower left), with views of Waynesboro (top right) and Nelson and Albemarle Counties (lower right).  Afton Mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with traffic crossing Rockfish Gap via Interstate 64 (top left), and US 250 (lower left), with views of Waynesboro (top right) and Nelson and Albemarle Counties (lower right).

Afton Mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with traffic crossing Rockfish Gap via Interstate 64 (top left), and US 250 (lower left), with views of Waynesboro (top right) and Nelson and Albemarle Counties (lower right).

Afton Mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with traffic crossing Rockfish Gap via Interstate 64 (top left), and US 250 (lower left), with views of Waynesboro (top right) and Nelson and Albemarle Counties (lower right).  Afton Mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with traffic crossing Rockfish Gap via Interstate 64 (top left), and US 250 (lower left), with views of Waynesboro (top right) and Nelson and Albemarle Counties (lower right).


The Inn at Afton was built in 1968 according to property assessment records, and was a Holiday Inn until the mid-1990s.  The motel has an access road from US 250 that is separate from all the other businesses.  Additionally, the Inn at Afton is the only business visible from Interstate 64, which certainly contributes to its staying in business.  The Inn at Afton was built in 1968 according to property assessment records, and was a Holiday Inn until the mid-1990s.  The motel has an access road from US 250 that is separate from all the other businesses.  Additionally, the Inn at Afton is the only business visible from Interstate 64, which certainly contributes to its staying in business.

The Inn at Afton was built in 1968 according to property assessment records, and was a Holiday Inn until the mid-1990s.  The motel has an access road from US 250 that is separate from all the other businesses.  Additionally, the Inn at Afton is the only business visible from Interstate 64, which certainly contributes to its staying in business.


The Afton Mountain Convenience Store, the sign of which is shown here, sold Chevron gas up until 2003.  It was selling "Pure" brand gasoline at the time this photo set was made, though there was no outward indication of the brand.  The sign would remain in this state until the brand changed to "Woco" a few years later.

The Afton Mountain Convenience Store, the sign of which is shown here, sold Chevron gas up until 2003.  It was selling “Pure” brand gasoline at the time this photo set was made, though there was no outward indication of the brand.  The sign would remain in this state until the brand changed to “Woco” a few years later.


The only other sign of life in this cluster of businesses is the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, which provides brochures about area attractions, provides driving directions, etc.  Interestingly enough, and as something of a testament to the state of Afton Mountain, the tourist information center sits beneath a floor of abandoned motel rooms, likely once part of the nearby Skyline Parkway Motor Court.  The only other sign of life in this cluster of businesses is the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, which provides brochures about area attractions, provides driving directions, etc.  Interestingly enough, and as something of a testament to the state of Afton Mountain, the tourist information center sits beneath a floor of abandoned motel rooms, likely once part of the nearby Skyline Parkway Motor Court.

The only other sign of life in this cluster of businesses is the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, which provides brochures about area attractions, provides driving directions, etc.  Interestingly enough, and as something of a testament to the state of Afton Mountain, the tourist information center sits beneath a floor of abandoned motel rooms, likely once part of the nearby Skyline Parkway Motor Court.


This birds-eye view of the area was taken from a gravel area along the access road to The Inn at Afton.  From top right to bottom left, you have The Inn at Afton, the Skyline Parkway Motel (brown buildings), the Skyline Parkway Motor Court (white buildings), Howard Johnson's Restaurant (orange roof), the Tourist Information Center (brown roof), and the gate lodge for the Skyline Parkway Motor Court (far left).

This birds-eye view of the area was taken from a gravel area along the access road to The Inn at Afton.  From top right to bottom left, you have The Inn at Afton, the Skyline Parkway Motel (brown buildings), the Skyline Parkway Motor Court (white buildings), Howard Johnson’s Restaurant (orange roof), the Tourist Information Center (brown roof), and the gate lodge for the Skyline Parkway Motor Court (far left).


Another birds-eye view from The Inn at Afton parking lot shows the smaller buildings of the Skyline Parkway Motel in front, followed by the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, the Tourist Information Center, the gate lodge for the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, and lastly, at top left, the Afton Mountain Convenience Store.

Another birds-eye view from The Inn at Afton parking lot shows the smaller buildings of the Skyline Parkway Motel in front, followed by the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, the Tourist Information Center, the gate lodge for the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, and lastly, at top left, the Afton Mountain Convenience Store.


Next to the other buildings, the orange roof of the Howard Johnson's restaurant gleams brightly in the sun.  Note how the orange tile only covers the outer portions of the roof.  Presumably it was cheaper to do the inside of the roof in normal asphalt shingles vs. doing the orange tile all the way around.  Additionally, I find it curious that the orange portion of the roof doesn't extend to the edge of the building on one side.  And according to historical photos, it never did.  You can still tell it's a Howard Johnson's, though, and that's what counts in the end.  Next to the other buildings, the orange roof of the Howard Johnson's restaurant gleams brightly in the sun.  Note how the orange tile only covers the outer portions of the roof.  Presumably it was cheaper to do the inside of the roof in normal asphalt shingles vs. doing the orange tile all the way around.  Additionally, I find it curious that the orange portion of the roof doesn't extend to the edge of the building on one side.  And according to historical photos, it never did.  You can still tell it's a Howard Johnson's, though, and that's what counts in the end.

Next to the other buildings, the orange roof of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant gleams brightly in the sun.  Note how the orange tile only covers the outer portions of the roof.  Presumably it was cheaper to do the inside of the roof in normal asphalt shingles vs. doing the orange tile all the way around.  Additionally, I find it curious that the orange portion of the roof doesn’t extend to the edge of the building on one side.  And according to historical photos, it never did.  You can still tell it’s a Howard Johnson’s, though, and that’s what counts in the end.


The Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain was built in 1948, and closed fifty years later in 1998, according to information about the location at Rich Kummerlowe’s Highway Host site.


The sign out front sported the Franchise Associates-era logo, which was the final logo used while this restaurant was in operation.

The sign out front sported the Franchise Associates-era logo, which was the final logo used while this restaurant was in operation.


The Howard Johnson's on Afton Mountain was kept updated to stay with the times for the most part, as the building had undergone a number of changes since its original 1948 opening.  It received a considerable facelift during the 1960s (approximately), which gave the building a new cupola, and removed the dormers from the roof.  Additionally, in the 1970s, the building adopted the "environmental" color scheme vs. the earlier white style with turquoise trim.  The Howard Johnson's on Afton Mountain was kept updated to stay with the times for the most part, as the building had undergone a number of changes since its original 1948 opening.  It received a considerable facelift during the 1960s (approximately), which gave the building a new cupola, and removed the dormers from the roof.  Additionally, in the 1970s, the building adopted the "environmental" color scheme vs. the earlier white style with turquoise trim.

The Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain was kept updated to stay with the times for the most part, as the building had undergone a number of changes since its original 1948 opening.  It received a considerable facelift during the 1960s (approximately), which gave the building a new cupola, and removed the dormers from the roof.  Additionally, in the 1970s, the building adopted the “environmental” color scheme vs. the earlier white style with turquoise trim.


Despite its base's being painted brown as part of the "environmental" color scheme, the signature Howard Johnson's cupola remained in vintage condition, complete with its Simple Simon and the Pieman weathervane!

Despite its base’s being painted brown as part of the “environmental” color scheme, the signature Howard Johnson’s cupola remained in vintage condition, complete with its Simple Simon and the Pieman weathervane!


This eagle with wings outstretched has stood over the entrance since the restaurant first opened, though now its details have been masked by many layers of paint.

This eagle with wings outstretched has stood over the entrance since the restaurant first opened, though now its details have been masked by many layers of paint.


Of all the abandoned buildings in this cluster of businesses on Afton Mountain, the Howard Johnson's is by far in the best shape of all of them.  It almost seems like all they'd have to do to open it for business again would be to air it out and start everything up.

Of all the abandoned buildings in this cluster of businesses on Afton Mountain, the Howard Johnson’s is by far in the best shape of all of them.  It almost seems like all they’d have to do to open it for business again would be to air it out and start everything up.


However, like many of the buildings on Afton Mountain, Howard Johnson's showed signs of disuse and related decay.  Outside the building, the paint was beginning to peel (upper right), bushes blocked a side door (upper left), and out front, the grass was in need of mowing and the shrubbery needed trim (lower right).  In the entry foyer (lower left), freebie papers, likely from 1998 when the restaurant was last in operation, sat in their holders, having turned yellow from age and exposure to sunlight.  However, like many of the buildings on Afton Mountain, Howard Johnson's showed signs of disuse and related decay.  Outside the building, the paint was beginning to peel (upper right), bushes blocked a side door (upper left), and out front, the grass was in need of mowing and the shrubbery needed trim (lower right).  In the entry foyer (lower left), freebie papers, likely from 1998 when the restaurant was last in operation, sat in their holders, having turned yellow from age and exposure to sunlight.

However, like many of the buildings on Afton Mountain, Howard Johnson’s showed signs of disuse and related decay.  Outside the building, the paint was beginning to peel (upper right), bushes blocked a side door (upper left), and out front, the grass was in need of mowing and the shrubbery needed trim (lower right).  In the entry foyer (lower left), freebie papers, likely from 1998 when the restaurant was last in operation, sat in their holders, having turned yellow from age and exposure to sunlight.

However, like many of the buildings on Afton Mountain, Howard Johnson's showed signs of disuse and related decay.  Outside the building, the paint was beginning to peel (upper right), bushes blocked a side door (upper left), and out front, the grass was in need of mowing and the shrubbery needed trim (lower right).  In the entry foyer (lower left), freebie papers, likely from 1998 when the restaurant was last in operation, sat in their holders, having turned yellow from age and exposure to sunlight.  However, like many of the buildings on Afton Mountain, Howard Johnson's showed signs of disuse and related decay.  Outside the building, the paint was beginning to peel (upper right), bushes blocked a side door (upper left), and out front, the grass was in need of mowing and the shrubbery needed trim (lower right).  In the entry foyer (lower left), freebie papers, likely from 1998 when the restaurant was last in operation, sat in their holders, having turned yellow from age and exposure to sunlight.


Up the stairs from the Howard Johnson's, past a disused light-up sign, was the Skyline Parkway Motel, a vintage motel that had been abandoned and left to decay.  Up the stairs from the Howard Johnson's, past a disused light-up sign, was the Skyline Parkway Motel, a vintage motel that had been abandoned and left to decay.

Up the stairs from the Howard Johnson’s, past a disused light-up sign, was the Skyline Parkway Motel, a vintage motel that had been abandoned and left to decay.


The Skyline Parkway Motel was built in 1962 according to The News Leader, well after the Howard Johnson's was already in operation.

The Skyline Parkway Motel was built in 1962 according to The News Leader, well after the Howard Johnson’s was already in operation.


The Skyline Parkway Motel had a layout where everyone, whether on the first or second story in the main lodge, or in the cabins next to the main lodge, had a ground-level entrance.

The Skyline Parkway Motel had a layout where everyone, whether on the first or second story in the main lodge, or in the cabins next to the main lodge, had a ground-level entrance.


The Skyline Parkway Motel's lobby was on the first floor of the main lodge.

The Skyline Parkway Motel’s lobby was on the first floor of the main lodge.


Wires hanging loose from lights intended to illuminate the sign were a clear indicator that this was no longer a place where weary travelers stopped to spend the night.

Wires hanging loose from lights intended to illuminate the sign were a clear indicator that this was no longer a place where weary travelers stopped to spend the night.


If you need more evidence that the motel is no longer operating, all you need to do is take a peek up close.  Many of the window panes are broken out, and there is peeling paint and other debris all over the place.  A look inside the lobby area showed modern furniture, which indicated that this place closed in the relatively recent past (for the time).  An Appalachian Trail hiker's journal that I found provided evidence that the motel was in operation in April 1997, and that the rooms were "very inexpensive" but also "not half bad".  If you need more evidence that the motel is no longer operating, all you need to do is take a peek up close.  Many of the window panes are broken out, and there is peeling paint and other debris all over the place.  A look inside the lobby area showed modern furniture, which indicated that this place closed in the relatively recent past (for the time).  An Appalachian Trail hiker's journal that I found provided evidence that the motel was in operation in April 1997, and that the rooms were "very inexpensive" but also "not half bad".

If you need more evidence that the motel is no longer operating, all you need to do is take a peek up close.  Many of the window panes are broken out, and there is peeling paint and other debris all over the place.  A look inside the lobby area showed modern furniture, which indicated that this place closed in the relatively recent past (for the time).  An Appalachian Trail hiker’s journal that I found provided evidence that the motel was in operation in April 1997, and that the rooms were “very inexpensive” but also “not half bad”.


In the corner of the door frame of one first floor room, more evidence of disuse was present, as a small hornet's nest was located there, and even it appeared to be abandoned.

In the corner of the door frame of one first floor room, more evidence of disuse was present, as a small hornet’s nest was located there, and even it appeared to be abandoned.


In addition to the other signs of abandonment, weeds grew through any opening they could find, and the grass was in need of mowing.

In addition to the other signs of abandonment, weeds grew through any opening they could find, and the grass was in need of mowing.

In addition to the other signs of abandonment, weeds grew through any opening they could find, and the grass was in need of mowing.

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Part 1 – Part 2

Part 1