Highway 61 Revisited

Highway 61 Revisited
J. R. Zane

I often drive my old Pinto wagon on Route 61.  The Pinto is the car that takes me further but not farther than any other car.  I travel a lot between Pottsville and Schuylkill Haven.  On that road I listen to Bob Dylan’s sixth album, “Highway 61 Revisited” on my cassette player.  That’s the album featuring “Like A Rolling Stone” with Dylan going electric.  The album has nothing to do with our Route 61, but isn’t it great to pretend that the greatest rock song of all time is on an album dedicated to the main thoroughfare in Schuylkill County?  The album came out in 1965 and our Route 61 was just a few years old at that time.  Yes, I said only a few years old.  Did you think it was there forever?  If you did, then you are wrong.  From 1935 through 1963 the road was called Route 122 and the “new” stretch between Schuylkill Haven and Pottsville had been opened since 1929.  It has been always changing and widening over the years.

When driving in my Pinto wagon I sometimes end up being on old Route 122 rather than Route 61.   Heading North towards Pottsville I pass Cape Horn which is the area now best known for Jerry Enders’ Northeast Auto Sales on the west side of the road.  In 1929, huge rocks were moved at the Cape Horn section; parts of the mountain at the cut disappeared with the assistance of dynamite and steam shovels.  When I travel back in time Jerry Enders’ Northeast Auto Sales is not there, but rather a smaller lot operated by Roy S. Bensinger.  On the east side of the highway is the popular Hoffman House Hotel.  Just to the south of the Cape Horn curve the new roadbed subbase was put down with the heavy rock removed from the mountain making the highway a foot to two feet higher than the surface of the old smaller road.  Still further south of Cape Horn the river bed was changed in its course and pushed farther to the west so that the highway curves could be minimized.

The Hoffman House Hotel was a very popular dining establishment in the past.  George Milton Hoffman and his wife Cora Bicht Hoffman operated the Hoffman House for about 28 years, taking over management in 1937 from Thomas Beveridge who had called the place “The Cape Horn Hotel.”  The Hoffmans also lived on the premises so they were residents of Cape Horn as well.  At one time Cape Horn had its own tiny population as the highway was smaller and the traffic moved at a slower pace.  Many got to and from Cape Horn by trolley car as trolley lines ran through Cape Horn as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Hoffman House was a noted for its seafood.  This was in a time before pizza pie became the dominant food of choice in the county.  Legend has it that a former president ate there.  Some said it was Truman, others said Eisenhower. The family-run restaurant specialized in fresh shrimp, frog legs, clams, scallops, and oysters as well as steak platters.  Cora Bicht Hoffman was from Muir, while George Hoffman lived most of his life in the western section of Schuylkill County and had been employed as foreman of the Brookside Colliery for many years.  George died August 11, 1956 at the age of 62 when he took ill and fell down the stairs at his establishment in mid-afternoon. Cora operated the premises until the early 1960s before relocating to Palmyra to be closer to her son, Luther Hoffman, who was employed as a chef there.  In 1967, Dean Hoffman, Cora’s other son died tragically in a plane crash at the age of 44 in British Columbia where he had relocated.

The building itself was owned by Thomas Beveridge who operated it in earlier time as the “Cape Horn Hotel,” but that is another story.  John Yurickones of St. Clair bought the premises in 1970 from Beveridge and soon demolished the building to open his Getty Gas Station and an “Auto-Teria” car wash where cars were washed by only with spring water.  However, the business venture was not a success and shortly closed.

Soon I head back to Pottsville from the old Route 122 of the past, now fittingly listening to “Desolation Row,” the final track on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”  My destination is the Schuylkill County Historical Society which, besides its immense collection of original maps of the county, has a brand-spanking new display of the Centre Turnpike by noted artist Nanette Brophy-Major.  Why don’t you join me?