First known as the L&N Turnpike and later as U.S. 31-W or the Dixie Highway, the road is a major corridor through Kentucky and Bowling Green.
The road spanned from Mobile, Ala., to Chicago and was built on parts of what was known as Cumberland Trace – a buffalo path through the state. Stagecoaches and men and women on horses or in wagons once traveled the dirt road.
The road was probably paved in the 1920s when there was a “Good Roads” movement on the national level, according to Jeff Moore, chief of division of planning for the Department of Highways in Bowling Green.
At the time, some roads were paved and others were gravel.
“We spent the 20th century getting the people up out of the dirt, paving roads,” Moore said. “We wanted to make sure people were at least within striking distance of a paved road, which was a big undertaking.”
The road went through the center of Bowling Green, intersecting both U.S. 68-Ky. 80 and U.S. 231.
All that changed in 1947, when leaders decided they needed a bypass. U.S. 31-W By-Pass opened with two wide lanes and on-street parking.
In one of his road presentations Moore said that at the time, the bypass was perceived as being overdesigned.
Bowling Green historian Ray Buckberry has an early 1950s aerial photograph of the road, which showed mostly open land nearby with a few businesses, including a Houchens store.
Again, all that changed in the early 1970s, when commercial development came and what was then a four-lane road approached its capacity, Moore said.
There have been some improvement projects to add turn lanes to the road for use at such major developments as Kroger in the area formerly known as Riverview. A drive-in used to occupy the property where the strip center is now. Improvements were added to the other end of the bypass as well. Most recently the road was expanded to six lanes to handle the traffic near Campbell Lane.
That was a $10.7 million project kicked off in 2007, running from Campbell Lane to William H. Natcher Parkway. Traffic counts at the time of the project showed that the average number of vehicles on the road each day ranged from 17,000 to 23,000, depending on which section you’re on.
The area’s first roundabout is planned for the road near its intersection with Chestnut Street. Construction on that project could begin in 2014.
Despite the move of some businesses to the popular Scottsville Road, commercial properties still sit close to the bypass that is dotted with utility poles, often a target in motor vehicle accidents.
Outside of Bowling Green’s limits, Horse Shoe Camp at 8241 Louisville Road is one vestige of the motor court history that developed to serve motorists along 31-W. The camp has fallen into ill-repair.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Horse Shoe Camp was built in the 1930s along U.S. 31-W, then the major north-south corridor through the area. The stone cottages were built with materials from local limestone quarries.
Warren County Historic Preservation Coordinator Miranda Clements said the buildings still have the original furniture in them, although they haven’t been used for years.
Clements said she recently talked to property owner Kathryn Forrester about tax credits that would be available for renovating the property.
“She’s interested but just doesn’t have the income right now,” Clements said.
Clements said the owner expressed some interest in selling the property that could be marketed through the Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation that helps find good owners for historic properties.
There were numerous other motor court inns here.
Buckberry’s postcard collection depicts the Baker Hill Motor Court recommended by Duncan Hines.
Hines, who was born in Bowling Green in 1880, was a forerunner of today’s travel writers and food critics.
“He turned a hobby into a career with his books on places to eat and stay in the United States,” Cora Jane Spiller said. “He was a member of an old Kentucky family who came here in the early 1800s. He was my grandfather’s brother.”
Hines actually lived in a house that is now part of Hardy & Son Funeral Home at 3098 Louisville Road. A historical marker there gives a brief history of Hines and marks the head of the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway that winds through 80 miles of Warren and Edmonson counties, Spiller said.
Buckberry’s collection of memorabilia includes a card to “Mr. Duncan Hines, Author Adventures in Good Eating.”
The back of the card provides spots for the name and address of the establishment being recommended and of the name of the person making the recommendation, who attests: “I believe the standards of food and service entitle this place to honorable mention in a future edition of ‘Adventures in Good Eating.’ ”
Hines’ heritage is celebrated in Bowling Green each August with the Duncan Hines Festival. He may be best known for his affiliation with the Duncan Hines cake mix, one of the many products that bore his name after he formed a partnership with Roy Park of Ithaca, N.Y. The Hines-Park Food brand had 250 products, Spiller said.
The Kentucky Museum has a permanent exhibit on Hines.
The Baker Hill Court was just one of many motel names that appeared over the years. Some included the Bowling Green Motel, By Pass Motel, The Cardinal Motel, Colletdale Court, Continental Inn, Country Ham Motel, Kentucky Colonel Motel and Holiday Inn.
Most have been torn down, with just The Cardinal remaining at 1310 U.S. 31-W By-Pass. What was once the Colletdale is now the Economy Inn at 802 U.S. 31-W By-Pass and what used to be the Country Ham Motel at 102 U.S. 31-W houses Zombie Ink Tattoos, among other things.