Time to hit the road! Our virtual road trip begins where the photographs, films, sound recordings, maps, and more within the Special Media Division live – at the Archives II building in College Park, Maryland. If you haven’t yet visited Archives II, or are unable to travel here and see it for yourself, Still Pictures has got you covered with our series, “Digital Photographs Related to Events, Facilities, and Personnel, 1985 – 2005” from Record Group 64.
The first stops on our cross-country tour are close to home in the towns of Meadows and Croom in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which each served as filming locations for a Department of Agriculture production titled Traveler’s Toll. Released for distribution in 1929, the film was described in that year’s April issue of The Newsletter of the Bureau of Public Roads as:
. . . a dramatization of the story of an old toll-gate keeper as told to two young transcontinental motorists. He tells of the discarding of the toll-collection and tax-labor methods of paying for road improvement and of the adoption of modern methods based upon property taxes, motor vehicles fees, gasoline taxes and bond issues, which is making possible the rapid improvement of the highways of the United States.
In partnership with the Volunteer Program here at NARA, the Still Picture unit has undertaken the digitization of its series, “Historical Photograph Files, 1896 – 1963,” created by the Bureau of Public Roads. During this process, many intriguing images have come to light, including a sequence of behind-the-scenes photographs taken during the filming of Traveler’s Toll.
The story begins with a young couple that runs out of fuel while traveling across the country. The man pushes their car to the nearest filling station, where they meet an old man who begins to tell the story of his early days as the toll-gate keeper.
In 1890, the coming of a railroad branch line, which eventually diverted traffic away from the turnpike, causes the toll-gate keeper much anxiety as to his income. With dwindling traffic, the pike goes from bad to worse until it is taken into the state highway system.
With the taking down of the toll-rate board and the posting of the State-control notice, the old gate-keeper is out of a job. Unwilling to leave the highway, he erects a gasoline filling-station on the site of the old toll-gate. And here the transcontinental motorists have their tank filled and listen to the old man’s tale of how the state, in order to build roads demanded by automobile traffic, levied a property tax and a small license fee (not large enough, however, to discourage increased use of motor vehicles); of how automobile traffic increased so rapidly that the state was later compelled to speed up road improvement; and, in order to obtain ready money, issued road bonds and adopted the gasoline tax to pay the interest and principal thereon. The old keeper tells how he feared the gas tax would put him out of business, until he remembered there was no complaint of tolls as long as the road was well kept. Then, he said, he decided to support the bond issue.
Although the captions for the images in this sequence are fairly limited, several of the cast members and filmmakers are named.
These images and more are now available to view and download in the National Archives Catalog. We will be adding more images from the Bureau of Public Roads to the Catalog as our volunteers continue to work hard on this digitization project. The original film can be viewed on Youtube.
Stay tuned for the next stop on our summer road trip – Richmond! – as well as the many stops we will make this summer.