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Forgotten Milepost: Clemente’s Travel Center

May 1, 2012

One piece of transportation history that seems to be in the process of being completely forgotten is the Clemente Travel Center, also known as “State Road” in New Castle, Delaware.

Right in the center of the mid-Atlantic roadway corridor, nestled between the New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington metropolises and Atlantic City and the coastline (and on the outskirts of Wilmington, DE), this roadway stop billed itself as the place

It was the major rest stop and transfer point for the interstate bus system (Greyhound and Trailways). Even the express buses to the deep South or cross country (such as the ones we used to take, whose first city after leaving New York was Richmond) pulled off of the I95, and headed a few miles down , (like they were going down the Delmarva/Eastern Shore Line), to make the stop, and then had to cut across DE Rte. 273 (Frenchtown/Christiana Rd.) several miles to pick up the I95 again in Christiana.

The stop consisted of a really large cafeteria in the front (very big dining area), and likely a gift shop, as well as the ticket counters for the buses. And of course, restrooms.
In the back was the door to the long platform running straight ahead, with the bus bays on both sides.
Behind all of this was parking space, and behind that a marshy area with a small road, a pond, a freight track, a park, and the end of a creek eventually leading to the nearby Delaware River. A nice sunshiney place in the morning, and the gateway to the cozy, peaceful looking Eastern Shore.

The food I most remember is the cheesecake, which had a similar creamy texture to NYC’s famously unique Junior’s, though tasted a bit different, and had some crumbs on top.

Old postcards, thanks to Eb Dunlap:

Front, looking at an angle from the south, and interior shots showing the long cafeteria tray line to the left, gift shop to the right and front entrance in the middle:

Front sign looking south (c1960-2; all of this was gone by the 80’s; only had a narrow unlit vertical sign saying “Clemente’s” on the wall; sort of easy to miss):

Bus port, looking west, from behind (with 1968 Greyhound MC-7 on right):

Internal layout, drawn by Eb:

(By the 90’s the the men’s restroom [at lest] touched the rear outside wall and had windows facing the port).

My first time there may have been in ’75 on the return bus trip from my aunt in central Virginia. But I’m not sure. (On the way down, we had met my aunt in the city and she drove us down. First time to the South). I know on my next trip down there, in ’80, the bus stopped there both ways. I had liked it so much on the way down, I looked forward to making ths stop on the way back.

Four years later, I chose Virginia’s then largest city, Norfolk, to attend college. When driving, we usually took the US13 all the way, and I suggested Clemente’s as one of the stops, which then we always did.
At first, when coming back home for the holidays or summer, I flew (first time ever). But then, I became ever so curious about the cities I was flying over (and we had passed by without stopping, whether by bus or car). So I began taking the bus; either the 12 hour trip via the western “Peninsula” and mainland (Richmond, Washington, etc), or if going straight, the more direct 9 hour, but non-interstate (little towns and traffic lights) Delmarva peninsula. Both routes came back together at State Road.
I continued making the trips down there, even after leaving college.

Time began running out for the Center, when the Baltimore Travel Plaza opened, which was closer to the I95, being right near an exit in eastern Baltimore. Service then began moving into the new stop, which was in addition to Baltimore Downtown (the former Trailways station, with the Greyhound station closed after the merger).
The June, 1991 Russell Guide (which I managed to get), still listed some mainline runs, and all the Eastern Shore runs at State Road. That year’s trip (to both my aunt, and Norfolk; a huge triangle), was my last time there. My next two trips; my first Florida (“expansion”) trip, that summer (Jacksonville, which in many ways is a sister city to Norfolk), and the second one, a year later (Key West); the super expresses all stopped at the new Travel Plaza.

By the fall ’92 Carolina Trailways schedule, State Road was reduced to a flag stop, and the new crossroads between the Eastern Shore and the I95 corridor was nearby Wilmington (which is kind of out of the way for the buses going straight to New York, as it is past the turnoff to I295, which is the mainline highway heading to the Delaware Memorial Bridge to New Jersey, while I95 goes through Philly). Previously, Wilmington was part of the local route to Philadephia).
All mainline service used Baltimore Travel Plaza (and/or Downtown) instead.
Eventually, the super expresses from New York to Richmond and beyond no longer stopped even there, but instead began using the Maryland House, which was a rest stop in the median of the highway (i.e. between northbound and southbound roadways), not too far north or east of Baltimore. Of course, this was faster and more convenient than even the Travel Plaza since it was right in the highway.

On my next Norfolk trip, in late ’92, Clemente’s was but a dark, shuttered derelict we zipped by between Odessa and Wilmington. (The meal stop was now at a lesser fast food chain {Roy Rogers or Hardees?} in Maryland somewhere).
I would be married less than a year later, basically ending my nearly decade long string of solo interstate bus jaunts. I had already been plotting my next trip, to Chicago (a place I had never gotten to, focusing on the South so much), but money, and trying to to do things together; with her not liking buses, it was put off indefinitely.

Forward over a decade later, the MC12 model coaches that were just coming out when I last rode are now the dwindling old fleet, and carrying the last of the distinctly sounded Detroit Diesel two-stroke engines that provided power for more than half a century, as federally mandated four-stroke engines were taking over. (Buses would never be the same again, and I don’t even miss them as much).
State Road was long gone from all schedules, and many stops and routes, such as the old US40 local from Philly to Washington, the US17 shortcut between Norfolk and Washington, and several Eastern Shore stops, and even the US60 route west of Richmond providing the sole service to my aunt’s area, were also gone.

So being well into the age of the internet, I happen to find out that a huge mall had been built on what was blocks of flat parking space in the core of downtown Norfolk. (It was actually there for about 9 years already; I just never looked up anything about Norfolk online until then). Plus, everything else that had been built up since my single days, with construction ongoing everywhere (It was pretty desolated and depressing when I was in college). My long delayed “expansion” to Chicago (and cutting back through Canada between Detroit and Buffalo), finally occurred ’04, on my spring vacation.

So a year later, in ’05, I finally got down to Norfolk again, (and being older, had to stay the night in a hotel, where I used to go and come back in a day. I did do Chicago like that, however, and figured that was my last).
The “traditon” had become to go down via the mainland (since I used to stop off at and explore the other cities along the way), and return via the direct route via US13.

I was surprised with a new expressway in the Delaware portion of the route (DE 1) bypassing a chunk of the route of US13, including the steep St. George bridge over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal* passing way above the sleepy colonial looking town it is named after. (The new expressway uses a new “cable-stayed” bridge, the only other one I had gone over being the one entering Savannah, GA during one of my Florida trips). The two highways do run right next to each other in places, however. However, instead of taking the new road to its interchange with I95 at Christiana, we got off and back onto the US13 at the town of Bear for that last highly commercial stretch through New Castle and Wilmington Manor. (This is still done, and I believe it is to avoid a toll at the Christiana interchange). Trying to remember exactly where the Center was, I looked out for it, and could recognize it, next to the “colonial house” looking office building, and by now I could see it appeared to be turned into a furniture store.

More recently, with the wonders of Google Maps, including Street View (expanded into even rural areas), I could see that it was in fact a little shopping strip, anchored by the furniture store in front. The stores are mainly lesser chains, that can be found all over the east, but are unknown in New York. There’s even a dance studio, now.
It’s apparently the old building with a new façade, and the platform enclosed into the other stores, with pretty much the same (though newly paved) roadway around the facility the buses used to use. When the buses used it, the north side was inbound, and the south side was outbound. Now, a sidewalk to the stores and grassy strips are where the south bays were, and the north side appears to be the loading area and employee parking in the back of the stores, and the former bus entrance is now gated off. Also appearing the same, is the big parking lot behind the whole complex.

Looking it up online, I could not find ANYTHING about “Clemente’s Travel Center” or even “State Road”. Even searching the slogan “Where the Nation Meets and Eats”, only turned up an old New York Magazine (Mar 3, 1969 “Tracking the Action to Bowie”) on Google Books, briefly mentioning it in passing! On the physical site (at least from the photos), there is no sign that it was ever there.
So I knew I had to add this section dedicated to it.

I find that the name of the plaza is The Shoppes of New Castle You would think at least a page like that would mention it was the former Clemente travel center. They should have called it “Clemente Plaza” or at least “The Shoppes at State Road”.

The last couple of years, the Maryland House is being rebuilt, so some Greyhound schedules list the nearly identical Chesapeake House, further up the road, past the Susquehanna, right before it empties out into the Chesapeake Bay (which can be seen from the I95 bridge).
(Also by now, the combined Greyhound/Peter Pan operation has completely pulled out of the Baltimore Travel Plaza, but several “China buses” stop there instead. A new “Baltimore downtown” opened closer to the highways).

Even further up, near the Christiana interchange is the similar Delaware Welcome Center (which I see in the Wikipedia entry also called “Delaware House”, which I thought of it as too. This probably by extension from the Maryland and Chesapeake “Houses” down the road. Edit: Google is now calling it the “Delaware House Travel Plaza“, so apparently, it’s official!)

I had wished a replacement for Clemente’s would open in the wide grassy median of I295 on the east side of US13 where the two highways cross.

Using Paint, I cut out the existing bulding and pasted it into that space, and saw that it did in fact fit. (and most of the length of that building was the platform anyway). It would be two story, with the US13 buses stopping on the ground floor and continuing into Wilmington, and the mainline I295/I95 buses stopping on the upper level between the roadways, just like they do at the Maryland House. So it would once again be the “crossroads” of the two routes, “where the nation meets and eats”, and yet still have the convenient median location for the mainline buses.
I sent a suggestion to Greyhound a while back. Perhaps I should have sent it to the state of Delaware, or found out who the owner was. Wikipedia says it was rebuilt in ’09-10, and that would have been the opportunity to move it to where I suggested. (You would think that would have been the replacement for Clemente’s, and with the 1 via the 273 Christiana Bypass not too far from it, it would have still been somewhat convenient for the new Delmarva route).

Here’s another photo of the new shopping plaza:

*Delmarva is actually, technically an island, as the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (opened 1829) severs it completely from the mainland. On the south end of the stretch is the North Channel Bridge, which is a part of the Eastern Shore end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that steeply rises above the rest of the span for a ship channel. So on the other end, you had a similar steep narrow bridge, the St. Georges Bridge. The two always reminded me of each other, and they both can be seen as the actual entry/exit points to the Eastern shore! Also, visible from the bridges over the canal is the brightly glowing Delaware City Refinery. While New Jersey is full of these types of oil plants, this one in Delaware is all by itself, and I used to think of it as “Emerald City”, as it resembles from a distance (especially back in the 80’s, when it still had the greenish mercury lights, instead of the yellowish sodiums they all have, now).

The new road would have been the logical , but that designation was picked up by Pennsylvania, for a highway in the western part of the state; completely out of the west-east order the interstate odd numbers run in. They could justify it by using the designation for both highways, by running the designation across I76 to the Philly area, where it would run with 95 to the Christiana interchange, and from there, down to Dover where the expressway currently ends.

  1. It’s hard to even tell what the name of the area really is. Of course, on the bus it was known as “State Road, DE”, like it was official. But apparently not. In actuality, it’s really between several towns. It’s closest to New Castle, and that seems to be what places are addressed to. (It’s still beyond the actual city limits, to the east, going down Frenchtown Rd). The county district it is apart of is #10 Delaware City; that town being further away to the southeast, also on the river. And yet there are services (such as fire dept.) in the area still named after Wilmington Manor (which I for along time thought it was), which is really further north, closer to the Del. Mem. Bridge. Llangollen Park is on the other side of the stream in the back. The closest place name I can find is “Midvale”, and that only on Mapquest. It seems to be a small community marked by numbered avenues across the road. (The Clemente’s side of the road is all commercial in that area). On Google maps, this name is not shown, so the closest thing is Rambleton Acres, adjacent to the west, but not directly connected by road, so it’s probably not the same community. Perhaps “State Road” is simply that clump of commercial lots, and it fell out of use because it is not residential?

    Update: just Googling “State Road, Delaware”, I see there’s now a [very short] Wikipedia entry on it (It was created March 31 ’12; which is two months before this article, but this article was really from the year before on my non-Wordpress space, so when I was doing the research for it, it wasn’t up yet. The article uses as one of its sources this state historic map:

  2. Starr Mickle permalink

    I too, truly miss the Clementine’s Travel Center (known as State Roads). I wish a retro version could be brought into existence within the State Roads vicinity.

  3. Steve permalink

    I remenber State Road Delaware as a kid in the 60’s. When my father was stationed at the Norfolk Navy Yard, we would drop him off State Road to catch the Carolina Trailways bus back to Norfolk.

    • I was wondering how far back Carolina Trailways’ ownership of that run went (didn’t think it would be 60’s), and just ran across this article saying it bought all the routes in 1952, from buying Red Star Motor Coaches, based in Salisbury!

      (If you were riding in the 60’s; if it was before ’64 when the CBBT opened, then you must remember taking the ferry at Cape Charles. Apparently the bus went onto the ferry as well. I see that the ferries took cars and trucks, so it must have taken the buses as well. It seems this was as much of a common “route”, even bearing the US13 designation on both sides, as it was when the bridge-tunnel opened).

      The service to Wilmington, NC that I remembered in the 80’s and 90’s began with the bridge-tunnel, thus connecting the service with the actual “Carolina” area. In more recent times, the Norfolk-Wilmington segment was eventually cut, as was even the Philadelphia service, and then the Delmarva service was again severed from North Carolina, with the current NY-Norfolk service and the DC/Baltimore-oceanfront services (the latter were scaled down as well, and for awhile, through routed with a NY-Ocean City via Baltimore run). And then, it was finally absorbed completely into Greyhound, as I saw 4 years ago (They seemed to be in the process of rebranding the previous trip ten years ago, as I saw at the Salisbury garage —behind the station, which is now closed).

      Also, added a lot of stuff from this area to Pinterest:

  4. I remember clementes my mom used to work there. That brought back memories

  5. Dean Sagers permalink

    My mom was Susan Clemente daughter of Alfred Clemente who was the owner. Her & her sisters use to work in the cafeteria for years when they were teenagers. Is sad that the memory is fading out because it was a big part of my family’s like & a staple in the history of New Castle. Great job on the article.

    • Thanks, and cool!
      Looking up the name, you’re the guy who has a business down the road from there? If so, interesting! If you could ever move into the Shoppes, then you could at least partly restore the legacy of your family!

      • Dean Sagers permalink

        Yes I own a barbershop in Beaver Brook a Plaza on rt13 & use to have one right on the otherside on rt40. How did u know that?? think it is pretty cool that I have a business right down the street from where my family started theirs. I wouldn’t go into that shopping center, it’s a different time & different era & no real street exposure. I’m a Sagers & nobody from my era would even know that there was a relation on top of the fact that this generation barely remembers that spot

  6. Just curious of who you were, I Googled the name, and saw your Facebook, which had the link to the barber shop. (LL Cool J’s old DJ’s handle, lol).

    What do you mean “it’s a different time & different era & no real street exposure“? You think it would have no relevance for today (because of your different family name) or something?

    What I was thinking, with a business was in the strip, it could be named or themed after the old Travel center, with photos (if there are any), or other indicators of the history. A lot of other people would find that intriguing. A lot of people like stuff like that. And I found it so surprising how this could just vanish with barely a trace like that, to be so unknown to this generation. (Again, I wish at least the current owners would give a nod to the old Center).

  7. Eb Dunlap permalink

    I grew up in Wilmington in the ’40s, so thoroughly enjoyed your article about Clemente’s and the surrounding area. The area is generally referred to as “State Road”; the intersection of U.S. 13 & U.S. 40 being the actual ‘state road’. The area encompasses the stretch of highway (13&40) from the real State Road (intersection) to Hare’s Corner (rte. 273), at the South end of the New Castle County Airport, a length of about 2 miles. The correct mailing address is New Castle. Back in the early days of the 20th century, that intersection was known as the “Crossroads of the Nation”, as those 2 highways were the main national North-South highway (rte. 13) and the main national East-West highway, and most all traffic going in any compass direction on the East Coast, crossed and merged at that intersection, to continue going to all points. The Esso station at that intersection (now an Exxon), has been there since the early ’30s, and, for a long time, had the designation as being either the number 1 or number 2 busiest gas station in the country, each year, based on volume. This area of the DuPont Highway (U.S. 13) also had endless motels along that short stretch (so many that I can’t even guess at a number). This, and this whole area, changed dramatically after the opening of the interstate highway system in this area, in 1963. I-95 took most of the traffic from each U.S. route, thereby much of the livelihood of the area.

    Oh, and before the interstate system, the main North-South route from Maine to Florida was the “Ocean Highway”, of which you can still see, on some parts of U.S. 13 and U.S. 17 (below Norfolk, where the ocean Highway shifted from U.S 13 to U.S. 17), signposts, and mention of the Ocean Highway. It followed the coastline all the way to Florida.

    Clemente’s terminal had the sub-title: “The World’s Largest Bus Stop”. All buses stopped there; even if you got on a national bus in Wilmington, about 7 miles North; most of those buses went South to Clemente’s, to connect with all of the other buses coming and going to all points. Clemente’s Bus Stop had a very nice, cafeteria-style restaurant, which served good food – many locals would regularly go there to eat. It didn’t serve food like you would expect at a bus station; it was good eating, at a good price

    I have a couple of pictures of Clemente’s, postcards really, but don’t know how to send them to you, or I would share.

    BTW, buses did go along with cars and trucks, across the Cape Charles – Kiptopeke Ferry, before the CBBT. I have, oft-times, rode that ferry by car and by bus.

    I’m surprised at the state ‘historic-prehistoric’ road map – it’s not that old: it shows I-95 (1963), I-495 (1977), and SR 1, which opened, completely, in 2003. I was hoping the state would have an older, historic map of the roads; heck, I think I have older maps still in my glove compartment. 🙂

  8. Thanks!
    Wow; I never really paid attention to there being a gas station there; but I did always like the way the 13 dipped under that railroad overpass before the highways merged. That’s what indicated we were almost at Clemente’s, and then afterward the “home stretch” along the Jersey Turnpike.

    I wonder why the main route to Florida would be US13/17, and not simply US1, which is what goes all the way down, and without having to cross the ferry.

    Yeah, the cafeteria was nice all the way up to the end. Nice and spacious, and sunny in the morning.

    Can you scan the post cards?

    • Eb Dunlap permalink

      Route 13/17 was the “Ocean Highway”, it traveled close to the coast, all the way down the East coast, to Florida. Through all of the small towns on the way down, which made it easy to stop and take a rest, a swim, find a motel room on the way, etc. The Ocean Highway was for vacationers, and the Kiptopeke ferry was a destination in itself. U.S. 1 was inland, no scenery. As was U.S. 11 and U.S. 27, I believe; inland, but direct routing right down the center of Florida, when it reached that point. Depends on the purpose of your trip, which way you would want to go.

      I have all of my postcards scanned into my computer, but how can I link them to these messages?

  9. Frank White permalink

    I was stationed at Dover AFB, DE in 1980. My wife and I used to go to that restaurant which we called the big bus stop. In August of 1960 though, we went from Newark N.J. to Washington D.C. on a Trailways bus .For some reason or another we stopped for dinner at the New Castle DE Airport.

    • I would imagine, maybe closed for renovation? (Being that they used a substitute so close by). I always noticed the cool blue runway lights newt to the highway.

  10. Thanks to Eb Dunlap for finding the postcards of Clemente’s [added to main article].

    Here also from him is a shot of looking south toward where the US 13 and 40 split, with gas station in the middle (1960); 13 hanging left and ducking under the railroad overpass (heading toward Delmarva), and 40 to the right (toward Baltimore). Nearly ½mile south of Clemente’s, this he reports above, was supposedly the actual point named “State Road”. It’s a funny junction, as the opposite lanes of both highways cross each other at grade.

  11. Herb permalink

    My grandmother worked at Clemente’s – I think that might actually be her 1956 Chevy BelAir in one of the pictures! I also worked there when I was in high school – many years ago.

    • Eb Dunlap permalink

      The date of that picture is ca 1960, is that the time period your G-Mother worked at Clemente’s?

      • Herb permalink

        Yes, 1960s into 1970s would be about the right time frame when she would have been there.

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