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It’s a good bet that you’ve never heard of Boulogne, Florida, because it’s not even listed on most road maps and I haven’t found two people who can agree on how to pronounce the name. Anyway, Boulogne sits at the Florida-Georgia line in Nassau County where three major highways cross the St. Mary’s River on a narrow concrete bridge. This is where U.S. highways 1, 301, and 23, all funnel into Florida on the same strip of asphalt.

Prior to 1960, long before Interstates 75 and 95, almost all southbound northerners entered Florida through Boulogne. It was also the escape route for northbound Floridians who were trying to get away from all the tourists. Although it’s hardly recognizable today, this was once the main gateway to the Sunshine State.

By 1915 the first main tourist path was open between Michigan and Miami. This was the Dixie Highway, which used a network of roads marked with red and white signs bearing the initials of “DH” to keep motorists on the right route. In 1927 the Dixie Highway in Florida became a part of U.S. Highway 1, which runs from Maine to Key West. Since travelers from both the Midwest and the Northeast all came through Boulogne it made a great place for a welcome station. In 1951 the State of Florida built one of the nation’s first tourist welcome stations here complete with a large picnic area, rest rooms, and information center. Here weary travelers could browse through racks of tourist attraction brochures and get a free cup of orange juice. If you were northbound this was where you could get your last drink of water in Florida. Actually the free water came before the free orange juice but that was back when Florida had plenty of water. It’s been estimated that over 80 million travelers have stopped at Florida Welcome Centers. Can you imagine how much free orange juice has been consumed by all of these people?

Boulogne was where tourists got their first glimpse of the Sunshine State which must have been a bit disappointing since the “postcard Florida” with palm trees and beaches was still farther South. Maybe that’s why they gave away that free orange juice so people wouldn’t turn around and leave. Other than a few palms planted around the Welcome Station, the landscape at this gateway to sun and fun looked pretty much the same as Georgia. Boulogne looked different back then with billboards, souvenir stands and motels lining both sides of the highway trying to hook incoming and outgoing tourists.

When the Interstate highways were completed, the state closed the Welcome Station on the old Dixie Highway and built new ones to greet travelers arriving on I-75 and I-95. The only reminders of Florida’s first gateway are the ruins of the old Welcome Center and a big sign at the state line, which simply reads, “Florida.” Don’t expect free orange juice here, the last cup was drank decades ago. The old motels that were once filled nightly with travelers are now in ruins or used for other purposes. One of the former motels is a nursing home and another is a repair shop. The Sunshine State’s first gateway has become its back door.

For adventurous travelers seeking a slower pace, the old Dixie Highway offers an alternative to the rat race of the interstates and is still a good road. However, be advised that this old route no longer has a welcome center at the state line and you can forget about that free orange juice. Just the same, thanks for visiting weird and wonderful Florida.

Weird Florida


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