The Gateway Plaza Travel Center is a popular tourist stop-off point located along the Lincoln Highway in Breezewood, PA. It offers several restaurants for traveling guests, along with gas stations and gift shops. The implementation of the PA Turnpike in October of 1940 changed the face of Bedford County and the neighboring area of Breezewood permanently, shifting from what was once nearly completely comprised of rural farmland to becoming a place of rest for tourists traveling towards the south. “The Gateway, as it was called, was an essential resting point for military servicemen and women. Breezewood became recognized as “the town of motels”, and also became home to multiple fast-food restaurants, and several fuel and service stations, which was a tremendous shift from the dynamics of Breezewood previously. It began as a restaurant and service station, around the same time of the Turnpike’s construction, which were both owned by Merle and Marion Snyder until 1956. Throughout the years, there have been a variety of changes made to the Gateway, all of which add to its overall historical value.
Bedford County is a prime example of an area whose dynamics have been completely altered by the presence of tourism. This area was widely recognized for their agriculture at one point in time. However, the implementation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in October 1940 certainly shifted the focus away from agriculture, and more on tourists traveling in and out of the area. According to the “Lincoln Highway”, roughly only 7 percent of the county of Bedford worked in farming by 1970, compared to 1910, when farming practices were at an all-time high in Bedford County, and this was due to the two exits, which were placed at two locations, one located in Bedford and one in Breezewood, who also experienced, firsthand, how tourism can truly make a permanent change in a small, rural town. Breezewood became widely acclaimed to be “the town of motels” and the “gateway to the south”, but consisted primarily of rural land before the spread of tourism. Breezewood, according to a 1990 NY Times article, had “no less than 10 motels, 14 fast food restaurants and 7 fuel and service stations, including two sprawling truck stops.
The Gateway Travel Center, otherwise acknowledged as the “Gateway”, came about in the midst of this expansion of tourism and as a result of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, opening directly after It was originally run by Merle Snyder, and his wife, Marion Snyder. Interestingly, they started an insignia patch collection from the soldiers whom they would serve at the service station and restaurant which they owned, during World War II. There were contracts in place where the Snyders were responsible for providing the soldiers with fuel, and they usually exchanged meals and gas for the soldier’s patches, which is currently preserved and exhibited in the restaurant where the soldiers ate their meals.
Across the street from the restaurant lies the Breezewood Diner, which was originally owned by Sara Drenning, but, however, is no longer in business. The Crawford Gift Shop, which is also located across the street from the Gateway Restaurant, is one of the few small businesses to survive the influx of chain restaurants and hotels around the area of Breezewood. Although the Crawford Museum, which was interconnected with the gift shop, closed due to the unintentional damage by visitors, primarily children, to the taxidermied items. The Wiltshire Motel is also among the few businesses to remain open, and one which is also still operated by its original owners. Unlike motels such as “The Breezewood” and “The Village”, located at the entrance of I-70, the Wiltshire withstood the test of time.
During the time of World War II, particularly, tourism held an entirely different meaning for the town of Breezewood and for those who traveled through “The Gateway. Although rest stops were originally intended to provide travelers with clean restroom facilities and a place to lounge in the midst of a, presumably, long journey, this idea has been altered over the course of time. The Gateway is among several other travel stops which has been transformed throughout the decades, and which has resulted in controversy. Many are concerned about the shift from being places of rest to being places of business, taking the focus away from the traditional approach that was once adopted by nearly all rest-designated areas.
The entrance of I-70, heading south towards Maryland, is one area of controversy, considering that some would like a direct link through the Turnpike, while businesses located along Route 30 fancy the idea of a traffic light at the intersection. Regardless of the arguments made by those standing at either side of the spectrum, The Gateway’s mission has shifted slightly, through time. While it was once literally regarded as “The Gateway” to the soldiers’ destinations, and a place where travelers could seek rest and relaxation, it is now a relatively popular tourist attraction. As Brian Butko expressed in “The Lincoln Highway: Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide,” it is not so much the density which is surprising, as the suburban strips are similarly populated, rather it’s the strangeness of the scenery. Butko described it as “the truck traffic and the rural land to either side of the concentration of bright lights”, and brings light to this fascinating, yet strange fact, which sets The Gateway apart from a number of other travel centers. Today, The Gateway still stands open to the public, welcoming tourists with their wide variety of “food, fuel, shopping, and lodging services.