Discovering an old highway

A funny thing happened when the Pop’s Diner Advisory Board congregated at its usual restaurant table one recent morning. A discussion about the location of a specific gas station south and west of Peabody became a debate about where the old U.S. 50 Highway entered and exited the Peabody community back in the early days of automobile travel.

The result of the dispute was a narrated driving tour which traced the former Highway 50 from “the Cemetery Road” through downtown and on out of the community. The men involved were Irvin McPheeters and James South. Both are Peabody natives with a lot of knowledge of local history and an appreciation of community. The problem is they are not of the same generation. Their youthful memories of Peabody are about 25 years apart.

Together, they set out to trace the route that McPheeters — being the elder historian —remembered. He was the navigator and tour guide and James South was the driver and student.

According to McPheeters, Highway 50 entered the Peabody community at roughly the most eastern entrance to the city from the existing by-pass. It then traveled west to Walnut Street, south through the business community to First Street and west again to Olive. The highway traffic crossed the small Olive Street bridge and went on south through the Peabody addition, called “Totallope,” angling west across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and onto South Locust, heading west on what we now call “the old trail,” and leading eventually back to Highway 50 just east of the passing lane between Peabody and Walton.

Along the way, McPheeters remembered the businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels that dotted the route, catering to travelers who passed through. He told of the “Totallope” area being our warehouse district with brick buildings, salvage yards, and railroad scrap heaps.

South remembered some of the same things, but by the time he was in high school, Eisenhower was already planning the Interstate highway system that would eventually crisscross the nation and leave many little towns like Peabody with no need for businesses that catered to automobile travelers.

James South told his wife that was one of the most interesting community history lessons. His wife, Carmen, a member of the Peabody Historical Society, thought his trip had the makings of a sightseeing tour similar to others the Historical Society has sponsored on Memorial Day.

In just a few days, it was organized for your touring pleasure. The bus will leave from the high school after the annual Memorial Day dinner and the narrated excursion will take about an hour.

Here is your chance to get a glimpse of Peabody when Highway 50 went right through town. It also will be your chance to find out why the area around First and Olive streets is called “Totallope” and you sure don’t want to miss out on that!

— SUSAN MARSHALL

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