Waldorf and Southern Maryland’s “Little Vegas” past. Gambling: Few Reminders today.


Today many head home to Waldorf, MD and beyond on US 301 and have no idea of the history that they are driving past everyday.  It was only this week while researching for a project for a client that I learned about this lively side of Waldorf and Southern Maryland‘s history.  This post is not about the pros or cons of gambling.  Instead it is an attempt to point out some of the relics of a time gone by that can still be seen.

US 301 from Waldorf to the Potomac River Bridge was known as “Little Vegas”  or “Slot Machine Alley” during the 1950s.  Las Vegas had nothing on Southern Maryland as far as the number of slot machines and the revenue from gambling at that time.   US 301 was known as Sin Strip — bright lights, lots of celebrities like Guy Lombardo, Paul Newman, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton. They all performed on the Strip according to an article in the Baltimore City Paper.  Waldorf was the Mecca of this Strip and was described in an article as a tiny little truck stop town along a major shipping route that hosted slot machines in every building and restroom along route 301.  Casinos were legal in Charles County for about 20 years ending in 1968.

There are two icons that can still be seen today and though many of us pass them few have any idea what they are.   One is the sign for Wall’s Bakery with the Tepee on top and the other is the Waldorf Motel which is shown in the video above and one of the pictures below.  Both are on the right side as you enter Waldorf from the north.  Neither will probably be there much longer.

Wall's Bakery sign which was formerly located in the Wigwam.

Wall’s Bakery known for its eclairs was housed in the Wigwam building after it closed in the early 70’s*.  Gambling ended on July 1, 1968 when the last slot machines were hauled out of the bars, taverns, and roadhouses of Southern Maryland, piled onto trucks, and hauled away to be destroyed.1  The Wigwam — originally opened as a Native American themed casino.  The Tepee-shaped building sported dancing girls, fine food, and performances by Doris Day and Brenda Lee according to Louise Lockhart, an 18 year employee.  The Wigwam/Wall’s Bakery building has been recently torn down and this sign is all that remains.  According to Wikimapia apartments are planned for this site.

*Waldorf 301 Landmark comes down: “Wigwam Bakery Being Demolished”   

1-Little Vegas:  What Can Maryland’s Troubled History with Slot Machines Tell Us About the Odds for the future?”

The Waldorf Motel

The Waldorf Motel was a popular gambling casino and motel.  Today it stands empty though in recent years a Rip’s Restaurant occupied space in this building.  It is probably one of the few casino buildings still standing.

Well, it sounds like Waldorf and the 301 corridor have changed quite a bit since the 50s and the many times I have driven to Waldorf never would I have thought of Waldorf as a Little Vegas.  Never!   What about you?   

Lonnie Dawkins is a Washington, DC portrait and documentary photographer

www.lonniedawkins.com

70 thoughts on “Waldorf and Southern Maryland’s “Little Vegas” past. Gambling: Few Reminders today.

  1. The Wigwam sign had been relocated to White Plains.
    It now sits beside 301 at the old Indian Head Railroad crossing.

    They removed the tracks and made the railroad into a bike trail.
    The Indian’s arrow points toward the eastern trail head, another chapter in history for the Wigwam. By the way, my brother made the round exhaust system and hood over the grill in the center of the Teepee.
    TP

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    • Gramps,
      Thanks for the update. That’s interesting that your brother made the exhaust system and hood for the Teepee. What year would that have been? You must have some really interesting stories about the Teepee.
      Lonnie

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  2. The WIgwam was not closed in 1968….Although there were no slot machines, it was still up and running with guest starts such as Chubby Checker, etc. in 1970..I don’t remember exactly when it closed and became Walls, but it wasn’t ’68….

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  3. So nice to see this article. My family relocated to White Plains from Marlow Heights, Maryland in 1966 or 67. When we got there, I remember slot machines in almost every place on the “strip.” Two major landmarks that were not mentioned were Stardust – it was a nite club/restaurant with a horseshoe shaped hotel around it. Any performer who was in from the fifties through 1968 performed there from Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and on and on and on!!! After the slots were outlawed, the big names stopped coming to Charles County. There was also the Desert Inn and Brown’s, two other very popular places along the main strip. Stardust was absolutely the most popular of all though. My ex sister-in-law, who was approx 16 years older than me once showed me a box filled with memorabilia and autograph books signed by so many famous people it was crazy. She worked as a waitress during it’s absolute hey-day and who knows how she got so many autographs!!! She had so many crazy stories to tell about those stars it is just unreal. Once, when still in elementary school, a girlfriend of mine and I went exploring through the woods behind her neighborhood. We went under a fence on a farm – situated right on 301 South and peered through a hole in a board on a huge barn on the property only to see that it was filled (and I mean filled) with slot machines!!!

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    • I remember the slots in Waldorf as a kid and the Stardust Inn still did still draw the big names after the slots were gone…there were concert there all the time, I remember Chuck Berry and George Jones as well as several famous rock bands played there in the 70s and I believe there were still concerts into the early 80s.

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      • Cheryl,
        I’m still shaking my head hearing about all these stars playing Waldorf which had appeared to be such a small quiet town. Rock bands too! Stardust Inn must have really been something.

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      • I remember Ricky Nelson, Tiny Tim, Tammy Winette and George Jones , Loretta Lynn. Sonny and Cher , Chubby Checker . As kids I actually meet these people I was between the age 11-12 . The lights at night were magic . The pool at the Stardust lite up. The largest Rubber tree plant I ever seen. The club was beautiful, seen the shows going in the kitchen. The ones I spoke of stayed at Stardust, Tiny Tim went on down to the White House where they had room service. The Stardust had no kitchen except for 2 rooms that belonged to the owners . The bowling Alie is were I spoke with Chubby in person. And I knocked on room 4 where Ricky Nelson stayed. ( nice guy, good looking as so) shortly after that air plan crash that was upsetting. I took a Polaroid picture when he answered the door in a white towel, he thought his manager had left the key as me and my friend watched him go for ice. Memories I do have and what a time. They took the film and wrote us a lovely saying what great girls we were live , Ricky . I had moved after the death of my dad never to see those autographs of those stars . But all I need is my memories.

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  4. HEY LONNIE–I USED TO LIVE THE THE NEW DEVELOPMENT BEHIND THE SPRING LAKE RESTURANT CALLED COUNTRY CLUB SOUTH IN THE 1970’S.I USED TO FISH THERE AND I WORKED THERE FOR A SHORT TIME.MY FIRST JOB WAS AT THE WALDORF RESTURANT AS A DISH WASHER.I WAS 15 BUT I TOLD THEM I WAS 16.I WALKED THE RAILROAD TRACKS MANY TIMES I WORKED AT THE STAR DUST INN WHEN I BECAME A NIGHT CLUB.LET ME KNOW IF WE CAN TALK OR CHAT-BYE FOR NOW. RICHARD HOAG.

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  5. My aunt ran the Waldorf motel for a long time and my uncle restored/repaired those old slot machines. My whole family at some point in their lives resided in the Waldorf apartment behind the motel.

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    • That’s interesting Carrie. You must have seen a ton of stuff. What’s your best memory of the Waldorf Motel? Some years ago I had dinner at Rip’s when it was located in that building. I had no idea of the history of the place at that time.

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      • Since my aunt was the manager for a while, I would go into the main office and help her with paperwork and checking in customers. I don’t know why I remember this….but there was a cigarette vending machine in the lobby. I also remember a lot of police cars outside the motel late at night. I never ate at Rip’s, but I heard the food was good.
        A lot of my family lived in the Waldorf apartments behind the motel and I remember having big family get-togethers with lots of food.

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      • Carrie,
        I was sure that your best memory was going to be about someone famous that you met or saw. I love that your best memory was about simple things and your family. Sounds like a good life. Thanks for your responses.

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  6. We used to go to Morgantown Beach down near the Potomac River Bridge. Just before you got to Morgantown, there was Pop’s Store and he had 2 nickel slots. Just an old country store to buy bait, sodas, beer, etc. Pop Thompson would let us kids play the slots. It was a great memories dropping a nickel or two into the machine and pulling the handle!

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  7. interesting enough for me as my parents bought a house in waldorf in 66. I lived in waldorf til I was 21 but still in area. Recently, I came across reels and reels of film dated back to the late 60’s my parents had, I am in the process of coverting them to dvd with the first 2 enroute back to me as I type this. I’m very excited to see whats on them and if anything relating to the history I will let people know as this was and to some still is our “home town” with wonderful memories a lot of people would never imagine existed.
    I’m surprised your piece was not longer but as you said an assignment. Maybe someday someone will do an in depth history piece on our old stompin grounds.
    Debbie Hantzmon Marshall

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    • Debbie,
      Those reels hold lots of good information. Who knows what might be on them! Yes, I just stumbled across this history by trying to find some meaningful pictures to take. I started with the Waldorf motel to see what it was and then I saw the words Little Vegas and my interest exploded.

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  8. I grew up on Holly Lane, which is right passed the where the Wigwam was. (Behind where the patient first is now.) It was Walls Bakery by the time I lived there. (It was the 90’s). In the house directly behind mine, lived a lady we referred to as “Mrs. Walls,” who worked at Walls Bakery. Now, I don’t know if that was even her real last name, or if she owned the place or what, but and I would go sit with her and play in the dirt while she gardened and things like that. She was really nice, and it was always a special day when I happened to see Mrs. Walls, weather it was in the Bakery, or at home. I no longer live in Waldorf, but it will always be my home. Also, my elementary school bus used to drop kids off who lived in the Stardust Motel.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this information! I had no idea Waldorf was a little Vegas, with so many famous people coming through. I am more proud than ever to say I grew up in Waldorf. It’s even more of an interesting place than I thought. Thanks, again!

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    • Hi Becky,
      I am really enjoying these responses. Seems like new tidbits come with each one of them.
      “Mrs. Walls” sounds interesting. When I worked in Clinton folks would rave about and sometimes bring in donuts and pastries from Walls Bakery (they were good). I knew that they came from that teepee shaped building but I thought nothing about the significance.
      That is interesting about families living in the Stardust Motel in the 90s. Too bad that there is not more info and pictures of the motel.
      Thanks for sharing.

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    • Becky, Mrs. Walls had a German accent, very distinct and you could not miss it. I am not sure the lady you talk about was Mrs. Walls who owned the bakery with her husband, my Uncle George. They had a house on I thought Garner Avenue and the house was basically right behind the bakery premises. Mrs. Walls did plant flowers and tended to her own garden of flowers, plants, bushes etc.

      Thanks for sharing your memories.

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  9. Hi Lonnie, My brothers father use to have a bar/restaurant in waldorf called the Sherwood forest would have been in the 50’s early 60’s I believe was wondering if you or anyone on here had heard of it or know of any photos of the establishment also he owned a bar/restaurant called the del reo in mechancisville, Maryland with slots, please let me know

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  10. There were many places in Waldorf to go Lonnie…
    I was but a child when my mother used to go to Waldorf from Clinton to play slot machines, or my parents would go to Stardust to watch a show for parents night out. When I was 15 going on 16 I myself started hanging in Waldorf at the Continental Club which was owned by JC Richards. I would go there to listen to the music, and dance,( I was way too young to be in that place, but with my mothers permission JC let me come in ), I met some of the nicest people there, and still know many of them to this day. I also met my first husband Gordon whom was the drummer in the house band that played every weekend. From there I went to many of the other places that JC and the Richards family had, they ran the Continental Club( which is now Memories), then after that the Country Castle( which is now gone, but was a furniture store) at this place I met all the starts that came in because my husbands band was the house band..there I met, Little Jimmy Dickens, Earnest Tubb & The Trubadors, Webb Pierce, Whispering Bill Anderson, and many many more..and from there to the Round-Up ( which is not the Legion) all of them were on 925 Old Washington Rd.
    I have been to many of the locations, most gone now..like Bobaloo’s Ice Cream Shop, Stardust so many big names came there,(Tammy Wynette is one I remember seeing), Wigwam to die for Eclairs and Indian things in the shop, Rips Rest (OMG!! chicken cor don bleu), Rebs Fireplace , The Waldorf Rest. was the place after the bars closed, everyone would meet there and eat breakfast before going home, and talk about our night out on the town… Things have changed allot in Waldorf. Even though I grew up in Clinton, Waldorf was always my second home..I live in Waldorf now, but am soon moving to Lusby..but my memories are something that I treasure of Waldorf, because along my path I have met some of the best friends, I could have ever made..I hope you get to know the older times in Waldorf it is definatly more then just a place people lived, and live still..it has a history all its own, and was once on the top of the map.Waldorf has become a place to live, but what many do not know about its past, is something to be appreciated. Good Luck in your search..<3 my Waldorfians..lol

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  11. I think of this history each time I visit Waldorf. Wigwam sign was relocated to a bike rails to trails entrance in White Plains. Bring back some slots! Why not!?

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  12. I don’t think that Elvis ever played there but alot of other well known names sure did. I remember seeing CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival) there with my husband at a time when his best friend had just bought the place. Can’t remember what year that was though. Walls Bakery used to be the WIGWAM in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It used to be a night club at that time and up in the front windows were girls dancing in cages I believe. Anyway, on the weekends the lines were out the door waiting to get in there. There were also other bars and restaurants up and down the strip where you could dance, play slots, etc. Also seems like there were alot along Rt. 925 also. Down around where Denny’s is used to be the 301 Drive In Theatre. Waldorf was a jumpin’ place back in the day. We had a lot of fun down there back then. It was the “In” place to go.

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  13. MY DAD WAS FROM CHARLES COUNTY, HE WAS BORN IN ALENS FRESH NOW KNOWN AS POPES CREEK, HE WAS MY LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY. HE WAS BORN TO AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MOTHER AND A GERMAN DAD WHO WAS CALLED CAPT DRINKS SEAFOOD RESTAURANT NOW KNOW AS CAPT BILLY’S CRABS AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, MY DAD WAS BORN IN 1918 LEFT CHARLES COUNTY IN 1933 TO JOIN THE CCC CAMP IN WASHINGTON DC FROM THERE HE JOINED INTO THE ARMY AND OFF TO WORLD WAR II. HE OFTEN SPOKE OF LITTLE VEGAS, HE ALSO SPOKE OF THE BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION TO VA ..A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY. HE SAID WHEN THE BRIDGE WAS BEING BUILT WHICH TOOK SOME YEARS PEOPLE CAME FROM THE NORTH AND SOUTH TO CHARLES COUNTY AND SOME PARTYING WAS GOING ON AND SOME BABIES WERE MADE!! LOL LOL 🙂 SOUNDS LIKE SOME FUN…..

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    • Thanks Joanna, Not clear about your comments, Your grandfather was called Captain? What about Drinks Seafood Restaurant? Was that a hangout place or something he owned? Please help me understand because I find this interesting.

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  14. In the 50’s and 60’s, Waldorf was a gambling Mecca. The strip was alive. Then the government decided to outlaw gambling and that era came to an end. A lot of families lost their livelihoods. The route 5 corridor became a ghost town. Then the government decided to start a lottery, as long as it was run by the state and they got their cut. But that didn’t help the people who lost their business and homes. The corridor remained empty and desolate with closed hotels and businesses until the 80’s. The money was supposed to help education but the school system remains poor with no books or supplies. This is what the government did. Now they, once again passed slots in our state but only if they run it and get their cut. It is sad that the people of Maryland put up with this treatment.

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  15. I remember going south to Waldorf to the Stardust when we were living in Clinton. we always took a group from Windbrook to dance and listen to the great entertainment. I specifically remember what a great show FATS DOMINO put on.

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  16. Enjoyed reading all these comments about Waldorf. I was born and raised in DC, so got to see a lot of Waldorf! Saw Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones at the Waldorf Resturaunt. In the early ’70s I got permission to take my 9 yr old daughter in to see her favorite group: Paul Revere and the Raiders! We got to sit through two shows and meet the boys afterward…..she was sooo thrilled! Many a good time, and well cooked breakfast, was had at the Waldorf Resturaunt!
    June Mower White

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  17. There’s, Cooksey Store, Wayside STore, Belalton truck Stop, Thunderbird Motel. I worked at Bendix Satellite Tracking Station.
    I lived on Crain’s Farm in Mount Victoria, Maryland.
    Cooksey Store had 3 nickle slot machines and 2 quarters. Graduatedfrom LaPorta Senior High.
    Schools were not integrated until 1965. I’m the first in my family to graduate after fighting for my rights to stay in school after age 16.
    I know you remember all that I’m saying is true.
    I interracially married and was band from Charles County by my family and Bennett Crain. Lol , now it’s totally interacial.
    Hit me back and we can exchange stories.
    My father Mr . William Jupiter was a farm labor aka Shorty/Tiny Man.
    Brither Joseph George Thomas …

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  18. What you all remember about Charles County is totally different then the poor black share cropper remember. We had little places like Spearman Butler Inn, Crab Pot, Laplata Inn, Greenacres and the country stores where we brought weeknold meats and breads. We traveled by tractor and wagon. We wasn’t allowed into the places that you talk about.
    Proudly praising the Lord for the strength to survive.

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  19. I understand that my grandmother, Ginny Glaze (strummin’ Ginny), played banjo and sang at the Wayside in Waldorf in the early 50’s. She sang bluegrass (called hillbilly music back then). The bar/store was owned by Joe Torres. The Stoneman family and Jimmy Dean’s Wildcats played there as well. Does anyone have any information about the Wayside or Joe Torres?

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  20. I remember it that way. I never went into any of these places, I was I kid. … but I had a grandmother and her 2 sisters who liked occasionally to drive from their neighborhood in NW Washington to Southern Maryland to luncheon and play slots. Waldorf was a bit racy for the old ladies I think and it seems they preferred waterfront destinations like Chesapeake Beach and Benedict. For a stretch of years my siblings and I were part of the weekly trip in summer. Whenever the description was Benedict we would run through Waldorf. I remember when all those places stood and thrived. The Wigwam was always pointed out as we passed. I remember the Stardust too I never managed to see Waldorf at night in those days.

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  21. (The following was a Facebook status update I wrote today, after finding FBI files on Charles “The Blade” Tourine and Joseph Nesline on a website which discussed their interests in various casinos in southern maryland, which later led me here, to your blog.)

    Here is a little piece of interesting history for my fellow southern Marylanders and their hometown, which I bet they didn’t know:

    A close and personal business associate to Meyer Lansky himself, and a made member of “La Cosa Nostra” in the Boiardo regime of the Genovese crime family, who was one of the more successful mafia members of all time, was one Charles “the Blade” Tourine. This immense wealth and great success of his, can be directly attributed to his various financial interests he held in the gaming industry and specifically in his interests in various casinos around the world. As a mafia buff, I have always believed that La Cosa Nostra has never gained any sort of foothold at all in the Washington DC area, other than for a small and rather insignificant presence in Baltimore, the mob was essentially non-existent in my home state.

    Today, however, I learned I was wrong. Apparently, “The Blade” had his casinos in many places around the world, including such illustrious cities as Havana, Cuba, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans and last but not least, WALDORF and CHARLOTTE HALL, of Charles and St. Mary’s counties, in rural southern Maryland.

    The Sportsman’s Club in Charlotte Hall and the 301 Ranch in Waldorf were both casinos belonging to Tourine and his partner, who along with Edward Warring and the “Warring brothers” was the closest thing in Washington DC history, to a local organized crime/gambling boss in one: Joseph Nesline. I have yet to have found specific addresses to these establishments, but I have seen references to the “Thunderbird” and I know that the “Wigwam” used to be a casino back in the day too and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that both those joints once belonged to Tourine and Nesline as well!

    Crazy.

    Freaking unbelievable to think that Waldorf and Charlotte Hall, each existing as gambling Meccas and hotbeds back in the 60’s. And so much so, that a genuine friend and business partner of both Meyer Lansky and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, inarguably the two biggest gangsters in American history, as I know Charlie Tourine truly to be and was, as I’ve seen FBI files listing Tourine as one of Luciano’s main mob contacts after his deportation back to Italy, with the FBI having documented several of these meetings between Tourine and Luciano in Italy. As such, this all serves to make him, “The Blade” one of the biggest American gangsters in his own right! You don’t sit down with Luciano on a one on one basis, it it was otherwise!

    And yet there he is, bringing along with him a giant movie star, celebrity, Bugsy Seigel best friend and mob flunky, George Raft on down with him to Waldorf to play freaking slots and probably eat Wig-Wam donuts. And also, there Tourine is, in his NY Park Avenue penthouse, making phone calls to nowhere but Waldorf and La Plata Md., which apparently, the FBI was monitoring the entire time. (and probably doing so illegally as well, as I don’t see anything about any warrants in these files, LOL, and these files and interviews are dated: 1964, which was directly after the Mclellan hearings were held and led by Joseph Valachi blowing the whistle of organized crime in America for the first time, which led the FBI to have to play “catch up” on the mafia and do so by any means necessary, legal or otherwise, which led it to commence in a series of illegal buggings and violations of civil rights).
    Who would ever guessed?

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  22. Thanks for the memories, I was a teenager in the “60’s” and went to many of those places for dances [not gambling] so much fun, lots of stars, thank you again

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  23. We saw Kris Kristofferson there in the early 70s. I think he was at the Stardust, but I not positive.
    Back in the 60s we used to drive down from Linthicum Md to play the slots. We had more fun then, feel bad for the young people. Back then Maryland had it all. Drive Ins, Stock Car Races Trotters. Route 1 and Route 3 had it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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