Interstate 77 was only completed part of the way to Marietta when current Washington County Commissioner Sam Cook arrived from Cleveland to work for Broughton's in 1965.
"One of the first times I came to Marietta was along U.S. Route 21 all the way from Cleveland," he recalled. "It was about a five-hour trip and the road was crooked. I don't think there was a half-mile of straight roadway until we got to Whipple."
In July 1959, the project, which in the initial stages bypassed Marietta in favor of Athens, was officially approved by Ohio's Department of Highways. It would change the face of the Pioneer City geographically, economically and even socially.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Northbound traffic on Interstate 77 Friday..
Cook said the interstate highway was an economic shot in the arm for companies like Broughton's.
"It probably cut 45 minutes off our tractor-trailer trips to Charleston, and it certainly cut the travel time to Beckley (W.Va.)," he said.
On May 13, 1960, project consultant J.E. Greiner Co. of Baltimore reported the construction of 44.8 miles of I-77, from Cambridge to Marietta, would cost an estimated $83 million. The highway was designed to support average speeds of 70 mph.
Interstate 77 facts
Interstate 77 spans more than 600 miles across five states.
In Ohio, I-77 connects Marietta, Cambridge, Dover, Canton, Akron and Cleveland.
Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 maintains I-77 in Washington and Noble counties.
In 2005, the average daily traffic count on I-77 in both counties was 14,000 to 20,000 vehicles.
Federal approval for the I-77 project was given in October 1957.
Ohio Department of Highways approved the Marietta route in July 1959.
The first local section of I-77, between Ohio 7 and Ohio 821, was completed in 1965.
The I-77 bridge between Marietta and Williamstown was completed in 1967.
Source: Ohio Department of Transportation and Times archives.
mileage by state
Ohio - 160.13
West Virginia - 187.21
Virginia - 69.4
North Carolina - 102.31
South Carolina - 91.05
Source: Federal Highway Administration.
The report stated the route was chosen because it had the lowest project cost, would provide the greatest traffic service, traversed the least rugged terrain and provided better access to potential industrial sites that had been set aside along the Ohio River east of Marietta.
Mike Jacoby, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, said access to interstate highways is a prime concern for many companies looking for a suitable business location.
"When Ohio's Department of Development does a corporate search, one question asked is within how many miles of an interstate highway will a company be willing to locate, and most say they would like to be within 10 miles," Jacoby said.
There's no doubt that I-77's proximity to Marietta resulted in more business near the Ohio 7 interchange where the Kardex Systems complex, Holiday Inn, Starlight business park, and eventually businesses such as Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Econolodge, Comfort Inn, Kmart, Kroger, Bob Evans, Hampton Inn, Super 8 Motel, and the Lafayette Center sprang up.
The changes I-77 brought to Marietta were most evident in the Norwood area.
Longtime Miller Avenue resident Howard Boyd, 91, noted that the highway pretty much eradicated the Luther Miller farm.
"It took out the house, barn and most of the farm - that's where Miller Avenue got its name, this area used to be part of the farm," Boyd said.
"We moved here in 1951, and this was the only house on the street at the time. But it's all built up around here now," he said.
Boyd added that Duck Creek used to run close to that area of Norwood, but the stream was relocated in order to build the interstate.
He recalled that prior to the I-77 construction there was a stockyard on one side of Acme Street near the Pike Street intersection, and a bar called the Wagon Wheel stood in the middle of a field on the opposite side of Acme, where the Kroger complex is now located.
"I was raised on a farm in Noble County, and my father brought livestock here to sell. He had to travel old U.S. 21," Boyd said. "I used the same route when I started working for Union Carbide just before we moved to Marietta. You didn't go too fast on that road."
Construction of the local section of I-77, completed from Ohio 7 to Ohio 821 in 1965, was a dirty, dusty business, according to Boyd.
"You got used to it, and they didn't work nights. But we were glad when it was finally finished," he said.
In December 1967 the I-77 bridge was finally completed between Marietta and Williamstown, linking the Ohio and West Virginia sections of the interstate.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said he began his career in law enforcement in 1966 with the Ohio Highway Patrol. At that time only a few sections of Interstate 77 had been completed, he said.
"I think mileposts 1 to 6 were open then," Mincks said. "When the entire stretch opened, it really opened up the whole area, and country, really."
Mincks said prior to the interstate, he would frequently travel U.S. 21 toward Cleveland.
"What a long drive that was," Mincks said. "Now it's just a straight shot up the interstate and you can be there in a few hours."
While the interstate system opened up the country to travel and business, it also exposed once sheltered communities to new people and sometimes crime.
"There are plenty of good folks who travel and make stops along the way, but the interstate has increased the mobility of criminals," Mincks said. "A criminal can commit a crime in Cambridge and be down and across into West Virginia very quickly now. As law enforcement, we have to be ready to react."
Mincks said his officers frequently operate drug interdiction stings on the interstate to help slow the drug trade.
"Right now, Columbus seems to be our source city for drugs," Mincks said. "It's only an hour and 45 minutes away and it's nothing for a dealer to drive up there, buy drugs and come back here to sell it."
Still, Mincks said the interstate has been a bigger asset than liability.
"I think overall our interstate system was a good decision to go forward with," he said.
Brad Bauer contributed.