By Keith A. Sculle

COMMERCIAL ARCHEOLOGY started from the efforts of a few people promoting the preservation of structures that were long ignored and discredited in mid-century America. This field of study became an important factor in the awakening public and professional appreciation of the vernacular and inspired the Society for Commercial Archeology, founded in 1977, which we know and benefit from today.

The very name might, and likely still does, conjure up images to the curious of architectural objects of ancient vintage, lacking written records, and understood only through interpreting three-dimensional sub-surface remains. However, the SCA’s thrust is thoroughly modern. Those few, mostly preservationists, who appreciated the topic helped fashion the SCA’s mission to study “the 20th-century commercial landscape.”

Co-founder Chester Liebs proclaimed commercial archeology most eloquently by what stands as his scripture in his 1985 book, Main Street to Miracle Mile:

Now that the twentieth century (the very name once personified all that was modern) is an octogenarian, perhaps it is time to set aside the controversy that adheres to one particular creation begun by our grandfathers—- the American motorway and its brash pictorial and lingual commercialism—-in order to gain some insight into one of the more neglected areas of American architecture and culture [italics added] (p. vii).

SCA Route One Tour visits Worcester Car #818 in Portland, Maine, 1986.

The SCA Route One Tour visits Worcester Car #818 in Portland, Maine, 1986. Laying in front are tour organizers Millie O’Connell and Pete Phillips. Kneeling with white hat is diner owner Randy Chasse. Both photos by Chester Liebs.

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Did you enjoy this article? Join the SCA and get full access to all the content on this site. This article originally appeared in the SCA Journal, Spring 2017, Vol. 35, No. 1. The SCA Journal is a semi-annual publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology.

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