Looking for automotive art along America’s two-lane roads

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Dealership turned into county building made to look again like a dealership | Larry Edsall photos

One of the joys of traveling two-lane roads is following them as they twist and turn and take you through small towns. Towns such as Cassopolis, Michigan.

Founded in 1832 on the land between two lovely lakes — Diamond and Stone — Cassopolis was established as the seat of Cass County in southwestern Michigan.

Town and county took their names from Lewis Cass, a New Hampshire native and brigadier general whose service in the War of 1812 earned him the governorship of the Michigan Territory from 1813-1831 (Cass then became Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, served several terms in the Senate, and in 1848 was the Democratic party’s presidential candidate.)

Among Cassopolis’ early residents were Quakers, who offered their homes as shelters for the Underground Railroad, the escape route that led from slavery to freedom in the years leading up to the Civil War (the Kentucky Slave Raid took place near here in 1847). Some of those former slaves went on to Canada; others stayed in the area, which still numbers several of their descendants.

Cassopolis has yet another claim to fame: During a frigid day in 1947, a local woman’s sand pile was so frozen that she had to use ashes in her cat’s litter box, but the cat tracked the ashes through the house. She asked a neighbor, Edward Lowe, if he had some sand she could use. Instead, Lowe offered her some clay, which absorbed both excrement and odor. Soon, Lowe was selling 5-pound bags of what he called Kitty Litter, and soon established Tidy Cat.

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Artists’ murals give building dealership appearance again

I’d driven through Cassopolis a dozen times or more back when I lived in Michigan, but I hadn’t been back through for a long time. With my professional attention turning from sports to cars, I was fascinated by the murals on the windows of the Cass County Maintenance Department building.

The murals make the building look like a late-1950s Chevrolet dealership, which is what the building used to be.

In 2006, David Dickey, Cass County superintendent of maintenance, got the idea of using murals to make the front and side of the building look once again like a car dealership. Money was raised, and artist Jerry Schlundt was hired, and worked along with a 15-year-old apprentice, Mariah Arianna Wall.

I’ve seen other automotive-themed murals on the sides of buildings in other towns, including some towns that aren’t quite so small, which makes me wonder if that wonderful parking-lot mural still climbs the side of a tall building in downtown Flint, Michigan.

$1.80 a gallon a painted pump on back of the building

I wish I’d have taken photos of those other murals. I wish I’d have learned the stories of their creation. I wish I had a list of all the automotive murals in all the American cities (and, for that matter, cities in Canada and Mexico as well), because I’d like to visit them as I wander around the two-lanes.

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Hey, I know: If you know of such a mural, send me an email larrye@classiccars.com with its location, and maybe a photo as well, and its history if you know it, and I’ll try to work it into my travels and into future stories.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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