There are two lessons to be learned from history that guarantee a proper sense of perspective about ones role in life and the living of a life that is to a large degree worry free. The first is that the more things change the more they stay the same. The second is that for things to stay the same something has to change.
Comparative studies of travel in America during the past century and a half illustrate this point quite well. During the first decades of the twentieth century, there was a veritable explosion in automotive tourism and the development of supportive infrastructure. At the heart of this phenomenon was nostalgia, a hunger to rediscover a world free from the sterile, generic world of travel by railroad.
This wave of nostalgia, then as well as now, has served to confirm the optimist’s belief that the world is actually progressing. Oddly enough, it usually distracts the pessimist with a past that is unobtainable even though they fill their lives with vestiges of a time forever gone.
Today four lanes of asphalt have replaced the ribbons of steel but the same hunger to rediscover a simpler time, or at least the perception and romanticized ideal of a simpler time, has fueled entire industries. From Route 66 to automotive restoration, from auto shows to fuzzy dice now as then there are many who prosper from the travelers hunger to escape the uncomfortable necessity of the interstate highway. Likewise, fortunes have been made in catering to those who travel to escape the past.
Before 1925, the motorist who chose to forgo the relative security and comfort of lodging that thrived along the railroad was left with but two options, sleeping under the stars, or spending the night in an establishment little changed from the era of the stagecoach. In 1925, the future was unveiled in San Luis Obispo, California when Los Angeles architect Arthur Heineman introduced a new concept in lodging, something tailored to the unique needs of the motorist.
As revolutionary as his design was – a series of two room bungalows with attached, private open-faced garage – the moniker he gave it was even more so. It was initially listed as the Milestone Motor Hotel but in short order was rechristened motel.
Within a decade, the auto court concept and the term motel dominated the roadsides of America. A few such as the Coral Court Motel on Route 66 near St. Louis became icons for those who craved the nostalgia of Route 66. Others such as the White Rock Court in Kingman have survived in quite obscurity.
Today the nations love affair with vintage neon and two lane back roads have led to the refurbishment and preservation of a few of these vintage auto courts such as the legendary and colorful Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico. A half century ago, these auto courts were viewed much differently.
Kemmons Wilson, an entrepreneur from Memphis, was appalled by lodging options he discovered on a trip to Washington D.C. in 1951. Wilson saw opportunity in the most unlikely events and this trip was no different.
As he saw it what was needed was standardization, a series of identical motels where the traveler could expect to find clean sheets, a clean, modern furnished room with air conditioning and a Bible in the dresser drawer regardless if they stopped for the night in Memphis or Phoenix. In 1952 on Summer Avenue in Memphis, the first Holiday Inn opened and the age of generic lodging was born.
A few visionaries sought to blend the two concepts, the individuality of the pre generic era with the standardization concept that gave rise to Holiday Inn. That was the initial idea Frank Redbird had in 1936.
Cave City Kentucky became the site for his first Wigwam Village. The complex comprised a semi circle with fifteen rooms built in the shape of teepees outfitted with western décor. In the center was a larger teepee that served as the office for the motel as well as the gas station and a gift shop.
The almost immediate success Redbird had prompted acquisition of a patent and the selling of plans to other entrepreneurs. Within fifteen years seven additional Wigwam Villages were built, one at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and one each in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, and Louisiana.
The nostalgia that made it profitable in 1908 to restore vintage inns and taverns today fuels the restoration of places such as Wigwam Village. The original in Cave City was recently refurbished and the one in Holbrook, built in 1950, has become a Route 66 landmark.
This year, as you take to the open road, plan your trip so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Rediscover the past as it was and as you imagined it. Speed from point “A” to point “B” on the modern wonder that is the interstate and praise the Lord for the generic world of quality lodging.

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