Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

John’s Modern Cabins

9

As long as there have been cars, anyone driving a long distance has needed a place to bed down for the night. In the early days of auto travel, they camped, at first in friendly farmers’ fields and later on rented roadside campgrounds. Next, primitive cabins were built as a place for travelers to sleep, and later some of those cabins came with amenities such as heat and running water. Next came the motel, with many rooms in a row under one roof. At first they were all independently operated, but eventually chains of motels opened regionally and nationwide.

When the Interstates came, the chains had the means to build at the exits. Today you’ll find almost nothing but multi-story chain motels along the Interstates. Some of the older chain and independent motels still serve travelers along the old two-lane highways.

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google.

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google.

Few would find a roadside camp or primitive cabin acceptable as lodging today, of course. The camps are all gone, but here and there some of the cabins remain, albeit serving other purposes, such as this set on the National Road in Ohio. As my sons and I drove Route 66 we set out to find a well-known set of abandoned primitive cabins in Missouri. John’s Modern Cabins are on an abandoned section of the road a few miles east of Doolittle, which is a few miles east of Rolla. They haven’t served travelers since sometime in the late 1960s, when I-44 opened alongside the Mother Road and business dried up.

This section of Route 66 was abandoned not that long ago. The section of Route 66 that fronts John’s Modern Cabins used to serve as the north frontage road for I-44, but several years ago I-44 was moved a bit north, cutting off this section of the road. It’s a little tricky to find John’s Modern Cabins today. You have to follow the old south I-44 frontage road and cross a gravel path to reach the abandoned Route 66 alignment and the cabins. The green arrow pinpoints them on the map.

When you find them, you’ll see that they’re in serious decay.

John's Modern Cabins

This notice nailed to a tree warns that these cabins are on private property and are unsafe, and trespassing is at the explorer’s risk. So we walked up to, but stayed out of, these cabins.

John's Modern Cabins

These were just sleeping rooms in their day – four walls, a roof, and (presumably) a bed. If you needed to answer nature’s call, you stepped outside and found an outhouse. One still stands on the property.

John's Modern Cabins

The first cabins on this site were built in the 1930s by Bill and Bess Bayless of logs from nearby trees. After Bess was murdered (!) Bill sold the cabins, and after a couple more owners John Dausch bought them. He named them after himself, erecting the neon sign that still stands on the property. John built a few more cabins of concrete and asbestos.

John's Modern Cabins

If you snoop around the Internet, you’ll find photos of John’s Modern Cabins from before the roofs all started to collapse. It won’t be too many years before they will have collapsed entirely. I think they were just perfect as we found them. I asked one of my sons to photograph me by one.

Me at John's Modern Cabins

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9 thoughts on “John’s Modern Cabins

  1. Jennifer S

    What an interesting history, they make a great photography subject, but it makes me sad to think they’ll soon fall down and this part of the national story will be completely past and gone.

    1. Jim Post author

      I wish these could be preserved just as they are, frozen in time. I’d hate to see them collapse — but I’d also hate to see them restored to their original state, too. There’s a real charm about their dilapidation that I’d like to see kept intact.

      You might be amused to know that I was interviewed “man on the street” by a TV news crew the other day. 2.5 seconds of my 15 minutes of fame were used up when one of my comments made it to air.

  2. Lone Primate

    LOL I have this burning desire to take the last photo and cut in a word balloon with a crack from the MST3K movie… “There, it’s finished; whattayah think?” :D

    It’s strange thing to call something that must have been rustic even when it was built “modern”. Do you suppose this John had a wry sense of humour? :)

    1. Jim Post author

      I have to think that the “modern” in the name was, if not intended as humor, intended as clever marketing to cover up the fact that these were just simple sleeping rooms! And the caption I’d put over the last photo is, “My work here is done.”

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