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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Last updated on 3 April 2020 by Jim Grey