Preservation, Road Trips

Sleep in a wigwam

The sign says, “Sleep in a Wigwam,” but these are actually tipis. A wigwam is a domed structure. But the fellow who invented this motel concept just liked the sound of the word wigwam better. Thus a name was born: Wigwam Village.

Cave City, KY

That fellow was Frank Redford, who built the first Wigwam Village in 1933 in Horse Cave, KY. It was so successful that he built this one in 1937 in nearby Cave City, KY, on the Dixie Highway, known today as US 31W. Frank licensed the design to Chester Lewis, who built five more around the country through 1949. Three Wigwam Villages remain: this one, and two on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ, and San Bernadino, CA.

Cave City, KY

Each wigwam, or tipi, contains two beds and a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. According to reviews on Yelp, these are small, basic rooms from a time gone by, and they show signs of their age.

Cave City, KY

When my sons and I planned our Mammoth Cave trip I considered staying here. I absolutely would have if I were traveling by myself. But my sons aren’t into old-road nostalgia like I am. On this trip, the spacious, modern, more luxurious hotels over by the Interstate were mighty compelling to them.

Imagery ©2015 Google. Map data ©2015 Google.

But there’s hardly an old motel anywhere as distinctive as this one, with its rooms arranged in a half circle around the big-tipi office. That’s an original alignment of the Dixie Highway behind the motel, by the way. Several old Dixie Highway alignments lurk around US 31W as it snakes through central Kentucky.

Cave City, KY

This old roadgeek yearns to explore them all. When I do, you’d better believe I’ll sleep in a wigwam.

(These are all film photos, by the way, taken with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.)

Several great old motels line US 40 in Columbus, Ohio. Check out their great signs.

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15 thoughts on “Sleep in a wigwam

  1. Great photo’s from that Olympus again.
    Have seen the Wigwam village in Holbrook AZ It looked great, didn’t realise there were more of them. When I’ve been over to the US (too many years ago) have always tried to stay in old fashioned motels if possible.

    • I didn’t make it all the way to AZ on my Route 66 trip a couple years ago. Next time! The old-fashioned motels are an adventure. We stayed in them along Route 66 as much as we could. Some were great, some were …not.

  2. Bob Dungan says:

    Great pic’s. Now everything is too standardized. Same stores, same restaurants, etc. One of the things I like about travel is finding different restaurants, stores, etc.

    • We stayed in one of those standardized motels and ate at some standardized restaurants on this trip. While I’m generally with you, the local and unique is more interesting — there was a lot of comfort in knowing exactly what we were getting. Which, I suppose, is why the chains have taken over.

  3. ambaker49 says:

    I’ve seen the one in Holbrook, and the remains of another someplace, not remembered clearly, in my travels. Never had the opportunity to stay, though. Much like the Giant Orange stands on hwy 99 in California, they are from the days when form was important as function. Miss those days.

    • Yeah, you have to wonder if anybody will ever feel like one of the modern box-style motels will be worth preserving one day.

  4. Wes C says:

    Wigwam Village #3 was in my neck of the woods, but was long gone before I was around. This location in New Orleans was built in 1940 and gone by the mid 1950’s. Next closest one to me would have been Bessemer, AL, but it’s gone too. Guess I’ll have to make the drive to Kentucky if I want to spend the night in a Wigwam! And I do hope to one day…

  5. I wonder how much future generations will appreciate unusual spots like this. I think a lot of us who today like such things have some experience of when they were more common and a nostalgia for those days. The young people today don’t have that. For them everything has always been much more standardized. Maybe when cars are self-driving and will take you where you are going after you set your preferences, they will feel some nostalgia for when we drove ourselves and chance played a bigger role in our choices.

    • I don’t think my sons would have guessed that this was a motel if I didn’t tell them.

      I was born into the waning era of neon-signed motor courts. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for times I never really experienced!

  6. Tom Klockau says:

    Neat that it survived, and neat that it is still open for business! I did not know that there was one in Kentucky.

  7. This is a bit picky but Wigwam Village #1 was actually on US 31E (Jackson Highway) directly east of Horse Cave. That’s probably what you meant but your ‘E’ just fell over. There’s a Marathon station there now.

    WV #7 has been pretty much entirely redone so that it’s almost like a modern motel with funny shaped rooms. Both of the others (and other old motel, too) require a certain attitude (understandably absent in most teenagers) to appreciate.

    • Thanks for keeping me honest. I’ve corrected the text. I assumed 31W because 31E doesn’t actually go through Horse Cave. But a quick check of the ol’ Internet proves you right.

      Hunh, too bad about WV 7.

      • Oh, WV 7 is still a cool experience. It’s just that it went through some rough times and all of the rustic furniture is gone and what’s there now is more normal. Plus, it’s the only one with a pool and was the last one built so it benefits from what ever design/construction improvements Redford came up with over the years.

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