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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.