Nikon N2000, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor
Kodak Ektar 100
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.
As we drive around on America’s highways today we encounter the usual fast-food franchises over and over again. McDonald’s is everywhere!
In the early 20th century, a McDonald’s sprouted up at the corner of US 40 and US 127, about 10 miles east of the Indiana state line. This was long before the first McDonald’s restaurant, of course. This was an entirely different McDonald’s.
Auto camps were sort of a precursor to the motel. In the 1910s and 1920s there were few services for drivers on the road. Cities had hotels and restaurants, of course. But sometimes the distance between two cities was more than could be traveled in a day, and some travelers wished to avoid hotel costs. So it was common to carry camping gear on road trips and just camp along the roadside. Sometimes a friendly farmer would let a traveler camp in his field. Sometimes a farmer recognized a revenue opportunity and charged for the privilege. Dedicated auto camps were created, and some built small, basic cabins and rented them at nominal rates. That had to be very welcome on a rainy night! McDonald’s Camp offered several cabins for rent.
A Marathon station stands on the corner of US 40 and US 127 today. But if you peek behind the station, McDonald’s cabins still stand. They appear to be rented out long term as sleeping rooms today.
I would liked to have moved in closer, but people were loitering around the cabins and I didn’t want to attract their attention.
West of the Dayton metro, US 40 is just a two-lane road. The first McDonald’s Camp photo above shows the road paved in concrete. I found one very short old alignment just east of the Indiana line where a little of that concrete still exists.
With that, my three-day trek along Ohio’s National Road came to an end.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.