In which our intrepid hero encounters much roadside lodging of a bygone era…
Every frequent traveler has their hotel stories to tell. One little one of mine comes from a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1990s. I walked into my hotel room to discover that there was an agitated bee in the hotel room. That was a little disconcerting. I am not afraid of bees but I respect them and being in the same hotel room as one struck me as being a mite too close for comfort. So I called down to the front desk and told them to send someone up with some bugspray. Eventually a hotel staff member arrived but he didn’t have any bugspray. How the hotel expected him to kill the bee was beyond me. What he did have was bug-eyes and I soon discovered the reason that he was so fearful was because he was, allegedly, allergic to bee stings. “So the hotel sent the one guy allergic to bee stings to come kill my bee?” I asked. “And didn’t give him anything to kill it with?” We saw, eventually, that more than anything the bee just wanted out of there—he kept trying to get out through the window (which did not open). So finally we decided to team up—one of us trapped the bee in some of the window curtains while the other thwacked him with a book (probably the hotel room bible). Final score: Bee 0, Two Idiots 1.
[Remember that you can click on each image below for a larger, better version]
I continued my journey homewards, travelling east from the Indiana border along U.S. 40 back to Columbus. This road is festooned with old motels built from the 1920s through the 1950s. As I have said in earlier blog entries, U.S. 40 was for many years one of the most important highways in the United States. It began in the early 1800s as the “National Road,” the first national highway ever. In the early 20th century, with the advent of automobiles, it became a key trunk road for Americans. All along its length sprouted “motor courts” and “motor hotels” (later shortened to motels) to take advantage of the growing number of Americans travelling by car. However, after World War II, the creation of the interstate highway system doomed most of these businesses. In Ohio, Interstate 70 paralleled U.S. 40 and rendered it obsolete. The vast majority of traffic now shifted to I-70, leaving U.S. 40 a comparative wasteland. The motels now had no customers. A very few managed to survive; most failed. An unknown number of the motels were demolished, others are in ruins, and many were repurposed, sometimes into low-rent rural “efficiency” apartments. Here is one old motel that did not become anything; it remains abandoned. The building with the big forward leaning window housed the front office, with the rooms being in a courtyard behind it.
Not much farther down the road is another old motel that has not survived and lies abandoned. Here is the front office; the rooms begin in another building behind it, stretching off to the right of the picture.
Some of the old motels were partially demolished, with only one or two buildings left from what once was a cluster of such buildings. Here is an example of this sort of partial survivor. It is hard to see from the road, with most of it behind heavy foliage, but I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye as I passed it, so I turned around to get a second look at it and was able to confirm that it was part of an old motel.
Still not very far at all from the Indiana border (the reader will notice from this blog entry and the previous one how many old motels were clustered just in Preble County), I entered the village of Lewisburg, Ohio (population 1,820, salute!). This nice little village, almost 200 years old, has some interesting old buildings, of which the above is a rather substantial example. It looks as if it has been converted into a duplex of sorts.
Another very old construction. The brickwork around the door makes me wonder if this door were added later (or at least redone). Like many such buildings, it has a newer structure attached to the rear.
This was a garage at some point, though the wild is reclaiming it. The faded painted sign seems to say, in part, “C & D Tractor.” Presumably it serviced tractors. I have always wondered how this particular architectural style came to be so heavily associated with garages and mechanics. I see it constantly, every time I drive around. Does anybody know if it has a name?
By now I had left Preble County and was halfway across Montgomery County, where the city of Dayton is located. North of Dayton, along U.S. 40, is a suburb called Englewood (population 13,465, salute!). It is a fairly prosperous suburb that has grown as people have moved out of Dayton (the population of Englewood has essentially doubled in the past 40 years, and the population of Dayton has nearly halved in the same span). Here is an attractive mural depicting an idealized version of the town a century earlier.
Of course, if abandoned motels are melancholy, what does that make abandoned churches? This one is actually for sale. Prospective buyers can find this old church in Brandt, Ohio, a tiny unincorporated hamlet (so no population figures available, but I would estimate maybe 150-200, salute!).
Many old-timey gas stations still line the highways of Ohio, decades since they stopped pumping gas to anyone. I couldn’t tell if this old filling station was now some sort of junk store or if it had become a residence with some junk out front.
Finally, we come to the Adobe Motel, a name I might expect more from West Texas, where I grew up. This Adobe Motel, however, is no longer an actual motel, but rather a set of low-rent furnished apartments now. It is located a few miles west of Springfield, Ohio.
Here is what the same building looked like in the 1930s, courtesy of the Boston Public Library.