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Lodging: Roadside Cabins.


Chapman Cabins, Fort Wayne, Indiana

My great aunt and Scottish uncle liked to stay overnight in roadside, or tourist, cabins when they traveled in the Midwest. These were small, one room cottages located along state and U. S. roads. And, they were clustered around a check-in office, sometimes inside the manager’s or owner’s home.


You couldn’t have asked for better amenities for the price.


  1. Each cabin was convenient, with a drive-up-to-the-door driveway and parking.
  2. Rates were affordable, as low as 75 cents or $1.00 a night.
  3. They were available for rent by the night, week, or month.
  4. Privacy was moderate, with 15 to 25 feet of grassy knolls between each cabin;
  5. Trees provided shade and added privacy.
  6. An attached front porch may have been added to larger, more costly cabins.
  7. Cabins came furnished: bed, dresser, nightstand, lamps, bedding and linens; small dinette table and chairs; hot plate, a few pots and pans, dishes, and table service.
  8. Sometimes, small army cots were available for children.
  9. More expensive cabins had a small bathroom, with a porcelain bath tub or built-in shower stall, wall-hung medicine cabinet, mirror, and storage cabinet.
  10. The owners or managers were always friendly and lived on the property, in a home set away from the row of cabins.
  11. Access to a telephone was available for important calls.
  12. The cabins provided a cozy, informal and intimate place to relax and recharge.



Often, the exteriors of the wood-framed cabins were painted a chalk white. Other popular colors were yellow, mint green, and light blue. Some were trimmed in bright colors.


Interior walls were painted a chalk white enamel with matching trim and baseboard. Home-sewn gingham, dotted Swiss, checked, or poplin curtains hung at the windows. Floors were hardwood, and covered in linoleum or area rugs. Colorful, durable rag rugs were a favorite.


Between the 1920s and 1950s, they were very popular. The favorite of traveling sales representatives and district sales directors that needed to cover big territories.


Often, the roadside, or tourist, cabins were the only form of affordable lodging in the area. It was common for over fifty to seventy-five miles to set between large towns, with perhaps a modest hotel there. In fact, oil companies such as Conoco and Texaco published free travel brochures that listed “approved” cabin lodging.


Movies popularized the roadside cabins, too. Film makers put top stars in hilarious scenes, set at and inside these cozy getaways. These cabins tended to be embellished for film with bright red, green, blue or even purple window shutters, lush flower beds and porches, with wicker seating and fancy railings. A more modern version was featured in a military romantic comedy starring John Wayne.


Deserted tourist cabins, Flatrock River, near Geneva, Indiana

Today, few examples remain of this relaxing, private form of roadside lodging.


As recently as 2014, an Indiana relative and wife had come across a few abandoned tourist cabins during their “back road” travels. Two in Central Indiana, another in western Ohio. Their retirement avocation – looking for out-of-the-way antique shops located in the Midwest – takes them past out-of-the-way and obsolete lodgings.


In 2012, a small group of “millennials” talked about reviving this nostalgic style of lodging. They looked for small land parcels. Five to fifteen acres along county roads and state highways.


But, the money – potential revenue – couldn’t be guaranteed today, in the 21st century. Too, in this super fast, super tech world, who would want to “stay in a modest cabin, situated on a slow moving, out-of-the-way road?


Some ancestral stops are worth remembering and researching, but not worth reviving.


Jeff Kamm has written that, between 1920 and 1954, these cabins were predecessors to the roadside motels and hotels such as Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn, Best Western, and Days Inn. Kamm has used his extensive hospitality management background to research roadside motels and hotels, including tourist cabins. He is operations manager of International Center, in Indianapolis, and former general manager for properties in the Marriott and Radisson families.


For more information: (1) Cabin Camp Project; (2) Indiana Lincoln Highway Association; (3) National Road to Route 40; and (4)



Would you stay several nights in a roadside cabin, situated by a remote state road?



Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”


Copyright 2016. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved

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