Roadside Relics: Old American Motels

I love old motels. We used to live in a mountain tourist town that had a leftover population of the old lodgings in various stages of decay. So for a time, I collected them – with my camera.

The cool thing about digital collections, besides the fact that they occupy very little space outside the virtual world (a handy fact that helps to keep me firmly on this side of the line that separates “collector” from “hoarder”), is that I can play with photos later. Lately, I’ve been trying to learn a little more about how to use Photoshop Elements, so I experimented on some old motel photos.

I thought I would provide a little history to go along with this bit of Americana: Motels evolved along with American car culture.

My car in another life.

 As the US highways sprouted in the 1920s, auto travelers needed handy places to stop for the night that were affordable and easily accessible. So the motor inn in all of its various incarnations (motor court, motor lodge, tourist lodge, cottage court, tourist cabins, auto cabins, cabin court, or auto court) was born.

Sadly, the Rockola was torn down not long after this was taken.

It might have been 1960 if it weren’t for the Coke machine.

The word motel was coined in the mid-1920s as a combination of the words motor and hotel. Motels were often a cluster of cottages or cabins with common parking area or a single building of connected rooms that opened on the parking lot which allowed rumpled, road-weary travelers to get to their rooms without trudging through stuffy lobbies.

One of my favorite motel signs ever.

Tropical bungalow style motel in the mountains 800 miles from Miami.

In the fifties and sixties, to get motorists’ attention, motels often featured colorful neon signs and themes from pop culture. Sadly, after the sixties, chains like Holiday Inn began to run unique, privately-owned motels out of business.

There’s still a few around, though, if you’re lucky enough to stumble across them.

Leave a comment


  1. Is the Mountaineer Inn near Boone by any chance? These are really cool. I love old motels, old cars, just about anything old. You have a great (and whimsical) eye.

  2. Paul J. Stam

     /  July 13, 2012

    Loved these photos. My God, the number of motels I stayed in as I drive back and for across the US.

  3. Great Post – loving your photos:) Have a Wonderful Weekend!

  4. Sherrie

     /  July 13, 2012

    These are great Tori! I like the one with the VW Bug…I had a baby blue Bug in my early twenties. Talk to you soon!

  5. Sherrie

     /  July 13, 2012

    Love the neon spoon pic too…

  6. Catherine

     /  July 14, 2012

    I LOVE motel signs too. And motels. Thanks for sharing.

  7. When you find one that’s clean, simple and with a good mattress it’s like being wrapped in nostalgia. Like being wrapped in nostalgia.
    Lovely post.

    • Exactly! I stayed in a 60-year-old motel on the beach a year ago and it was like traveling back in time. (And it was the best night’s sleep ever but that’s probably because I could hear the ocean, though the room was very clean and comfy too).

  8. Last sentence should read “It’s the best night of sleep ever!” (Not sure how that line repeat happened! Apologies. i think you get the idea!

  9. What a fun idea for a post, Tori. I didn’t know some of these things about motel history. And I LOVE the new fork in your header image! TOO fun!

  10. These are such a rarity these days. I’m happy to see you appreciate them and help preserve them in photos. We’ve got a few in Miami existing currently as hourly motels. I think I’ll blog them. You’ve inspired me!

  11. Great pics! I love putting together stories in my mind about what they must have been like back in their hay day! The way you’ve edited them makes it very easy to put oneself back in that era. Good times! 🙂

  12. You should write some of those stories down!

  13. Great photos. The Hillbilly is my favorite. I’ve got to learn how to do that with Photoshop, too!

  14. That’s a great sign, isn’t it? And I highly recommend learning new tricks in Photoshop. Very fun! (My partner doesn’t always love it when I get sucked into playing with pictures for too long, though.)

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