Roadside America: Motor Court Motels

I have a lot of postcards. Postcards that I did not receive in the mail. These are from my collection that was brought together from all times in our past. Sure there are still postcards for sale today, but there is one type that is prominent in my collection that is not available today simply because they are no longer around. This type of postcard is the roadside motor court motel.

As the automobile became more popular, folks took to the roadways. And, often this early travel was a bit rough since the interstates hadn’t been build yet. Sometimes travelers would sleep in their automobiles because they were road-weary and didn’t want to stay in downtown hotels- which in addition to dress codes, didn’t provide parking for their cars.

Entrepreneurs across the country saw an opportunity and began building small cottage camps; these didn’t offer a lot of amenities, but it was a dry, clean, safe place.

These cottage camps gave way to motor court motels. Where the cottages tended to be perpendicular to the roadway, early motor courts were arranged on a U-shaped drive with a central office for easy check-in. Motor court motels offered quick access to the roadway, beautiful landscapes and offered ample parking for vehicles.

During WWII supplies were limited and the motor courts changed again. They began to move away from the individual cabins and to a connected chain of rooms. They still offered easy roadside access.

At the end of the war, the travel boom helped to increase motor courts from 20,000 to over 60,000. As the 1950s and 1960s rolled through, sending postcards of the motor court motel that you stayed at on your road trip was fashionable. And, since photos were not as plentiful as today, sometimes the postcard of the motel was your personal souvenir.

These postcards were meant to be advertising for the motel, but they also serve now as a record of what these were, ear-marking a special time in American history when the road was open and the night required a rest. There are lots of beautiful landscaping, unique signs, and retro colors to be seen in the postcards.

I have some of these motor court postcards in my collection. They always seem to make me smile as I think about the entrepreneurial spirit these motel owners possessed and the adventurous spirit of the travelers. I think about those folks and wonder how many forgotten stories there from just one room at just one motor court motel. Where were the guests going? What did they visit on the road trip? Where was home?