Karmel finds an Americana surprise knocking around in Kentucky
On our tour of Mammoth Cave, Ranger Nolan said that the National Parks are what make America great and beautiful. Humans are what destroy the natural beauty of this country. And the super highway has destroyed what was built beside that natural beauty, what has come to be known as Americana.
We have seen what I-95 did to US 1 along the east coast. All the small quaint towns that made for scenic drives and friendly stops are now ghost towns with remnants of drive-in movie theaters, Greyhound bus stations, and expensive neon that will never light again.
We recently saw what I-87 did to the Adirondack Region in New York State, bypassing all the local businesses – the roadside motels and theme parks – drastically reducing the numbers before Covid put the final nail in the coffin for the businesses’ owners.
Even the famous Route 66 is but a mere memory because of the emergence of I-40. In fact, looking at a map of the continental United States, the iconic roadway doesn’t even get a mention. It’s like Where’s Waldo?
All along these roads there are old roadside motels, motor lodges, etc. some left in horrible decay, others used for other purposes like low-income housing and extended stay facilities. And most of those, although being used, are also in horrible decay.
There are also those that are being used as a storage facility and one, believe it or not, has been converted into a funeral home. Where is that? Right on US 31 in Cave City, Kentucky. Huh? Exactly.
On a single two-mile stretch of US 31 there are nine (9) of those old roadside motels and motor lodges.
Much like US 1 was, used to be, the main route from Maine all the way to the tip of Key West, Florida, US 31 was the main route that went from Michigan down through Kentucky and Tennessee and on to Alabama. Oh it still does, but you won’t find many people doing that drive because they are on yet another super highway – I-65.
Melissa and I are always looking for a piece of Americana. We love heading off the main road, visiting the old mom and pop shops, trying the local eateries. And we have searched for local roadside accommodations that are a throwback to our youth.
Melissa and I are also always looking to explore a National Park and as part of my birthday celebration, we decided to visit Mammoth Cave National Park which just happens to be adjacent to Cave City. In researching where to stay in this remote part of the world, Melissa found a 10th place along US 31 – and she surprised me with a stay at Wigwam Village No. 2.
Friends and relatives will often think we are crazy for the things they see us do. “If it’s not 5-star you can forget it.” And after seeing that we stayed in a roadside motel, a friend wrote, “Next time ask me, I can give you a place to stay.” That’s ok…we got it. It’s the experience. And it was a great surprise and an absolutely wonderful experience.
The place is like a pearl inside an oyster shell. The surrounding area isn’t the greatest, but the place itself is a true gem. And that’s a credit to the owners Megan and Keith who have done a phenomenal job restoring the glory of the units and maintaining the originality.
The grounds are extremely well-kept and the individual units are absolutely immaculate.
When you arrive, you are welcomed by Keith who presents a storied history of this magnificent vintage roadside look into the distant past of American travel.
Wigwam Village No. 2 was, as the name indicates, the second of these locations built in 1937. By 1950 there were seven of these Wigwam Villages but there are now only three remaining – the others are on the old Route 66 in Arizona and California.
And although they have been called wigwams, they look like teepees. Actually, they’re neither. Wigwams are semi-permanent dome-shaped structures while teepees are temporary cone-shaped structures. The Wigwam Village structures, which were patented by Kentucky native Frank Redford in 1936 are made of steel and wood-framing covered in stucco.
Wigwam Village No. 2 consists of 15 units set in a semi-circle conveniently placed around what Keith described as a sinkhole. There is a vintage playground for the kids under 14 years of age and a fire pit for nightly campfires for the kids over 14 years of age to forget about cell phones for a while and attempt oral communication.
The big wigwam in front once served as the motel office with a gift shop and counter for food service, and even was a filling station way back.
In today’s time of over-sensitivity to political correctness and the propensity for erasing history, Megan and Keith openly address the issue:
“Today, we as caretakers of Historic Wigwam Village No. 2 certainly acknowledge the cultural theft the motel represents and want to provide context and background to help our guests understand the ramifications. We also want to celebrate Historic Wigwam No. 2’s place in Americana, the cultural identity, and the history of our country.”
Megan and Keith have done a wonderful job of preserving a piece of history, a part of the American road. They have worked hard to bring the once vibrant area back to life and give people a reason to not only visit, but to stay a while and explore the area and the culture…and literally sleep outside the box.
And Melissa did a wonderful job of surprising me. It was GREAT!
As I left the two lane road and pulled back on that super highway
I thought of what I’d seen back in that town
And it hit me like a freight train…that a stone’s throw from the fast lane
America is still safe and sound
Moe Bandy, Americana