The Motels of the Great American Roadtrip

We are suddenly at the height of summer and I’ve been trying to squeeze in all of the classic summer activities. One of the items at the top of the summer list? Road trips. The road trip in America has been an evolution (I mean just look how far you could get from New York in a day back in 1800! Spoiler: not far). Today you can drive through states at a fairly fast pace in an air conditioned car and listen to music and podcasts the whole way. However, it wasn’t long ago that a road trip was a great adventure and the trip, itself, was half the destination. Think drives like Route 66, the Columbia River Highway, or the Lincoln Highway. Those were road trips.


Motels sprang up across the United States to host the early automobile tourists, and many of these motels today exhibit an irresistible charm. They took extra care to be comfortable and often took on themes to be noticeable and inviting.

The Scott Shady Court in Winnemucca, Nevada, is one of my favorite examples of these early 20th century motels. Originally Scott Shady Camp, this motel was built in 1928 by Swiss immigrants and was an all-in-one service station, grocery store, and auto court. Several buildings have been added over the years and the grocery store and service station are no longer, but, amazingly, the motel is still operated by the same family. Painted names above many of the rooms evoke the possible California destinations of drivers through, and the gabled roofs suggest a private space, personalized for the traveler.

There isn’t much between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada. It might be tempting to just stay on the highway, blasting the AC and cruising on through towards California. But in Winnemucca, in the midst of the mountains and valleys of the Great Basin, you’ll find a piece of early 20th century history, and you can still stay there.






Sources and further reading: 

Check out the Scott Shady Court on their website, here.

The Motel in America has good information on the history of motels, and has lots of great pictures.

If you’re interested in tourism, you can’t beat Hal K. Rothman’s book, Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth Century American West.



24 thoughts on “The Motels of the Great American Roadtrip

  1. It’s so interesting to me all of those little motels that you see- even on the way to our cottage in the interlake in Manitoba, you see so many little motels and you have to wonder what the stories of the people stopping there are! And no, there isn’t a lot around SLC haha. My boyfriend lived there for the first 3 1/2 years we were dating and I couldn’t get over how sparse it was! Although, outside of Seattle seems pretty sparse in rural Washington, too haha. (Still, I don’t roast to death in Seattle!!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s true, little motels like this are tucked away in the most interesting places. I think partly because people didn’t drive as far as quickly in the mid 20th century. That’s interesting that you have them in Manitoba too!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Victoria!! Oh, I bet there are SO many great old motel signs in NJ. It is definitely sad to see them disappearing. I am amazed that this motel is still owned by the same family–I hope they can keep it running and looking this nice!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did a Route 66 Road trip with a gal pal of mine – just the two of us – used the old maps and everything. There is something so different about road tripping than destination driving. You APPRECIATE the old motels you see along the way instead of brushing them off. Loved your pics!


    1. I love that idea! You see so many different things when you use old maps, too. Route 50 in Nevada has a “passport” program for kids where you get stamps at businesses in each town, encouraging you to stop. There should be more things like this (for adults too! 🙂 ).


  3. Gorgeous. I love old architecture, the preservation of a different era, particularly the 1920s, 30s, 60s and 70s. Just different lines, way of thinking and seeing. Wish I could do another great American roadtrip and appreciate America all over again (been living overseas since 2009). Ah, one day. Until then, thanks for the share!


    1. Thank you Lani! You’re so right about the design showing a different way of thinking and seeing. That’s what I love about historic architecture–it’s pieces of history that you can actually interact with. Hope you get your road trip one of these days, I’m gaining a list of highways I’d like to see myself!

      Liked by 1 person

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