[Kelly Kazek] When Sweetums and I were on our Route 66 honeymoon, which was almost a year ago now, we were fascinated with the old motor courts along the original route. We saw a few that were abandoned and some that had been refurbished. We decided we wanted to have the experience but only for one night because most have small rooms with full beds that don’t accommodate Sweetums’ 6-foot-7 frame.
See slideshow below story
The one we chose was the Wagon Wheel Motor Court in Cuba, Mo., mainly because it was getting dark and we needed to stop for the night. Turns out, we had chosen the oldest continuously operating motel on the route. The court consisted of several stone cabins, a preserved service station and a main building that once housed an office and restaurant.
The Wagon Wheel was opened in 1934 by Robert and Margaret Martin. According to the website, the Martins hired Leo Friesenhan to do the stonework and construct the cabins.
After World War II, the café was owned by John and Winifred Mathis and it was John who designed the now iconic neon Wagon Wheel sign. The motor court is currently owned by Connie Echols and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fortunately, the motor court had been modernized to some extent – two rooms were made into one suite so that what was once a single room had a bed, small table and television, and the second room had a counter and mirror along with a small whirlpool tub and stall shower. The café building is now a gift shop filled with Route 66 souvenirs where I got a T-shirt. We also bought a plastic key fob with our room number and the Wagon Wheel logo as a memento.
Farther along, we passed one of the route’s most well-known courts, The Boots Court in Carthage, Mo. It is recognizable because of its Art-Deco, streamline-modern architecture.
The Boots Court was built in 1939 by Arthur Boots, according to its website. It was abandoned for many years before it was saved from demolition by two sisters who have restored much of the motel to its original appearance. We took photos of the exterior but I found a photo of a room online to show how tiny and spartan the motor court rooms were.
I definitely recommend trying one out, if only so you can say you experienced some early Route 66 history. Just don’t expect to have a lot of leg room.