Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lincoln Motels

At the University of Akron, I taught colloquia for the Honors College called "Life and Times of Lincoln" and "American Highways and American Wanderlust." I enjoy the subjects of Lincoln, his life and career, and the Civil War. I also enjoy the subjects of American roads, highway businesses, road-related commercial architecture, and signage.

I've published a few things on these subjects, but nothing like my friend Keith Sculle, who has (with John A. Jakle) authored an excellent "Gas, Food, Lodging" trilogy----The Gas Station in America (John Hopkins University Press, 1994), The Motel in America (John Hopkins University Press, 1996), and Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age (John Hopkins University Press, 1998)--- as well as the books Signs in America's Auto Age: Signatures of Landscapes and Places (University of Iowa Press, 2004), Motoring: The Highway Experience in America (University of Georgia Press, 2008), and most recently Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo (University of Illinois Press, 2012). I reviewed this last book this past month.

As I was thinking about Lincoln's upcoming 205th birthday (tomorrow), I still had postcards in mind and thought: are there many motels that carry Lincoln's name? I knew of a few, and I assumed there were (or had been) many more. And I knew that many motels were depicted upon postcards.

I searched eBay and collected a small sample of postcards of motels named for Lincoln. These cards nicely show the variety of architectural styles and motel signage that typify eras of highway travel. I didn't take the time to look online to see how many of these places still operate. There are many other such motels, and surely many more that have carried the man's name because they were on the old Lincoln Highway/U.S. 30. I remember the A. Lincoln Motel on Route 66 in Springfield as much larger (as depicted here) than the older postcard below. The sign outside was notable.

So …. here is my quirky way of commemorating Lincoln's birthday this year. On frigid winter days like these, pictures of old motels can elicit a nice feeling of summery nostalgia for the open road, family trips and vacations past, and in this case, a sense of Lincoln's heritage. What a treat it might be, to relax and sleep at a place named for Honest Abe!

I remember another Lincoln Motel, in my own hometown of Vandalia, Illinois. It stood on St. Louis Avenue (part of the original alignment of U.S. 40). When I was a kid in the 1960s the motel still operated and had a sign along the street, but the sign was removed long ago and, sometime during the late 1990s, the place was razed. It wasn't much larger than 10 or 12 rooms or so and seemed out of place in what was, by then, just a residential neighborhood no longer along a transcontinental highway. The motel was a remnant of earlier days of travel, one of those hometown places you remember when you were little.

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