The photograph I came across in The Henry Ford’s archives in 1985. /THF120353
Back in 1985, I was looking through The Henry Ford’s archives for images that depicted vacation destinations to complete a museum book I was writing called Leisure and Entertainment in America. There, in our collection, I came across the most amazing photograph of a hotel that I had ever seen. It looked like the outdoors had been brought inside. A great lobby dominated the scene, featuring a mammoth fireplace made of massive boulders. Real, full-size logs supported the balconies that rose several stories. In the midst of all this grandeur, comfortable Mission-style rockers, settees, and handwoven rugs were scattered about.
What was this place? I wondered. Did it still exist? Could I go there?
This was my first encounter with the Old Faithful Inn, which is situated alongside Yellowstone National Park’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful. As it turns out, Old Faithful Inn is quite significant in its own right, as it was not only the first rustic hotel of the Western national parks, but it also set the standard for rustic lodgings and manmade structures in other national parks.
What was the story behind this unique place?
Photographs like this one of Yellowstone Lake, from the 1870s, encouraged early tourism in the park. Note the man fishing, lower left. / THF120349
During the first few decades after Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, accommodations inside the park were, admittedly, spotty. The small number of well-to-do tourists who could afford the trip to Yellowstone during this time expected the pleasures of the high-class, comfortable lodgings they were used to on their European vacations or nearer to home along the East Coast. The first lodgings near Old Faithful were generally ramshackle establishments, built quickly and cheaply. When a lunch station/hotel constructed there in 1884—nicknamed “The Shack”—burned down, park administrators were actually relieved. They had considered it an eyesore.
Before the Old Faithful Inn existed, the Fountain Hotel—typical of Yellowstone hotels at the time—provided comfortable lodging 10 miles north of Old Faithful. / THF203310
Tourism increased when the Northern Pacific Railroad established the “Grand Tour” route through the park for four- to five-day horse-and-carriage tours. At key stops like Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake, the railroad had built some of the nicer hotels in the park. But Old Faithful was located 10 miles south of the route, and comfortable lodgings were already available at the privately-run Fountain Hotel near the Paint Pots (bubbling mud pots) thermal feature. Railroad executives were reluctant to take a chance on building a hotel so far off the beaten track.
Old Faithful was such a dramatic attraction, it is surprising that it was not part of the original Grand Tour route. / THF120359
But, in 1894, park administrators passed a special regulation that lodging could be situated ⅛ of a mile from Old Faithful geyser rather than the usual ¼ mile required between lodgings and natural features. This changed everything. Within a few years, Harry W. Child, entrepreneurial president of the Yellowstone Park Association (which oversaw the Northern Pacific Railroad’s transportation and lodgings), began making plans to build a respectable hotel at Old Faithful. He initially engaged Seattle-based architect A.W. Spalding, who designed a hotel much like the other Yellowstone hotels that were reminiscent of European and East Coast hotels. Spalding’s design was never built, as it apparently did not meet the expectations of railroad executives.
The Saranac Inn, a rustic lodging on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. / THF126056
It was then that Child turned to his young friend—self-taught San Diego-based architect Robert Reamer—to design something more in the manner of rustic “great camps” of the Adirondacks. Combining the influence of California bungalows (especially the idea of bringing the roofline low to the ground) with the rustic trappings of the Adirondack lodge, Reamer designed a hotel that was radically different from anything seen before but seemed to perfectly fit Yellowstone’s exotic setting.
As seen in this 1908–1909 postcard of the front porch, locally obtained lodgepole pines were used for the ground floor of the Inn, while rhyolite rock (which can be glimpsed in the background) formed much of the building’s foundation. /THF120292
Reamer’s design was completed and approved in 1902, and actual construction of the building began in June 1903. It took 13 months to complete, over a long winter that was particularly bitter. About 40 skilled artisans were hired for the work, hailing from nearby Montana towns like West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Livingston. They were a hardy crew, facing many hardships while making swift work of the construction. Materials were mostly obtained nearby, including lodgepole pine and rhyolite rock (an unusual type of rock produced by Yellowstone’s volcanic eruptions). A temporary sawmill was built eight miles to the south to produce the many boards of lumber needed for the project. A Livingston, Montana, blacksmith named George Colpitts and his assistants hand-forged the wrought-iron work for Old Faithful Inn, including the massive front door hardware, the fireplace clock and tools, and all the original guest room door numbers and locks. The total cost of construction was $140,000.
Original façade of Old Faithful Inn, 1905, before the east and West Wings and the extended front porch were added. / THF120361
When it opened on June 1, 1904, Old Faithful Inn was a dramatic tour de force. It seemed rooted in the landscape, as if it had risen directly from the earth. On its exterior, the steep gable roof dominated (for both aesthetic reasons and the very practical one of having to withstand 20-foot drifts of snow in winter). Cedar shingles covered the roof and upper siding, with dormer windows that seemed to pop out in odd places (some were real, others just decorative). The building’s interwoven log construction not only gave it a look of permanence and solidity but also transformed it, in essence, into a gigantic log cabin.
Postcard of the great hall lobby, 1904–1905. / THF120294
Inside, the great hall rose 76½ feet—seven stories in all—with square and diamond windowpanes that filtered light in. Upright poles and beams supporting each balcony were made from lodgepole pine tree trunks, with thick branches attached to the trunks at Y-shaped angles. Balconies and stairways were supported by smaller pine branches found around the area, adding interest with their twisted, curved, and gnarled shapes. A trapeze-like wooden platform near the ceiling of the Inn, called the “Crow’s Nest,” originally held a string quartet—who performed before dinner so guests could mingle, and after dinner when the lobby was transformed into a dance hall. (The Crow’s Nest unfortunately closed when it was deemed unstable after a disastrous earthquake in 1959). The fireplace dominated: 15 by 15 feet at its base, with eight hearths, and rising to a tapered pyramidal shape of 41 feet high. Near the top of it was a huge 14-foot windup clock designed by Reamer. Electric fixtures simulating candlelight were placed discreetly around the space.
Postcard of the dining room at Old Faithful Inn, 1904–1905. / THF120296
Behind the great hall was the dining room, with split logs covering an open-pitched roof. Similar to the great hall, it was also dominated by a massive stone fireplace. Guests originally sat at long, family-style tables and could obtain a meal for 75 cents. A dinner bell atop the Inn’s rooftop summoned guests to dinner.
A typical room for lodgers in the Old House, circa 1905. / THF120355
The lobby and upper mezzanines were filled with Mission-style tables, settees, rockers, desks, and Old Hickory tables and chairs. (Old Hickory was a Martinsville, Indiana, company founded in 1892 that specialized in rustic furniture made out of hickory, with woven, hickory-rushed seats and backs.) One hundred forty log-walled rooms for lodging led off the great hall, on two floors, to the east and to the west. Rooms were furnished simply, with brass, iron, or wood beds; natural wood dressers, chairs, nightstands, and desks; and washstands with chamber pots. Some had cushioned window seats. The rooms had steam heat and sinks with running water (communal bathrooms were, and still are, available down the hall.) This original set of rooms, which cost four dollars per night to lodge in when the Inn opened, became known as the Old House.
It is believed that Harry Child’s wife Adelaide (or Addy), who accompanied her husband on the initial trip to hire Reamer, had a hand in the furnishings, decorations, and details. The delicacy of the balconies, stairway railings, window placements, and Mission-style furniture shows her influence. As a result of this collaboration, both men and women felt comfortable and relaxed here. The Inn, in essence, neutralized gender and class distinctions, encouraging impromptu encounters and informality.
The radically different look of Old Faithful Inn prompted the National Pacific Railroad to justify it in its promotional materials. / THF120290
Old Faithful Inn was different from the usual lodging, and Northern Pacific Railroad promoters figured they had better explain this to potential guests. They wrote this statement in the Inn’s defense when it first opened, just in case guests rejected the notion of a rustic hotel: “The Inn is not in the least a freaky affair…. It is a thoroughly modern and artistic structure in every respect—modern in its appointments and artistic in the carrying out of an unconventional and original scheme.”
They needn’t have worried about guests’ reactions. Old Faithful Inn was an immediate hit with the public. One guest, a Mrs. E.H. Johnson, in 1905, recounted: “And then we came to the Inn, the most unique and perfect place; it is the craftsman’s dream realized. My room alone is a paradise of restfulness though in a rough and rustic fashion…. At luncheon we had another treat. The dining room has its own charm.”
Old Faithful Inn after the new porch and veranda were completed in 1927. / THF120323
Old Faithful Inn was so popular, in fact, that in 1913–1914, 100 guest rooms were added to create the East Wing. And, in 1927, with the increasing number of tourists coming by automobile, 150 more rooms were added to create the West Wing. Although the interiors of these later rooms were more modern than those in the Old House, a consistent look was maintained on the exterior for an overall cohesive effect. A covered porch was added to the front of the building in 1927—again to accommodate automobile traffic—with an open veranda above for viewing Old Faithful eruptions. (For more on the impact of automobiles on the national parks, see my blog post, “Automobiles Enter the National Parks.”)
The rustic Lodge, shown on this Bryce Canyon pennant, was constructed in 1925. / THF239283
Old Faithful Inn really started something. The railroad companies, who had made the Western national parks accessible and controlled many of the concessions in the early parks, realized that the rustic style suited these places, and the style spread quickly—first to the upscale hotels, then to other manmade structures in the parks. The National Park Service, formed in 1916, eventually chose the rustic style as its standard architecture across the entire park system. This style, which colloquially became known as “Parkitecture,” reached its culmination with the Depression-era projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Old Faithful Inn was a very atypical hotel of its era. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness. Old Faithful Inn, the first rustic-style lodge of the West, was designed to fit in and become part of the wilderness experience. Somehow, Robert Reamer recognized this when he created what was truly a one-of-a-kind national park lodging.
Snapshot of the author at Yellowstone National Park in 1985, standing on the Upper Geyser Basin trail with Old Faithful Inn in the background. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden
Soon after I first viewed the image of the Old Faithful Inn lobby in 1985, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park, and we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. Eighty years after that photograph was taken, it was like we had entered it in real life. We stayed in one of those tiny, log-walled, chamber-potted rooms in the Old House. It was noisy but thrilling to be in that room—to become part of that place. We returned to Yellowstone National Park in 2014, almost 30 years later, and have returned year after year since then (except in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We have stayed at the Old Faithful Inn every year—in the Old House, the East Wing, and the West Wing. We plan to stay there again when we return to Yellowstone National Park this summer. Somehow, it always feels comfortable, welcoming, and timeless—like we’re coming home.
Snapshot of the author at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, 2014. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Outside Greenfield Village’s Eagle Tavern, an early 1830s building originally from Clinton, Michigan, is a sign that reads: “Calvin Wood, Caterer.” Yes, Calvin Wood was a real guy—and the tavernkeeper at Eagle Tavern in 1850. The Eagle Tavern building was just a few years old when Calvin Wood and his young family arrived in nearby Tecumseh Township about 1834. Little could Calvin guess that life’s twists and turns would mean that one day he would be the tavernkeeper there!
Why caterer? In the 19th century, a “caterer” meant someone who not only provided food and drink, but who also catered in any way to the requirements of others. Some tavernkeepers, like Calvin Wood, referred to themselves as “caterers.” As Eagle Tavern’s tavernkeeper a few years hence, Calvin Wood would offer a bed for the night to travelers, a place to get a meal or a drink, a place to socialize and learn the latest news, and a ballroom upstairs to hold dances and other community events.
Moving to Michigan
1857 map of portion of Tecumseh Township, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857), highlighted to show Calvin Wood’s farm located southeast of the village of Clinton. Map image from Library of Congress.
In the mid-1830s, Calvin and his wife Jerusha sold their land in Onondaga, New York, and settled on a farm with their children in Lenawee County, Michigan—a few miles south of the village of Clinton and a few miles north of the village of Tecumseh. (Calvin and Jerusha’s children probably numbered four—all but one would die in infancy or childhood.) The Wood family had plenty of company in this journey. From 1830 to 1837, Michigan was the most popular destination for westward-moving settlers caught up in the highly contagious “Michigan Fever.” During this time, the Michigan Territory’s population grew five-fold!
The move to Michigan offered promise, but the years ahead also held misfortune. In the early 1840s Calvin lost Jerusha, and some of their children likely passed away during this time as well. By 1843, Calvin had married for a second time, this time to Clinton resident Harriet Frost Barnum.
Harriet had left New York State with her parents and siblings and settled in Monroe County by 1830. The following year, 19-year-old Harriet married John Wesley Barnum. The Barnums moved to Clinton, where they were operating a “log hotel” along the Chicago Road in the fall of 1835. In October 1836, Wesley Barnum died, leaving Harriet a young widow with two daughters: Irene, age two, and Frances, age four. After their marriage, Calvin and Harriet’s blended household included not only Harriet’s two daughters, but also Calvin’s son. (There may also have been other Wood children in the home as well, though they might have passed away before this time.)
Calvin Wood, Tavernkeeper
In the early and mid-19th century, tavernkeeping was a small and competitive business. It didn’t require much experience or capital, and as a result, most taverns changed hands often. In 1849, farmer Calvin Wood decided to try his hand at tavernkeeping, an occupation he would engage in for five years. Many other tavernkeepers were farmers as well—like other farmer-tavernkeepers, Calvin Wood probably supplied much of the food for tavern customers from his farm. Calvin Wood didn’t run the tavern alone—a tavernkeeper’s family was often deeply involved in business operations as well. And, of course, Calvin’s wife Harriet was the one with previous experience running a tavern! Harriet would have supervised food preparation and the housekeeping. Frances and Irene likely helped their mother and stepfather in the tavern at times. Calvin’s son, Charles, was married and operating his own Tecumseh Township farm by this time.
Residence of F.S. Snow, & D. Keyes, Clinton, Michigan,” detail from Combination Atlas Map of Lenawee County, Michigan, 1874. / THF108376
By the time that Calvin and Harriet Wood were operating the Eagle Tavern, from 1849 to 1854, the first stage of frontier life had passed in southern Michigan. Frame and brick buildings had replaced many of the log structures often constructed by the early settlers twenty-some years before. The countryside had been mostly cleared and was now populated by established farms.
Mail coaches changing horses at a New England tavern, 1855. / THF120729
Detail from Michigan Southern & E. & K. RR notice, April 1850. / THF108378, not from the collections of The Henry Ford
Yet Clinton, whose early growth had been fueled by its advantageous position on the main stagecoach route between Detroit and Chicago, found itself bypassed by railroad lines to the north and south. The Chicago Road ran right in front of the Eagle Tavern, but it was no longer the well-traveled route it had once been. Yet stagecoaches still came through the village, transporting mail and providing transportation links to cities on the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern railroad lines.
Map of Clinton, Michigan, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857). Map image from Library of Congress.
Though Clinton remained a small village, it was an important economic and social link—its businesses and stores still served the basic needs of the local community. During the years that Calvin operated the Eagle Tavern, Clinton businesses included a flour mill, a tannery, a plow factory, a wagon maker, wheelwrights, millwrights, coopers who made barrels, cabinetmakers who made furniture, chair manufacturers, and a boot and shoe maker. Clinton had a blacksmith shop and a livery stable. The village also had carpenters, painters, and masons. Tailors and seamstresses made clothing. A milliner crafted ladies’ hats. Merchants offered the locals the opportunity to purchase goods produced in other parts of the country, and even the world: groceries (like salt, sugar, coffee, and tea), cloth, notions, medicines, hardware, tools, crockery, and boots and shoes. A barber provided haircuts and shaves. Three doctors provided medical care. In 1850, like Calvin and Harriet Wood, most of Clinton’s inhabitants had Yankee roots—they had been born in New York or New England. But there were also a number of foreign-born people from Ireland, Scotland, England, or Germany. At least two African American families also made Clinton their home.
Many of Calvin’s customers were probably people who lived in the village. Others lived on farms in the surrounding countryside. Calvin’s customers would have included some travelers—in 1850, people still passed through Clinton on the stagecoach, in their own wagons or buggies, or on horseback.
Advertisements for Eagle Hotel, Clinton, and The Old Clinton Eagle, Tecumseh Herald, 1850. / THF147859, detail
Though Clinton was a small village, Calvin Wood faced competition for customers—the Eagle Tavern was not the only tavern in Clinton. Along on the Chicago Road also stood the Eagle Hotel, operated by 27-year-old Hiram Nimocks and his wife Melinda. It appears that the Eagle Hotel accommodated boarders as well—seven men are listed as living there, including two of the town’s merchants. These men probably rented bedrooms (likely shared with others) and ate at a common table.
In 1854, Calvin Wood decided that it was time for his five-year tavernkeeping “career” to draw to a close. He and Harriet no longer operated the Eagle Tavern, selling itto the next tavernkeeper. Initially, the Woods didn’t go far. In 1860, Calvin is listed in the United States census as living in Clinton as a retired farmer. Yet Calvin and Harriet Wood soon moved to Hastings, Minnesota, where Harriet’s daughters, now married, resided. There Calvin and Harriet would end their lives, Calvin dying in 1863 and Harriet the following year.
The Wood family tombstone in Brookside Cemetery. / THF148371
You can still pay Calvin a “visit” at Brookside Cemetery in Tecumseh, where he shares a tombstone with his first wife, children, his father, and his brother’s family. For Harriet? You’ll have to make a trip to Hastings, Minnesota.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources, and Lisa Korzetz, Registrar, for assistance with this post.
At a time when Americans are traveling less and the lodging industry is making big changes, let’s take a look back at the story of Kemmons Wilson, whose Holiday Inns revolutionized roadside lodging in the mid-20th century.
In the early days of automobile travel, motorists had few lodging options. Some stayed in city hotels; others camped in cars or pitched tents. Before long, entrepreneurs began to offer tents or cabins for the night.
Auto Campers with Ford Model T Touring Car and Tent, circa 1919 THF105459
More from The Henry Ford: Here’s a look inside a 1930s tourist cabin. Originally from the Irish Hills area of Michigan, the cabin is now on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. For motorists weary of camping out, these affordable “homes away from home” offered a warmer, more comfortable night’s sleep than a tent. You can read more about tourist cabins and see photos of this one on its original site in this blog post.
Soon, “motels” -- shortened from “motor hotels” -- evolved to meet travelers’ needs. Compared to other lodging options, these mostly mom-and-pop operations were comfortable and convenient. They were also affordable. This expert set showcases the wide variety of motels that dotted the American landscape in the mid-20th century.
Crouse's Motor Court, a motel in Fort Dodge, Iowa THF210276
More from The Henry Ford: Photographer John Margolies documented the wild advertising some roadside motels employed to tempt passing motorists (check out some of his shots in our digital collections), and our curator of public life, Donna Braden, chatted with MoRocca about motorists’ early lodging options on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation (you can watch here).
After World War II, more Americans than ever before hit the open road for business and leisure travel. Associations like Best Western helped travelers find reliable facilities, but motel standards were inconsistent, and there was no guarantee that rooms would meet even limited expectations. When a building developer named Kemmons Wilson took a family road trip in 1951, he got fed up with motel rooms that he found to be uncomfortable and overpriced (he especially disliked being charged extra for his children to stay). Back home in Memphis, Tennessee, he decided to build his own group of motels.
As a young man, Wilson (born in 1913) displayed an entrepreneurial streak. To help support his widowed mother, Wilson earned money in many ways, including selling popcorn at a movie theater, leasing pinball machines, and working as a jukebox distributor. By the early 1950s, Wilson had made a name for himself in real estate, homebuilding, and the movie theater business.
Later in life, Kemmons Wilson tracked down his first popcorn machine and kept it in his office as a reminder of his early entrepreneurial pursuits. Detail, THF212457
Kemmons Wilson trusted his hunch that other travelers had the same demands as his own family -- quality lodging at fair prices. He opened his first group of motels, called “Holiday Inns,” in Memphis starting in 1952. Wilson’s gamble paid off -- within a few years, Holiday Inns had revolutionized industry standards and become the nation’s largest lodging chain.
An early Holiday Inn “Court” in Memphis, 1958THF120734
What set Holiday Inns apart? Consistent, quality service and amenities Guests could expect free parking, air conditioning, in-room telephones and TVs, free ice, and a pool and restaurant at each location. And -- Kemmons Wilson determined -- no extra charge for children!
Swimming Pool at Holiday Inn of Daytona Beach, Florida, 1961 THF104037
Thanks to the chain’s reliable offerings (including complimentary toiletries!), many guests chose a Holiday Inn for every trip.
Inspired by Holiday Inns’ success, competitors began offering many of the same services and amenities. Kemmons Wilson had set a new standard -- multistory motels with carpeted, air conditioned rooms became the norm.
"Sol-Mar Motel," an example of a Holiday Inn-style motel in Jacksonville Beach, Florida THF210272
Kemmons Wilson knew location was key. He chose sites on the right-hand side of major roadways (to make stopping convenient for travelers) and took risks, buying property based on plans for the new Interstate Highway System.
Holiday Inn adjacent to highways in Paducah, Kentucky, 1966 THF287335
Holiday Inns’ iconic “Great Signs” beckoned travelers along roadways across the country from the 1950s into the 1980s. Kemmons Wilson’s mother, Ruby “Doll” Wilson, selected the sign’s green and yellow color scheme. She also designed the décor of the original Holiday Inn guestrooms!
Holiday Inns unveiled a new "roadside" design in the late 1950s: two buildings -- one for guestrooms and one for the lobby, restaurant, and meeting spaces -- surrounding a recreational courtyard. These roadside Holiday Inns featured large glass walls. The inexpensive material lowered construction costs while creating a modern look and brightening guestrooms. The recreated Holiday Inn room in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation demonstrates the “glass wall” design. Take a virtual visit here.
Holiday Inn Courtyard, Lebanon, Tennessee, circa 1962 THF204446
After becoming a public company in 1957, Holiday Inns developed a network of manufacturers and suppliers to meet its growing operational needs. To help regulate and maintain standards, property managers (called “Innkeepers”) ordered nearly everything -- from linens and cleaning supplies to processed foods and promotional materials -- from a Holiday Inns subsidiary. This menu, printed by Holiday Inns’ own “Holiday Press,” shows how nearly every detail of a guest’s stay -- even meals -- met corporate specifications.
Holiday Inn Dinner Menu, February 15, 1964 THF287323
By the 1970s, with more than 1,400 locations worldwide, Holiday Inns had become a fixture of the global and cultural landscape. Founder Kemmons Wilson even made the cover of Time magazine.
We hope his story inspires you to make your own mark on the American landscape -- or at least take a fresh look at the roadside the next time you’re out for a drive, whether down the street or across the country!
Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford, has happy poolside memories from a childhood stay at one of Holiday Inns’ family-friendly “Holidome” concepts. For more on the Holiday Inn story, check out chapter 9 of "The Motel in America," by John Jakle, Keith Sculle, and Jefferson Rogers.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve digitized a couple of groupings from the John Margolies Roadside America collection: slides and travel-related pennants, both documenting the strange and interesting sights one would have found along the American roadside in the mid-20th century. This week we’ve added one more category from the same collection: do-not-disturb signs from hotels and motels, collected by John Margolies and mostly dating between 1920 and 1970. The example shown here, likely from the late 1930s or 1940s, advises hotel staff to “go ‘way and let me sleep.” Selections from this collection will be featured in the upcoming Margolies exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum a bit later this year. In the meantime, visit our collections website to browse additional “do not disturb” signs.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Edsel Ford commissioned Charles Hart, a New York-based architect affiliated with the Treadway Service Company to reproduce a group of late 18th- and early 19th-century houses for an addition to the Dearborn Inn. Dearborn-based landscape architect Marshall Johnson prepared this rendering. The aerial photograph shows the Inn from the southwest, one year before construction. Note the adjacent Ford Airport and the clock tower of Henry Ford Museum in the background. (Left: Object ID P833.63669E, THF107996; Right: Object ID 59.13.2)
This is the third of three blog entries on objects related to the Dearborn Inn in the collections of The Henry Ford. The first centered on a remarkable scrapbook documenting the original furnishings of the Inn, which opened in 1931. The second concerned Edsel Ford’s pivotal role in commissioning the Inn and hiring the L.G. Treadway Service Company to furnish and manage it.
By late 1935, Edsel Ford, in consultation with the L.G. Treadway Company of New York City, was hard at work on a plan to add additional accommodations. A promotional brochure published by Treadway sums up the need for expansion:
“The Inn eventually became so popular that additional guest rooms were necessary. As the architectural plan of the Inn would not, with good taste or economic soundness, allow an addition, it was decided, after a thorough survey of the problem, to build separate cottages, or houses, to accommodate travelers. To be in keeping with the traditional environment these should be, externally, exact replicas of houses famous in American history, and, inside, afford the same comfort as enjoyed by guests at the Inn. The scheme calls for several houses to be grouped harmoniously as a Colonial Village.”
The brochure goes on to state that the landscape was to be carefully arranged, “such as might have grown around the original houses.”
A series of telegrams between A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, and architect Charles Hart documents the design approval process.
Landscape design proposalssubmitted to Edsel Ford for the “Colonial Village” at the Dearborn Inn.
Work on the “Colonial Village” progressed through the winter and spring of 1936. A series of landscape designs were submitted to Edsel Ford for his approval. In mid-March a meeting among Edsel Ford, architect Charles Hart, and landscape architect Marshall Johnson was held in Dearborn. Ultimately the designs, including swimming pools and a bath house, were scaled down to just five houses: the Barbara Fritchie House, from Frederick, Maryland, the Governor Oliver Wolcott House, from Litchfield, Connecticut, the Patrick Henry House, from Red Hill, Virginia, the Edgar Allan Poe House from the Bronx, New York, and the Walt Whitman Birthplace, from Huntington, Long Island, New York. Selection of these houses for a “Colonial Village” seems questionable when one considers that three of the famous individuals, Barbara Fritchie, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, were active in the 19th century, long past the colonial period. Perhaps the selection of these figures relates to romantic perceptions of American history in the 1930s, combined with an interest in the broader “Colonial” past.
Correspondence between Charles Hart and A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, suggesting purchase of the original Walt Whitman Birthplace for Greenfield Village.
A fascinating exchange between Charles Hart and A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, in late April and early May, 1936, suggests that there was discussion between Edsel Ford and Hart about purchasing the original Walt Whitman Birthplace, located in Huntington, Long Island, New York, for Greenfield Village. The Birthplace was currently on the market for $30,000. Hart states that Edsel Ford asked him “. . .to hold up on this particular house until you had a chance to talk with your Father [sic] to determine whether he would be interested in the purchase of it for his Greenfield Village.” The response was that the house would not be “further considered, as it has been determined that the price is too high.” In this exchange, the bath house and pool were likely eliminated as well, because of the high cost.
Over the summer and fall of 1936 the five reproduction houses were completed at the rear of the Inn. The houses opened for guests in the spring of 1937. Interiors were filled with reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century furnishings, updated to the needs and comfort of the discriminating traveler of the 1930s: promotional brochures boasted that the houses were outfitted with radios, telephones, and private bathrooms in each suite.
The Treadway Company managed the Inn and the “Colonial Village” for just three more years, until 1939, when their contract expired. The Inn and the reproduction homes have endured and prospered over the decades. Today, visitors to Dearborn may experience these houses in much the same manner as guests in the 1930s. Fortunately for us, the Marriott Corporation, who manages the Village and Inn, have maintained the high standards set in the 1930s.
For more insights on the Inn and “Colonial Village”, take a look at Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Edsel Ford and Henry Ford II at the National Air Tour, Ford Airport, Dearborn, 1928. Sponsored in part by Ford, the National Air Tour brought pilots and visitors to Dearborn in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The need to house guests and participants was one of the factors that led to the construction of the Dearborn Inn. (Object ID P.O.8527)
This is the second of three blog posts on objects related to the Dearborn Inn in the collections of The Henry Ford. The first concerned a remarkable scrapbook documenting the original furnishings of the Inn, which opened in 1931.
In the first piece, I discussed the unique nature of the Dearborn Inn, intended as an airport hotel and as a “front door” for visitors to our campus, Ford Motor Company and the Dearborn community. What I did not address was who conceived of the Inn and oversaw the project to its fruition. That individual was Edsel Ford. While it is generally acknowledged that Edsel Ford was a pivotal figure in the management of the Ford enterprise, individual achievements are rarely accorded to him. In the case of the Dearborn Inn, it is generally considered to be the conception of Henry Ford. While researching the scrapbook, I ran across reminiscences in our archives of Ernest Gustav Liebold (1884-1956), who served as Henry Ford’s executive secretary and financial manager. Mr. Liebold oversaw nearly all of Henry Ford’s business outside of Ford Motor Company. Mr. Liebold categorically states that the idea for the Dearborn Inn came from Mr. Edsel Ford. He continues to briefly discuss the construction of the Inn, specifically the interaction of architect Albert Kahn’s office with the Ford organization. Finally, Mr. Liebold states the following:
“Mr. Edsel Ford brought in Treadway to operate the Dearborn Inn. He also had Treadway at his Inn up in Maine. (Edsel Ford owned a large summer home near Seal Harbor, Maine.) Edsel bought it shortly after Mr. (Henry) Ford bought the Wayside Inn (in Sudbury, Massachusetts). He had that as an inn of his own, and Treadway operated it. Treadway was brought here at the same time and given a contract, I think for five years.”
This statement led me to investigate the Treadway Inn and its history. According to The Motel in America (1996) Treadway Inns were America’s earliest motel chain. They were founded accidentally by Mr. L.G. Treadway. In 1912 he took over operations at the Williams Inn at Williamstown, Massachusetts. (This inn continues today.) It was an old coaching inn, dating back to the early 19th century. Under Treadway’s management, the establishment was attractive, comfortable, and provided good meals. Treadway’s innovation came in 1920 when he and the owners of inns in nearby towns, specifically the Ashfield House of Ashfield, Massachusetts, and the Dorset Inn of Dorset, Vermont, combined resources. Guests were recommended to the associated inns, and employee exchanges took place. The three inns found economies of scale by combining advertising and purchasing; the resulting increase in business and decrease in costs brought increased profits – the affiliation grew into a chain, with many other New England inns added over time.
Each inn maintained its own character, but they all shared comfort, good food and efficiency. They did not attempt to duplicate the hotels of big cities, but rather extend to all travelers old-fashioned rural New England hospitality. Once established, the chain made its headquarters, ironically, in New York City and always included the trademark, “The Real New England Inns” with a distinctive logo of a colonial innkeeper pointing with a cane in the left hand, lantern held high in his right.
While traveling from Michigan to his summer home in Maine, Edsel Ford likely encountered the Treadway chain. After experiencing “The Real New England Inns” it must have been a foregone conclusion for Edsel Ford to invite Treadway to manage the Dearborn Inn. According to articles in Ford News, Ford Motor Company’s in-house magazine, announcing the Inn’s opening in the summer of 1931, a number of the Inn’s staff was recruited from Treadway Inns throughout New England.
Reproduction 18th and 19th century furniture filled the public and guest rooms of the Dearborn Inn (Object ID 59.13.7).
The Dearborn Inn differed from typical Treadway Inns in a major way – it was a totally new construction. In keeping with their corporate identity, the Treadway staff sought to recreate interiors reminiscent of a New England inn, filling the public and guest rooms with reproduction 18th and 19th century furniture.
The Treadway firm managed the Dearborn Inn until 1939, when the contract with Ford was not renewed. A subsidiary of Ford known as Seaboard properties operated the Inn until 1983, when the Marriott Corporation took over.
This 1966 brochure for the Treadway Publick House, at the Old Sturbridge Village living history museum, documents a typical Treadway Inn property. It was described as “A 1771 Coaching Tavern,” and visitors had the option of staying in the Inn, Treadway House (a “Colonial Farmhouse”) or the adjacent, modern Treadway Motor Inn. (Object ID 90.281.40).
Following World War II, Treadway changed with the times and oriented itself to the automobile traveler. While maintaining “The Real New England Inns” trademark and logo, they added motor inns across the northeast and north-central United States. In 1971, the firm turned to franchising, reaching a peak of 55 inns by the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, like many aging motel chains, including competitor Howard Johnson’s, the firm sold many properties, eventually liquidating the entire chain. Today, only one hotel, in Oswego, New York, operates under the Treadway name. Many of the original coaching inns, like the Williams Inn in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Publick House in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, continue to operate as independent inns.
For more insights on the Dearborn Inn and lots of great images, take a look at Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
A Scrapbook Documenting the Original Interiors of the Dearborn Inn
One of the great attractions in Dearborn, inextricably linked with Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, is the Dearborn Inn. A unique historic institution, the hotel was conceived by Edsel and Henry Ford as their vision of a “real New England Inn” welcoming travelers transiting through the Ford Airport, located adjacent to the Inn, across Oakwood Boulevard. Within several years of the inn’s opening in 1931, the airport closed as Ford exited the aviation business. The inn, however, has endured and prospered, as a first-class hostelry serving visitors to The Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company and the Dearborn community. The building, designed by noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn, was created as his update of an 18th- or early 19th-century New England inn, complete with all of the conveniences necessary for the discriminating traveler in the 1930s. Henry and Edsel Ford viewed the inn very much as the “front door” of Dearborn to the rest of the world, and they gave Albert Kahn and his designers free rein to create a singular structure.
The management of the inn was contracted to the L. G. Treadway Service Company of New York City, which operated a chain of historic inns in New England. The Treadway Company was responsible for the interior arrangements, subcontracting the furnishings to a variety of sources, local and national. Most of the furnishings were reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century antiques according to Treadway’s advertisements. Today, the inn is operated by the Marriott Hotel Corporation, which maintains the high standards of décor, ambience and service set during the 1930s.
I was first introduced to the Dearborn Inn in the summer of 2008, when I interviewed for my current position at The Henry Ford. Having come from a similar curatorial position in New England, I was familiar with real 18th-century inns, including the first inn of the Treadway chain. I was charmed by the 1930s “Colonial Revival” ambiance of the Dearborn Inn and the conscientious service that the Marriott Corporation maintains. When you walk into the elegant lobby and are warmly greeted by the staff, it seems like time stands still. Now that I am a five-year resident of the community, I continue to visit the inn on special occasions and make it a point to bring out-of-town guests there.
One of the many joys of working at The Henry Ford is the opportunity to make new discoveries in our vast collections. This is a story of one of these discoveries.
In the late summer of 2012, the Museum’s Chief Registrar brought a large loose-leaf scrapbook containing a variety of photos, ledger pages, correspondence, fabric samples, design renderings, and floor plans. All of the individual samples were carefully identified as to their location in the building, the name of supplier, and item or model number. Several pages are accounting price lists for each room. The samples were meticulously arranged, most as overlays, and glued into the cardboard pages. Nearly all of the glue on the samples had dried out over the decades and the samples were loose
Even after a cursory examination it was clear that this was a careful documentation of every aspect of the furnishings to the smallest detail. Over time, the pages were shuffled out of order, making a clear examination nearly impossible. Nevertheless, our Registrar believed that this scrapbook documented the original furnishing plan of the Dearborn Inn.
Examining the scrapbook was at once a delight and a challenge – after carefully arranging and rearranging the loose items, concurrently shuffling through pages, we stumbled on the index page, which was the “Smoking Gun” identifying the Dearborn Inn. We can only surmise the original purpose of the scrapbook, perhaps as an aid to staff in reordering furniture and fixtures, carpets, wallpaper and draperies that had worn or broken through heavy use in a commercial environment The text on the index page states, “This collection of pictures, cuts, drawings, samples and swatches is to be used in connection with the complete itemized inventory of Dearborn Inn equipment and furnishings (bound separately), [sic] and file of Purchase Orders and Invoices." To date, we have not located those documents.
Once we located the index, we quickly reassembled the scrapbook into its original arrangement and began the process of evaluating this treasure.
Possibly the most interesting item included is found on the second page, following the index: A bound copy of the trade publication Hotel Monthly from August 1931, includes a feature article on constructing and furnishing the Dearborn Inn. The index describes that it “contains valuable reference material”. The article goes into great technical detail on the construction, emphasizing the modern features found in the inn.
My favorite pages are two-page spreads illustrating the original lobby in photographs and the blueprint of the furniture arrangement. What is truly amazing are the fabric and wallpaper swatches. When one compares them with the black and white photographs, one gains a true sense of the colors and textures of the lobby. On separate pages are photographs of individual pieces of furniture. This partner’s desk and the chest of drawers are still in the lobby.
The use of reproduction antiques is best seen in the guest rooms. This is described as the “Mahogany Bedroom” and contains a group of 18th-century high style pieces including a slant-front desk and tea table and wing chairs. These are mixed with vernacular Windsor and "Hitchcock" chairs. The botanical wallpaper is reminiscent of an 18th-century print.
In all, the scrapbook is a wonderful record of a truly remarkable structure. The images presented here are the highlights, intended to provide a glimpse into a genteel past. As I mentioned, the inn remains a bastion of 1930s service, décor and gentility.
For a detailed history of the Dearborn Inn throughout its history, the best source is Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts. The Dearborn Inn scrapbook has opened up exciting new areas of research. While documenting the scrapbook, Charles discovered new stories of the Dearborn Inn's past. He continues telling these stories in future installments.
Summer is here, and many of us look forward to an escape from the daily grind with some relaxation and down time. Our thoughts turn to sandy beaches, summer cottages, picnics.
Today, Internet reservation systems and freeway exit signs make it easy to find lodging on route to our final destination. Except for the venerable old hotels in cities and resort areas, most roadside lodgings are pretty much the same: branded national chains that offer few surprises.
The rise: Motels spring up across America
There was once a time when every roadside lodging was unique. These were the “mom-and-pop” motels that dotted every highway across the country. They had their origins in the 1920s and 1930s with the primitive tourist cabins similar to the one from the photograph from our collections pictured above. These cabins offered the privacy and shelter lacking in the earlier auto camps.
Tourist cabins and cottages were increasingly clustered together into larger tourist courts such as the one depicted on this postcard. They featured enhanced amenities such as private showers, gas pumps and lunch rooms. When tourist court owners realized they could save money by stringing together rooms into single integrated units - the motel was born.
The golden age
After World War II, thousands of new motels beckoned motorists with their bold, colorful signs and unique versions of homey comfort.
Today, these postcards offer silent testimony to the many varieties in motel design.
On the backs of many of these postcards, we get an idea of the once-modern amenities proudly described by motel owners. Features such as tiled bathrooms and thermostatic controlled heat to carpeted floors and Sealy or Beauty-Rest mattresses, are just a few.
Artifacts of motels of the past
In addition to motel postcards from past vacations, what other material evidence survives today from this golden age? We asked this question when we installed a small display of motel items for our Driving America exhibition that opened in January. What items conveyed both the national popularity of motels and the unique attributes of each motel? Here are some of our finds:
Today, we are handed electronic key cards programmed to open the door to our room. Once returned, they can be re-programmed to open someone else’s room the very same day.
Although each motel room key was unique, this example from the Sea Breeze Motel depicts a popular example. If you forgot to return your key at check out, a message on the oversized key fob encouraged you to just drop it in the nearest mailbox with return postage guaranteed.
Ashtrays and matches
With the popularity of cigarette smoking, motel owners did their best to prevent cigarette burns on furniture, carpets and mattresses by providing ashtrays such as this one from the Westward Ho Motel. Savvy owners didn't miss the opportunity to throw in a little advertising as well.
Matchbooks like these three examples were ubiquitous at this time with the expectation that smokers would pocket them for later use.
Put out by match companies, these free throw-away souvenirs offered advertising for both the motel and the match producer.
Also realizing the lucrative benefits of advertising, soap companies produced pocket-sized versions of their soaps for motels, like these examples.
It wasn't uncommon at the time for the soap company’s name or logo to be larger than the name of the motel.
The fall: Inns are in
Motels thrived during the 1950s and 1960s, but by the end of that time, many had fallen on hard times. Ongoing maintenance was expensive and travelers had come to expect more. We can thank Kemmons Wilson for heightening travelers' expectations with the franchising of his Holiday Inn - a new lodging concept that began in 1957 - enticing customers with its flashy neon signs.
Every Holiday Inn promised the same deluxe amenities—free in-room TV and telephone, air conditioning, free ice, a family restaurant and swimming pool. Soon other chains followed suit. Privately owned motels run on modest budgets by hard-working families or couples just couldn’t compete. By the 1980s, the golden age of motels was pretty much a thing of the past.
Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She enjoys sleuthing classic motels on Route 66, and has even stayed in a few!