Horseshoe Camp Modern Cottages on US 31W near Bowling Green in Warren County.  June 10, 2004.  12:31 p.m. CDT.


     Before Interstate highways were built, starting in the early 1960s, two-lane US routes handled the heavy traffic of vacationers traveling north and south, and east and west.
     US 31W was one of Kentucky's main north-south highways in the two-lane days.  Still in existence, it is one of a pair of highways (the other being US 31E) that run parallel from Louisville to Nashville.  Together, though they are separated by several miles, US 31W and US 31E comprise a section of US 31, which stretches from the shore of Lake Michigan near Chicago to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama.

     It is hard to overstate just how busy and dangerous America's major two-lane highways were in those days, the late 1940s through the late 1960s.  During summer vacation season, the main roads were virtually bumper-to-bumper with big sedans speeding up and down the narrow strips at 65 miles per hour.  Few cars had air-conditioning; long-distance travelers were hot and dirty all day long.  There weren't any seatbelts, there weren't any airbags.  Huge sedans and station wagons, backseats filled with screaming little Baby Boomers, handled like dumptrucks.  Nerves were frayed.  Traffic deaths in the United States peaked during this era.

     When it was time to stop for the night, travelers generally took what they could get.  During the busy season, even the rattiest of motels flashed "No Vacancy" signs by 6 p.m.  Many a family had to spend the night in the car on the side of the road because there wasn't any room at the inn.
     Horseshoe Camp Modern Cottages, in the photo above, was not a ratty motel.  Even now, it's easy to see that it was a sort of Holiday Inn of its day.  Like many other motels of the time, each unit was a separate cottage.  There were about 20 cottages, shielded from the busy highway by the motel's main building, which was a combination office/restaurant/gas station.
     The main building, the cottages, and a house for the owner or manager (just out of the photo, to the left) all were faced with native limestone.  That's a common construction technique in Western Kentucky, practical and decorative at the same time.  The chimney with its castle-like peaks is particularly striking.
     To the right of the motel is a large yard, which would have been a picnic and playground area for the guests.  It's all grown up in weeds now, but hundreds of perennial flowers--daylilies, yuccas and the like--survive and still bloom every year.  A low stone wall separates the yard from the highway.

     The day this picture was shot, a woman who lives in a large new house across the road told me that she had heard the old motor court was going to be demolished soon.  She didn't say how she felt about that, one way or the other.

Other photos of this subject:
(click on the thumbnail)


Here's a view of flowers in the side yard, and the large "motel" sign, visible to traffic traveling south on US 31W.

Links to more about this subject :
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1) The Kentucky Heritage Council website has a section on roadside architecture, including photos and other information about the evolution of motels, gas stations, restaurants, etc.
More location information:
Horseshoe Camp Modern Cottages is on US 31W about five miles east of Bowling Green, which is the seat of Warren County in the south-western part of the state. 
The photo at the top of this page is a panorama made by combining two smaller pictures. 
Posted July 2, 2004.