John Lewis and his six siblings have revived a village of wood and stucco teepees built as an unusual roadside motel by their father more than 50 years ago. Sporting 16 overnight units in the shape of North American Indian teepees, the Wigwam Village offers travelers the opportunity to step back in time and briefly reside in 1950s American kitsch along historic Route 66 in Holbrook, Ariz. (pop. 4,917).
Chester Lewis, Johns father, found his dream on a summer road trip through Horse Cave, Ky., in 1948. Driving along a stretch of Kentucky highway, Chester caught his first glimpse of the Wigwam Villagea roadside motel.
In the 1940s and 50s, family-run, roadside motels were standard fare along many stretches of American highways. But the Wigwam Village was different. It consisted of 10 individual units constructed in the shape of traditional American Indian teepees (strictly speaking, wigwams are dome-shaped). It was the most unusual roadside motel Chester had ever seen, and he wanted to open one himself.
Before my father could build a Wigwam Village back here in Holbrook, he had to find out who owned the patent for the one in Kentucky, and if he could purchase the plans and blueprints for his own hotel in the Arizona desert, Lewis says.
It was Frank Redford who built that first Wigwam Village in Horse Cave, back in 1936and he sold Chester the plans and blueprints. My father sat down with Mr. Redford and they hammered out an agreement in 1948 that allowed my father to use the blueprints and the Wigwam Village name, Lewis recalls. You have to remember that when they talked, the modern concept of franchise and chain motels wasnt in existence.
Months later in 1950, right before the peak of the summer traveling season, Chester opened his Wigwam Village Motel for road weary travelers. It was an instant hitand the royalty system Chester had agreed to with Redford, in exchange for using his building plans, kicked in.
It was about dimeslots of them. Television wasnt common back in the heyday of travel along Route 66. Radio was the king of American entertainment, and for just one dime, travelers could enjoy a half-hour of radio programming in the motel room.
Those were the days when dimes were made from silver, Lewis says. One of my chores was to empty the dimes out of the radios. And all those dimes went to Mr. Redford. That was the deal that allowed my father to build the Wigwam Village Motel on Route 66.
Chesters dream motel lasted for 24 yearsuntil traffic on Route 66 fell off due to the opening of Interstate 40. Travelers driving down Route 66 became scarce and, in 1974, Chester was forced to close the doors to the Wigwam Village Motel.
But the story wasnt over, for though Chester passed away 12 years later, his teepee motel stood in mute testimony to his dream, one strong enough to stand the test of time. In 1988, John and his family swept away the cobwebs covering that dream and reopened Wigwam Village, much to the delight of travelers passing through Holbrook.
Theres something about the idea of sleeping in a teepee that makes you want to pull right in and get one of those cabins once you see them, recalls Jennifer Alden, a resident of McLean, Va. I loved the experience of staying there.
So did Michael Jäger, who lives in Burgwedel, Germany. On a recent motorcycle tour of Route 66, he came across and stayed in the Wigwam Village Motel. It was the charm of sleeping in the Wigwam that lured me to it, Michael says.
With the continued support of its guests and devotion of the Lewis family, the Wigwam Villagewhich was listed on the National Register of Historic Places last yearshould provide a respite for road weary travelers for years to come.