Ultra Modern – Air Conditioned

With automobiles come tourists. And tourists need places to go. Morrison County was (and is) the heart’s delight for tourism promoters from the earliest days of auto travel. From the Jefferson Highway International Tourist Guide published in 1923, visitors were urged to enjoy Morrison County’s hunting, fishing, and camping. The health effects of a trip to the county were also touted. “A vacation of this kind in the pine forests around our lakes will put new pep into you, clear out your soot lined lungs, put color in your face and red corpuscles in your blood.”

When motoring tourists came to Morrison County to seek their “red corpuscles,” they had to have a place to stay. Thus were born cabin camps. Cabin camps were also called motor courts, tourist camps, tourist cottages, and tourist courts. They were the forerunner to motels. The difference between cabin camps and hotels was the tourist’s access to his automobile. Cabin camps had individual cabins that allowed only a door to separate one from his car, whereas with a hotel, there was a main entrance, lobby, and staircase to contend with. Early motels also gave tourists direct access from their rooms to the parking lot, but the rooms were attached to one another as a long building, rather than standing alone as individual cabins.

Morrison County had several cabin camps, many of which eventually became motels. Shady Oaks Cabins were located in Royalton. A 1948 phone directory ad showed that Leo B. Mulligan was the owner. George and Rose Moscher owned tourist cottages in Motley according to a 1949-50 directory.

Little Falls had most of the cabin camps in the county, including the Shady Pine, the Maple Leaf, the Smithville, the Spanish Village, and the Wigwam. Each of these has its own extensive history, with several name changes and owners. Motels in Morrison County include the Bel-Air, the Innsbrook, the Knotty Pine, the Pine Edge Motel, the Super 8, AmericInn, and Country Inn & Suites. The Super 8, AmericInn, and County Inn & Suites actually return to a hotel format by bringing back a lobby and having doors to rooms on the insides of the buildings, instead of having doors open onto parking lots.

In researching cabin camps and motels, phone directory yellow pages were an excellent source of information. The ads showed when new owners took over (and frequently named those owners), when remodeling took place, and the amenities offered by cabin camps and motels. A drawback to yellow pages ads is that if a business decided not to advertise, historical information has to be gathered from other sources.

For example, the Shady Pine Cabin Camp was opened in 1932 by Fred Bergstrom. He ran the camp until 1938, but advertising for the place doesn’t appear until 1939, when P.G. and Alta Nichols bought it. Fred Bergstrom’s daughter, Doris, provided some of the early history for the Shady Pine. She said that the neighbors across the street saw the success of the Shady Pine Cabin Camp and decided to start their own . . . the MapleLeaf Cabin Camp. Doris went on to say that the woman who ran the Maple Leaf at the time would come into the street and attempt to steer tourists away from the Shady Pine toward the Maple Leaf.

All of the cabin camps and motels were in direct competition with one another for tourist dollars. Through their advertising, each place tried to surpass the others in the amenities they offered to visitors. Being “modern” or “ultra modern” was critical for every era in the lodging business. A 1938/39 directory ad for the Spanish Village Cabins promotes their modernity (“furnished or unfurnished”) every bit as plainly as later ads. After all, what tourist wants to sleep in a dive, especially an unmodern one?

By following the amenities listed in phone directories, a pattern of technological advancement appears. The earliest ads offer oil heat, innerspring or Beauty Rest mattresses, heated and tiled baths, toilets, kitchenettes or housekeeping cabins, running water, showers, trailer parking, and year-round hours. At the Shady Pine Cabin Camp, P.G. Nichols also offered a “free display of 10,000 Indian relics, fossils, minerals & old guns.” In 1956, the Bel-Air listed “modern units with TV or Radio” as an amenity. Telephones appear in the Oaks Motel ad in 1961. (The Oaks Motel appears to be a later incarnation of the Shady Oaks in Royalton.) Carpeting, cable and color television, AAA approval, ice, and reasonable rates surface around the same time as telephones. Air conditioning first shows up in a 1970 ad for the Pine Edge Inn. It is such an important amenity that by the 1980s, all the motels have it and mention it in their ads.

The Pine Edge Inn, which is a hotel, also had a motel associated with it. The motel was across the street and the hotel promoted the motel by allowing it to borrow amenities. Visitors to the motel could use the heated pool, three dining rooms, and cocktail lounge at the hotel. This “borrowing” of amenities is a frequent occurrence in lodging ads. Many mention nearby eateries, shopping, and landmarks, such as the Mississippi River, St. Gabriel’s Hospital, and the VFW.

Listed below are amenities that many of us are now familiar with and the dates they first appear in yellow pages ads: Coffee served in rooms (1974), waterbeds (1978), acceptance of credit cards (1979), toll-free reservation phone numbers (1981), non-smoking rooms, remote control TV, massage showers (all appear in 1983), touch-tone phones (1984/85), queen-size beds (1985/86), free continental breakfast (1991/92), microwaves and refrigerators in rooms (1993/94), fax service, indoor pool and spa (1997/98), web site address to contact motel, and hair dryers in all rooms (1999/2000).

The amenity that no tourist should take for granted, however, was not found in any advertising. When the Shady Pine Cabin Camp opened, it was common for travelers to bring along their own linens to use on their beds. For twenty-five cents, those who did not have their own linens could rent them for the night from the Bergstroms. Who needs “ultra modern, air conditioned” when there are clean sheets on the bed?

By Mary Warner
Copyright 2002, Morrison County Historical Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *