Lodging was an especially important element of the emerging roadside culture, since motorists often needed a place to stay overnight. Accommodations for travelers had existed prior to the automobile era. Taverns and inns provided rest and refreshment to 19th century stage coach and horse/carriage travelers. Hotels located in towns and cities and addressed the needs of those traveling by rail. The motel eventually became the dominant form of lodging for those traveling by car. It developed from a lineage of predecessors that include: autocamps, cabin camps, cottage courts and motor courts. The rise in popularity of motels stemmed from a recognition of automobile traveler’s needs - informality, privacy and convenience. Motels were primarily mom-and-pop owned businesses before corporately-owned chains began to dominate the industry in the 1950s. Kentucky’s motels varied in design during these early stages of roadside lodging, since there was no standard architectural model.
There were very few places for motorists to stay overnight in the early era of auto travel. In the early 1920s, autocamping was the most common way that motorists were able to get rest. Travelers carried tents and camping equipment so that they could stop where it was convenient. To solve the problem of tourists camping anywhere, towns set up free municipal campgrounds. Eventually, a fee was charged to stay at the camps in an effort to control access. Campsites then began catering to the motorist by building cabins which provided crude shelter with dirt floors and minimal furnishings. By the 1930s and early 1940s, Kentuckians recognized that they could profit by building small, individual cottages on their properties to serve auto travelers. These cottages looked like miniature versions of a house. The interiors provided the comforts of home with a full array of furnishings.
The McKenzie Cottage Court located in Mt. Vernon (Rockcastle County) along U.S. 25 was established in 1940 and has 11 units that formed a U-shaped court. Some of the units were individual like the one pictured below, while others were built as a pair. The octagonal shape of the cottage is unusual, but reflects the idea that the design could follow the owner’s whims. Wigwam Village is another example of a cottage court of unusual design.