A series of distinctive landmarks that were erected on historic U.S. Route 66 and other early highways to house tourists who were making their way between Los Angeles and Chicago, the end points of the highway, the Wigwam Motels (or Wigwam Villages) were patented by Frank A. Redford.
Though they’re modeled and named after traditional shelters used by Native American tribes, the U.S. Patent Office decided that Redford’s application was original enough and earned a distinction in February 1936. Despite the name, Redford’s structures look nothing like wigwams, which are round, domed shelters used by a number of northeastern Native American tribes. They are instead modeled after tipis, tall conical tents traditionally used by Indigenous people of the Great Plains. Tipis are a popular, and sometimes co-opted, symbol of Native identity.
Seven wigwam villages were built between 1936 and the 1950s, but only a couple of them still survive. Although it is not located on historic U.S. Route 66, Wigwam Village #2, on US 31W in Cave City, Kentucky, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 1988; it is one of the few to survive, along with Wigwam Village #6 in Arizona and Wigwam Village #7 in California. Built in 1937, #2 consisted of 15 wigwams used as guest rooms and a much larger concrete and steel central structure that originally served as a restaurant. Each has a paved area for one car and, altogether, they encircle a recreation and playground area.
Each structure in Cave City has a base diameter of 14 feet and stands 32 feet tall. The majority of the space is taken up by one large main room, behind which sits a small bathroom complete with sink, toilet, and shower. In 2008, all of the rooms were restored with hickory furniture, an air conditioning unit, and cable TV. While the restaurant has since closed down—not enough potential customers use the old Route 69 anymore—the motel still operates and is open for visitors.
Know Before You Go
On I-65 exit 53. Drive east about a half-mile to US Hwy 31 W. Take the first left and Wigwam Village is a mile or two on the left.