Since it’s still fall until a week from Friday, I think I can still sneak in some final thoughts on my fall trip, one where much of my time spent in Vermont was in towns such as Manchester, Middlebury, Burlington and Colchester.
Today’s topic, gentle readers, is lodging. Now, as a road guy for Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, I spend quite a few nights in hotel rooms, but these overnighters are in chains such as Holiday Inn Expresses and Drury Inn and Suites.
However, on vacations in New England, while there will be the occasional chain I’ll use, often I will avail myself of those tried and true vacation staples of my youth, those roadside mom and pop motels that sprang up in post-World War II America throughout the country.
It’s been a long time since their zenith in the early ‘60s, and the fact is such operations are definitely on the endangered species list. According to author Mark Okrant, the number of roadside motels has decreased precipitously over time, from 61,000 in 1964 to around 16,000 by 2012.
While in larger cities, I fully understand the franchise hotels, such as the Marriott Delta above Lyon Street in Ottawa, Ontario, where we also stayed, but in our time traveling Vermont’s often two-lane highways, we did use three mom and poppers in between our stops at roadside stands for freshly tapped syrup, our walks beneath the festive leafy canopies in the glorious Green Mountains and our learning about Norman Rockwell, who eschewed his metropolitan lifestyle in his later years to move full time to what was once just a summer retreat in Arlington.
The first mom and pop, in Manchester, was called The Four Winds Country Motel, and the first thing noticed was the cleanliness of the room. Just out the back of my room, through the window, I spied a flock of wild turkeys within 10 feet rooting through the grass, nibbling of something of interest.
While many mom and pop motels don’t come with breakfast, rather just coffee in the room, the next morning, we did get our sit-down breakfast, one prepared by the wife of the family that lived in the back portion of the building with the check-in counter. The family appeared to be of Bedouin descent and multigenerational, with grandparents assisting in running the operation, and the breakfast was both tasty and unique. Besides the standard cold cereal, juice and coffee, there were hard-boiled eggs sitting in steaming hot water and a warmer filled with tater tots, perfect for a guy like me who’s yet to meet a potato he didn’t like!
Our next experience with these quaint reminders of yesteryear came in Middlebury in a motel called the Middlebury Sweets Motel. In the center of the strip of rooms was a candy store, we were told the largest in the state, and each room was decorated with a candy motif. Ours was the Sour Patch Room, with logo throw pillows and lampshades. A small bowl of Sour Patches was on the nightstand between the beds.
Registration was prearranged online by Jane. Not only do you pre-pay with a credit card, but you also fill out available continental breakfast items, which are found upon your check-in in a basket, with the juices and milk in the mini-fridge. There is no key, just a provided door code, so don’t worry about any checkout. If it’s early, no one will be there anyway, at least until the store opens, since that’s where travelers check in. Again, the room was whistle clean. My only suggestion, had there been somebody there when we left, would have been to rename the operation The Suites and Sweets!
Our final mom and pop was in Colchester less than five minutes away from the harbor town of Burlington, which overlooks Lake Champlain. The strip of 12 rooms called The Starlight Inn was right beside a large four-screen drive-in theatre, called The Sunset, which provided an extra dash of nostalgia.
The motel’s motif was Hollywood, with each of 12 rooms named for movie stars and decorated with movie posters and photos of the stars. Jane and I stayed in the very clean Newman and Redford Room, with walls adorned by posters and photos from the duo’s movies.
In talking with the hotel’s owner, who lived up a small hill in a house behind the strip of rooms, I found out this was a classic second-generation operation. The hotel and drive-in were both owned by the son, whose father opened the drive-in in 1948. To make ends meet and keep the drive-in open in an industry hurt so much over time by more and more entertainment options, the son opened the motel a few decades later to provide a winter revenue stream.
If you’re there on a night the drive-in is open, your receipt for the room also is your admission to the drive-in, where you can stay for a double feature. As for breakfast, well, the owner admitted there was none, but he did say there was a reasonably priced diner directly across the road, a place where he said there would even be each morning “the benediction of the eggs”!
It’s nice to know that while mom and pop motels have been pushed towards obsolescence in many parts of the country, in New England, they can still be found, sometimes with breakfast, sometimes with candy and sometimes even with a drive-in movie.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.