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InnRoads--Rail Haven Motel


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    In the days when a Model T was the latest craze and everyone wanted one of those new fangled horseless carriages, it was only natural for new roads to spring up around the country. One of the most famous of those roads was Route 66. It began in Springfield, Missouri on April 30, 1926 when a telegram proclaimed it as "Route 66." Originally it was called "The Great Diagonal Way" but the era's equivalent of public relations people felt Route 66 was more promotable. John Steinbeck named it "the Mother Road" in, Grapes of Wrath. It really was the mother of opportunity for people living in the small towns and cities on its route. They opened restaurants, tourist attractions, and motor courts.  The motor courts and tourist cabins were the lifeblood of the new Route 66. Travelers needed a place to stay. A few are still alive and flourishing.

    Not many have the history that Rail Haven Motel. It opened in 1938 with eight sand-colored cottages set in a field.  Ironically, this was the same year Route 66 was officially finished; the last of the paving being done by Civilian Conservation Corp youth during the height of the Great Depression.

    As car travel became even more common at the end of WWII, Rail Haven expanded to 28 rooms by 1946, the same year Texas hotelier M.K. Guertin formed the blanket group  of independent hotels today known as  Best Western.

    During the 1950s, several celebrities stayed at Rail Haven adding to its cachet. Loretta Young was one "big name" guest but Rail Haven's golden spike came in on May 17, 1956, when an up-and-coming rock ‘n' roll star stayed there almost accidentally.

    Elvis Presley played the Shrine Mosque that day. Never one to put up with anything he didn't like, the soon-to-be King of Rock and Roll got into an argument with this band after the show. He would not stay in the same hotel with them after that. He marched out of the upscale Kentwood Arms and walked down St. Louis Street until he saw the Rail Haven. He checked in and stayed in room No. 409, now named the Elvis Suite. Today, it's the priciest suite at the motel, furnished with a pink Cadillac-themed bed and Elvis photos.

    There is a local tie in here too. John Wilkinson, a Springfield native and Presley rhythm guitarist from 1968 to Elvis's death, died in January 2013 and now has a dedicated room at Rail Haven right next door to the Elvis Room.

    A well documented story is that when Elvis played Springfield, Wilkinson, then just 10 years old, snuck into the King's dressing room at the Shrine Mosque and told him, "Elvis, you can't play guitar worth a damn."

    Elvis apparently took the criticism well since he hired Wilkinson as a guitar player 12 years later.

    No lodging can live on history alone. When I visited Rail Haven several months ago, I was impressed with the decor. It was not fancy but that was good. Fancy would have looked out of place here. What I saw was a motor court of the 1960s but upgraded with modern amenities like WIFI and quiet air conditioning. I had a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a coffeemaker that worked for my tea. The art on the walls showed the era from which the Rail Haven had evolved. There are suites if you need more room and a business center if you need a workspace.

    The exterior was a treasure trove of the '50, classic cars and a real telephone booth. The entrance is a replica of an old time gas station complete with vintage pumps. The spacious pool sits in the middle of a patio perfect for picnics. The breakfast next morning was very generous. It's a real one with eggs and sausage as well as the continental offerings. The breakfast nook adjourning the lobby is done with a black and white tile floor and more vintage art. It would feel right at home in Andy Griffin's Mayberry.

    If you are looking for pretentious, you won't be happy here. Go uptown and book a fancy hotel. If you want an authentic feel of traveling the Mother Road in its heyday, you'll love Rail Haven.

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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