Near Mammoth Cave National Park, there’s a roadside attraction that’s a relic of the early era of American road tripping. Wigwam Village in Cave City is a novelty lodging establishment first built in 1935. The concept was created by Frank Redford, influenced by similar architecture used by roadside businesses in California.
“It was at this period of time that you had two-lane highways,” says Gregory Davis, Executive Director of the Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission. “So the way to get people off the highway to stop at that time was to, you built things that would get people’s attention.”
The Wigwams are 14 feet wide and constructed of steel and concrete. Each holds one or two beds and a private bathroom. The wigwams are arranged in a semi-circle to create a communal, neighborly environment among visitors.
Redford franchised the Wigwam Village concept and ultimately seven of them were built across the country. Three of the original Wigwam Villages are still in operation. Arizona and California are home to the other two.
The Kentucky location still has its original buildings along with the original furniture.
“It’s from Old Hickory Furniture Company out of Indiana,” says Davis. “You’ll find this style of furniture, not only here at the Wigwam Village but also in some of the units still available at Mammoth Cave.”
Although the interstate highway system has changed American traveling culture considerably since the 1930s, Wigwam Village’s vintage appeal in a desirable location continues to draw visitors.
“Cave City exists primarily as a tourist area for one reason, that’s because we’re the gateway to Mammoth Cave National Park,” says Davis. “Mammoth Cave…continues to be the bread and butter of the tourism industry, so we’re just very fortunate to be from this area.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2402, which originally aired on October 13, 2018. Watch the full episode.