Route 66 in the News

Memory Wall Holds Treasures

2011-08-31 18:25:01

LITCHFIELD, Ill. - Tucked away in the main office at the Holiday Inn Express in Litchfield, is a treasure trove of Route 66 memorabilia dating back to the 1960s.

Sisters and hotel owners Jane Martin and Nancy Hyam, created the wall as a tribute to their parents, Lorman and Dorothy Mansholt, who bought their first Litchfield hotel, the 66 Motel Court in 1963.

"We did it for our parents," Martin said. "We just had to get some things out of boxes and on display."

The wall, which has shelves built into the office, starts with memorabilia from the 66 Motel Court, which was originally located across from where Niehaus Cycle Sales is today.

The Mansholt couple purchased the hotel in 1963, when Nancy was just two and Jane was five. Their home was located just behind the motel, and featured an intercom to the house in case guests needed something. The only time the motel was ever closed was on Sunday mornings when the family went to church together.

When the 66 Motel Court was open, guests came into the lobby for ice, a telephone booth and a black and white television since it was not available in the individual rooms.

"It was kind of like the great rooms that hotels have now," Hyam said.

Each room featured monogrammed towels and sheets, which are among the collectibles featured on the office wall. They also have hotel soap, an ice bucket and an oscillating fan, as none of the rooms had air conditioning.

Just below the fan is a wooden key box, which used to hold all the motel's room keys in a time before electronic keys.

"We used actual keys up until the 66 Motel Court closed, as well as handwritten statements and receipts," Hyam said.

Sitting on top of the key boxes is a novelty item, "magic fingers," which would vibrate a hotel bed for just a quarter. That remains a favorite among the saved memorabilia.

The sisters can also remember when it cost only $6.18 to rent a room, including $1.05 extra to have color television in the room.

Their mom, Dorothy did all the bookkeeping and cleaning for the hotel, while their dad, Lorman, did all the maintenance work.

He kept a detailed calendar every year including the work he did each and every day, and some of those calendars remain part of the memorabilia wall. Entries read things like "tiled in room 203, painted in 206."

"Our children really loved looking through that," Hyam said.

One thing they would like to add to the collection is some of the pink and green metal tile from the hotel's bathroom, that is still in storage somewhere.

The Mansholt family operated the 66 Motel Court in Litchfield until the mid-1980s, when it was sold.

Just prior to that in 1978, the family purchased the Gardens restaurant, from Opal Simpson, who had operated it for 15 years. They operated the restaurant and Best Western Hotel for 25 years.

Among the treasures from the restaurant are the butcher block, where all the meat was cut and prepared, a french fry maker and a milkshake maker. They also saved bar glasses, an invitation from their first New Year's Eve party, and a menu they found from Mother's Day in the 1960s.

The wall also features some of the original wallpaper from the banquet room and many pictures of the interior.

From the hotel, they saved some of the original soap, a rotary-dial phone, many of the brochures and travel guides from the lobby and even a manual route finder (similar to modern-day GPS), which sat on the front counter.

One picture frame features an evolution of the hotel's various bedspreads, which changed about as many times as the hotel's logo.

"We watched the Best Western logo change four times during our time there," Martin said.

They added a second building including 40 more rooms to the hotel in the 1980s, before selling it in 2001. It is now an America's Best Value Inn. The Mansholt family sold the Gardens restaurant in 2003.

Martin and Hyam have a few collectibles from Westside Cinema, located just behind the hotel, which was opened in 1985. They kept some of the theater's original wall hangings as well as some film strips.

In 2000, the sisters opened the Baymont Inn, which was converted into a Holiday Inn Express in November 2005.

Collectibles from these hotels are more modern, like electronic keycards and aerial photos of the hotel. The wall also features several of the awards they have won from Best Western, Baymont and Holiday Inn.

They said it seems hard to believe it's been nearly 50 years since their parents purchased that first motel in 1963. Lorman and Dorothy took a correspondence course in hotel management to get a loan from the bank, and purchased it from the McBride family.

Their daughters have enjoyed watching the hotels change over the years. While the 66 Motel Court didn't have a pool, the Best Western had an outdoor one, and now the Holiday Inn Express features an indoor one.

In those first hotel days, rooms didn't even have a coffee maker, let alone a breakfast in the lobby, and the Holiday Inn Express now features in-room individual cup coffee makers, microwaves and refrigerators, and a buffet breakfast for guests.

"Some of those first rooms in the 1960s had no television, no air conditioning and no phones," Hyam said.

Over the years, their family has employed thousands of area residents through the various businesses, and Martin and Hyam still enjoy reminiscing about all the hotels and motels, customers and stories.

"Looking back, we wish we might have restored the old 66 motel," Martin said. "But at the time, there just weren't as many programs supporting restoration as there are now."

Instead, they'll just have to enjoy all the treasures they've saved together over the years.

~Mary (Galer) Herschelman, The Journal News


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