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Automobile Culture

As automobile ownership and travel became more widespread in Nebraska after 1900 (and particularly after the dedication of the Lincoln Highway in October of 1913), the rural and urban landscape began to reflect the needs of the state's motorists. Garages replaced blacksmith shops and livery stables. Service stations dotted the landscape. Auto dealerships and used car lots became well established features of town and city life.

New roadside facilities providing food and lodging to travelers appeared. The earliest was the auto tourist camp, where motorists pitched their own tents and cooked their own meals. Some were free; others were operated by a commercial businessman who sold gas, oil, and perhaps a few groceries on the site. Pay camps, with more conveniences, soon became common. Some were located in city parks and provided cooking and sanitary facilities as well as police protection for a nominal sum. Auto campers preparing to spend the night by themselves away from a commercial campground could use some of the new camping and cooking equipment offered for sale.

As auto campers demanded more comforts, roadside lodgings were accordingly upgraded. Individual tourist cabins provided not only cooking and sanitary facilities, but overnight privacy and shelter from bad weather. Some owners connected their cabins and arranged them around a central court to form a motor court.

Roadside picnic lunches were no longer the only option for hungry travelers. Cafes and lunchrooms were opened, frequently near or in conjunction with campgrounds, cabins, and a service station. Some weary travelers grew to rely on food and lodging provided under one roof (a furnished room with prepared meals in a private or commercial tourist home.

Roadside tourist attractions of various types became almost as widespread as tourist lodgings. Some, such as historical sites or local industries, were of genuine significance; others, such as roadside zoos, rock shops, and souvenir stands, did little more than provide a break for passing motorists. Traveling by car became an occasion to shop for mementos and post cards for friends at home.

(July 2003)

 

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