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Cabin Courts

Once entrepreneurs discovered travelers were willing to pay for more permanent and completely private accommodations, they began renting cabins as an alternative to tent sites.  These were called "cabin courts" or "motor courts."   The popularity of the cabins and the opportunity for travelers to return during winter months led to the abandonment of the automobile camp.  By the late 1920s, many operators stopped providing tent sites and began offering motorists accommodations exclusively in cabins.

Eaton's Tourist Camp and Food
Stop located in Fond
du Lac consisted of seven cabins
arranged around a central courtyard.
The complex was constructed
in the 1940s and is no longer
extant. Courtesy of Jim Draeger,
personal collection.

As cabin courts gained popularity, it was important to stand out from the competition.  Exterior imagery and layout became important aspects in attracting guests.  Court owners utilized fashionable and domestic architecture along with exotic and fanciful themes for building exteriors.   National or regional themes, including teepees, adobe huts, or log cabins, were popular sights along the highways.  Other court owners preferred to disregard cozy cottages and regional stereotypes for a variety of themes designed purely to attract attention, including miniature windmills, diminutive villages, and an assortment of fantasy motifs.  Competition between courts led to an increase in amenities such as beds, dressers, rugs, desks, pictures, lamps, and electric lights.  In an industry that relied on modern conveniences, aging exteriors were replaced with streamlined and Moderne styles to attract clientele.

Roadside Highlight: Thorp House and Cottages, Fish Creek

The Thorp House and Cottages (listed in the National Register of Historic Places August 15, 1997) are located at 4135 Bluff Street in the unincorporated community of Fish Creek on the Door County peninsula.  The complex consists of a house and nine cottages orientated toward Green Bay.  The house dates to 1902 and was constructed to house the Thorp family and accommodate the seasonal tourist population in Fish Creek.  Like other Fish Creek residents, the Thorp family relied on the Door County tourism industry for survival.  The Thorps ran a successful, albeit small, inn out of their home and were able to support themselves.

In 1936 the property was sold to Elmer and Esther Anderson.  In 1938 they constructed five cottages and renamed the resort "Cedar Ridge."  All five of the original cottages remain; they are similar in design and all are one-story gabled structures clad in cedar board and batten.  The cottages were spacious by cabin court standards and one contained six rooms: a kitchen, breakfast nook, living room, two bedrooms, and a bath.  In 1942 the property was renamed "Ida Anderson's Breezy Hill Lodge."  Four additional cottages were constructed in 1948.

The complex continues to serve as an inn and contributes to the Fish Creek tourism industry.  It was restored in 1986 and is now known by its historic name, the Thorp House Inn and Cottages. The house itself serves as a bed and breakfast and the cottages continue to be used for guest accommodations.  The cottages have been renovated to include a kitchen, bath, and other modern conveniences.

Thorp House and Cottages, 1997.
Courtesy of the Division of
Historic Preservation.

Cottage A, Thorp House and
Cottages complex, 1997.
Courtesy of the Division of
Historic Preservation.
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