CARTHAGE, Mo. — They came together from eight states along an old retired highway to see off two sisters who bought a derelict motel 10 years ago and restored it to its former glory.
More than two dozen people from up and down Route 66 and beyond gathered at the old Boots Court Motel in Carthage over the weekend to thank Debye Harvey and Priscilla “Pixie” Bledsaw as the sisters savor their last couple of days of ownership before they pass the historic motel on to new owners.
They brought cake, set up a campfire and posed for pictures in the glow of the green neon lights that frame the two buildings.
“They’ve done a wonderful job of restoring and preserving this old motel,” said Brenda St. Clair, who came from Akron, Ohio, for the event. “I was here for opening night when the sisters first opened it for business in 2012, and it was important to be here for the last night of their tenure.”
The motel was built in 1939 by Arthur Boots at “the crossroads of America,” as it was billed at the time — when the intersection of Central and Garrison in Carthage was also the intersection of routes 66 and 71, two major highways in 1940s America.
It featured covered carports and a radio in every room, a real luxury at the time. The original front section had eight rooms, and a second building was added in 1946 with five more rooms. Clark Gable was reported to have stayed in one of the rooms at one time, and other notable celebrities traveling across the country are known to have stopped for the night at the motel.
But by 2011, the motel was in poor shape, having been rented as low-income housing for about a decade after a failed attempt to have it torn down to be redeveloped as a retail area in the early 2000s.
The sisters — Bledsaw, from Decatur, Illinois, and Harvey, from Decatur, Georgia — bought it in August 2011 and began the laborious task of stabilizing and restoring the motel.
Harvey had experience in historic preservation and writing grants for the National Park Service, and she and her sister fell in love with Route 66 during a 2006 drive along the route.
“We talked about all these derelict motels: Wouldn’t it be fun to have a motel on Route 66?” Bledsaw said. “We never really thought we’d ever do that, but we talked about how much fun it would be and meeting all the people. Of course, we had no idea what it took to run a motel. We envisioned ourselves sitting out front waving at people; that’s what owning a motel is all about. But as it turns out, there’s a great deal more to it, so it was a learning experience from day one.”
The sisters managed to reopen the five rooms in the building at the back of the property in 2012 and have been renovating the other rooms since then.
They had the gabled roof, which had been added in the 1970s, removed to restore the motel to a more historic look, and restored the green neon lights that surround the building.
“I think we did a great thing,” Harvey said. “We didn’t do everything we wanted to get accomplished because we wanted to restore all the rooms, but we did the important thing, which is we saved the Boots from neglect, and we pointed out to the community what an asset it is to the point that they don’t want it to go away. “
The sisters said they plan to stay in the area and help the new owners. A group of local residents has purchased the motel with plans to continue the restoration, but they have asked to remain anonymous until they can get more organized.
‘A wonderful job’
Rod Harsh, of Joplin, is a Route 66 enthusiast who brought Harvey and Bledsaw to Carthage and promoted the motel as a project. He worked with them to restore most of the rooms in the building.
“It’s called a labor of love because every room I finished and they could open up meant more people coming in,” Harsh said. “They like everything that was done.”
St. Clair, the visitor from Ohio, said she loves the historic value of the motel.
“I love the art deco curves of the building,” St. Clair said. “I love what Rod Harsh has done with the restoration. The floors and beds are wonderful; they’ve kept it at that period of time when this place was in its glory.
“To let this go to ruins was such a shame; we don’t have enough old vintage motels preserved. There’s a lot of old motels around, but the clientele isn’t as good. These ladies have done a wonderful job, and I’m glad to see the new owners sound like they feel the same way.”
Gary Daggett, from Amarillo, Texas, was in Carthage on Saturday as well. He serves as president of the Texas Route 66 Association and said the Boots Court Motel represents the kind of travel his grandparents experienced.
“Route 66 spans eight states,” Daggett said. “The Boots is the second-oldest motel still in operation on Route 66. That right there is amazing. To have this place in the shape it’s in for people to still enjoy and spend the night — just to stay here is a treat. It’s older than me, so it’s a treat. I stay in these rooms and I think, ‘Man, is this how my grandparents felt traveling?’ It’s nostalgic. ... We take for granted all the conveniences we have now, and it’s kind of neat to step back in time and think about what it was like then.”