When sisters Priscilla Bledsaw and Deborah Harvey rolled through Carthage on a trip down Route 66 in 2006, neither of them knew just how life changing the day was destined to be. The southwest Missouri stop offered them an introduction to the Boots Court, a 1930s motel which was sadly a run-down shadow of its former self. “We felt so bad for it, and we took lots of pictures of it because we figured it wasn’t going to last very long,” says Deborah, looking back.
The significance of that day wouldn’t be realized until five years later. The duo finished their trip and headed home – Deborah to Georgia, Priscilla to Illinois. But in 2011, that day at the Boots would come rushing back: Deborah noticed in a Route 66 magazine that the Boots had been foreclosed upon and was going up for sale. After telling her sister the news, Deborah got somewhat of a shocking response: “And she texted me back and said, ‘We could buy it!’”
It wasn’t a natural career jump: Neither of them has a background in motel management. Then there’s the fact that they both lived far away from the Ozarks. “But for some reason, it all worked out,” says Deborah. “It was almost like Kismet. Things just fell into place.”
Although the Boots looked bad, most of the issues were cosmetic. “All it really needed was someone to love it and take care of it,” says Deborah. That love has translated into the gradual restoration of the court’s eight rooms. The process is a slow one, as the duo is taking extreme care to accurately recreate the court’s heyday which they’ve pegged around 1949.
As one might imagine, rooms at the Boots don’t look like those seen at many current motels. For one thing, there aren’t televisions, because motels didn’t have them in the late ‘40s. Instead, you’ll find reproduction radios crooning vintage music and period décor – but no microwaves, refrigerators, coffee makers or ice machines. “We do have ice, but if you want ice here, you call the front desk and we bring you a bucket of ice,” says Deborah. Why? “That’s how it was done before.”
“We do have ice, but if you want ice here, you call the front desk and we bring you a bucket of ice,” says Deborah. Why? “That’s how it was done before.”
Deborah’s master’s degree in historic preservation from Georgia State University has come in handy during the renovation. “So what I saw this as was an opportunity to put into practice the things that I’d learned,” she says, noting that she believes that details are crucial to accurate preservation. “People will notice the furniture and they will notice the reproduction radio and they will notice the wire hangers and the original hardware. So those are the things that are important to get right (to) maintain the ambiance of a historic building.”
She offers perspective on other elements on the building that most people probably wouldn’t be aware of. “In the ‘40s, progressiveness and cleanliness were a big deal,” she says, referencing the room’s tiled bathrooms and absence of carpeted floors. “Streamline Moderne style was supposed to evoke speed and progressive, into-the-future type things.” As a purist, Deborah says there’s a part of her that would like to install linoleum, as it was the norm in the late ‘40s. “But I’m kind of worried about the effect it’d have on our guests,” says Deborah. “It’d have to be really cool linoleum.”
Since reopening the Boots, the sisters have learned a few things. “We had talked in 2006 about how much fun it would actually be to own a motel on Route 66 and meet all of the people traveling … and sit out in front and wave and talk to people,” says Deborah. “We didn’t really think about how much work it was actually going to be. I hardly ever have time to sit out front and wave.”
But talk to people she does – and she says it’s one of the highlights of her location on the Mother Road. “We have had people from all over the United States and all over the world,” says Deborah, listing travelers from places such as Japan, Australia, Tasmania, Brazil and Norway. “We had a Chinese film crew come last December and film a section of a film they were making here.”
Deborah also recounts the friendliness of their visitors. She remembers the day when they got the motel’s fire pit out, leading several different guests to bring food and drinks to share. “We all sat out there and toasted hot dogs and marshmallows and ate apples and drank wine,” says Deborah. “That was fun.”
It’s safe to say that the memories are even sweeter than the marshmallows.
Fast facts about the Boots
– Boots Court dates back to 1939, but at the time it wasn’t a motel. Afraid that he wouldn’t make money during the Depression, Arthur Boots opened a gas station and added four motel rooms onto the back. But that really wasn’t the best business move either, because “there were actually like eight gas stations within view of this building,” says Deborah. He got out of the gas-pumping business, eventually adding added four rooms in a separate building.
– In the past, people weren’t able to drive as far in a day, and car maintenance tended to be a constant challenge. That’s why Arthur built some extra storage space at the Boots. “(He) apparently stocked things like oil and tools so you could change your oil or add oil, or fix your car if something when wrong with it,” says Deborah.
– Clark Gable stayed at the Boots twice. Local eyewitness accounts (Shockingly!) recount his stay in great detail – one Carthage resident even talks about going up to his room to ask for an autograph. Those rooms are some of the motel’s most popular today.
– The sisters are gradually restoring all the rooms at the Boots, but this year their project is out-of-doors. It’s going to be noticeable – neon noticeable, in fact. “(Green neon) was all around the three sides of this building and all around every window except for the windows in the front office,” says Deborah. “Our plan this year is to put that green neon back.”
– The sign out front is original, and has recently been restored due to the generous donation of a local Route 66 enthusiast. Other signs are copies of the originals. “When we first put up the ‘radio in every room’ sign, we got a lot of looks,” says Deborah. “Then the air conditioning sign – everybody just assumes there’s air conditioning. But back then, it was a cool amenity—literally.” However, there is one sign that the sisters didn’t replicate. “We don’t want to (have) a public telephone,” Deborah says with a laugh.
Want the full experience?
You can rent a room at the Boots (107 S. Garrison Ave., Carthage; 417-310-2989) to fully enjoy this Ozarks institution.