Friday, July 31, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Room 61

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt with its focus on hotels seems to be tailor-made for someone who once served as the family travel agent: Moi. Why my parents entrusted a teenager to find a hotel for the family vacation is anyone’s guess. Maybe they did not like the responsibility or just did not care where we stayed. Or maybe they noticed my penchant for planning and organizing, and therefore encouraged it.
Quality Courts Motel
Directory 1965
In the 1960s hotel and motel chains were in their infancy. Booking a room in advance was not even necessary, not where we traveled anyway. There was no Expedia, no Kayak, no Priceline, and no Trip Advisor to assist in planning. Instead we relied on motel directories that were free for the taking in member motel lobbies. Our annual trips to visit family in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia called for a stay at the beautiful Belle Meade in Harrisonburg. As a result, it was easy to obtain the latest directory for the Quality Courts motels.

The directory was arranged by state, and then by city. Every summer I studied the directory, comparing the motels in the city where we might be traveling. The top requirements were a pool and restaurant on site. As for price, $10-$12 a night was the limit. However, when we went to Washington D.C., we probably paid at least $13 to stay at the Governor House Inn in Falls Church. (Northern Virginia IS pricey!)

Governor House Inn
still has the trademark white wrought iron columns
and fence

Mary, Wendy, Mary Jollette Slade at Governor House Inn  Falls Church, VA 1960s
Momma Mary Eleanor, Wendy, Mary Jollette
at the Governor House Inn in Falls Church, Virginia
1960s (1967 or 1968 probably)

Summers often called for a visit to Charlottesville, at least for an overnight stay at the lovely Mt. Vernon Inn positioned on a hill overlooking the intersection of US 250 and US 29. Today Best Buy and World Market claim that spot, but in the 1960s, we enjoyed the panoramic view from the heart-shaped pool.
Wendy and Mary Jollette Slade, Mt. Vernon Inn Charlottesville, VA  1965
Mary Jollette and Wendy at the Mt. Vernon Inn
Charlottesville, Virginia August 1965

Like the Mt. Vernon, many motels in the Quality Courts chain attracted travelers by showcasing their pools in front along the main road. Belle Meade in Harrisonburg was a notable exception. Instead of a pool, there was a fountain in front of the entrance adding an elegant touch to the already beautiful colonial façade.

Belle Meade Motel Harrisonburg, VA postcard
Postcard of Belle Meade Motel Harrisonburg, VA
(no copyright restrictions)
The pool was behind the motel, and what a beautiful pool it was. A long promenade of columns lined one side of the pool offering some shade. Pots of flowers and a plentiful supply of redwood loungers were signs of the quality in this Quality Courts motel.
Mary and Wendy Slade Pool at Belle Meade Motel Harrisonburg, VA Aug 1965
Mother and Daughter at the Belle Meade August 1965

Mary Jollette and Fred Slade at the Belle Meade Motel
Daddy and Mary Jollette  at the Belle Meade

The Belle Meade used to have a sign advertising “60 air conditioned rooms.” So imagine our confusion the time we were given a key to Room 61. As we drove our car around to the back, to the far end of the left wing, we had some good laughs as we tried to make sense of it. Was this a punishment? Would the room fall off in the night? Would we be transported to some other universe? Did the room even exist? Just one more reason to love the Belle Meade.

Hottle Bottles
One of my fondest memories about Belle Meade was the Hottle Bottle service. Every morning my dad called Room Service and ordered coffee and chocolate milk. Usually donuts or some other pastry arrived on the tray too. From a kid’s perspective, that glass Hottle Bottle seemed pretty darn special.

The most special feature at the Belle Meade though was the Rib and Sirloin Room downstairs in the restaurant. Real table cloths and cloth napkins. Black leather booths. Candlelight. And RED velvet wallpaper. That was the ultimate in classy restaurant décor in the 1960s. The Rib and Sirloin Room was THE spot for a special occasion. 

Rib and Sirloin Room, Belle Meade Motel Harrisonburg, Virginia
Rib and Sirloin Room
Belle Meade
Even though the grilled steaks were the best to be had in the Shenandoah Valley at that time, I always ordered a shrimp cocktail. For dessert, my choice was the chocolate parfait served in a real parfait glass: layers of ice cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream with a cherry on top. My parents ordered the Crème de Menthe parfait, and sometimes they allowed me to sneak a taste. Mmm ~ I looked forward to the day that I could order one of those.

Like so many grand hotels and fine motels, the Belle Meade has slipped dramatically from its position as a desirable place to stay. In fact, it is not even listed on the Visit Harrisonburg “Places to Stay” page. Nevertheless, the Belle Meade enjoys “icon status” as a landmark along Route 11 and I-81. Its deteriorating state has not clouded people’s memories of what it once was.

It is time to check in at the Sepia Saturday Hotel.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. For many years I too served as the family travel agent, but I can occasionally hand that task on to The Lad these days - its always a pleasure when someone else does all the arranging.

  2. The '60s were a great time to be 'growing up'. Great pictures, but my favorite is the one of you & your mom relaxing together on the chaise lounges at Belle Meade. Your clothing is so typical of the mid '60s & brought back so many wonderful fun memories. Thanks!

  3. Your parents may have entrusted you to pick a motel so that you couldn't complain about their choice. I was reminded of the motel where my family stayed on a trip to Washington D.C. It was chosen from a directory by my parents and probably sounded fine. However, it was well past its prime, and I really complained.

  4. Hi Wendy, what lovely happy family memories you share here.

  5. Enjoyed this post. My husband has more memories of the motels and stories about them, than the sight-seeing that his childhood trips were supposed to be about. I think that the pools are the most important part of any trip for young children!

  6. I do remember those types of books to look for motels :) That was neat you got to coordinate where your family stayed. Wonderful memories you have of your time at the Belle Meade. Sounded luxurious!


  7. I like the look of the Governor House Inn. White wrought iron fence and columns always win me over.

  8. What a lovely hotel, quite opulent looking. Nowadays all the hotels seem to be so generic, the same furniture, pictures, decoration and food.

  9. I had a good giggle at this post Wendy. Brought back lots of memories of the fun of staying in motels. How they have changed!

  10. Amazing that you have so many photos of motel swimming pools you visited! Family holidays with my parents were of the camping variety, no such luxury as motels. I've never heard of hottle bottles before. What did they do, keep the drinks hot?

  11. I never knew Momma and Daddy let you select the hotel/motel-Holiday Inn, HA!

    Those were the best times, nothing like room service of chocolate milk and a trip to the pool!

    That picture of us with me holding the ball, haha, makes me laugh. Those boys threw that ball and hit me, so I kept the ball! hahahaha! Thanks for the fun read today!

  12. I love those 'hottle bottles' - and never knew that's what they were called (I believe we called them carafes).
    I remember my father would either pick the first place we saw, or drive onwards for sometimes hours if he wasn't ready to stop just yet (no matter how quickly darkness was descending) and then be forced to staying at wherever was available. Made for some disastrous stays!

  13. I do remember those pool side rod iron fences! We always stayed at the drive up motels (as a rule) on our trips out west. Always searching for the triple A sign and that they allowed dogs! Thanks for the memories!

  14. In the '60s, our vacations were camping and vigorous outdoorsy sorts of ventures. However, in the 80s my business partner and I started a fledgling business -- no money to spend on the niceties. We traveled on "two-fers". I knew we had finally made it, when my friend and business partner got to eat at the fancy restaurants that she favored, and I, I got to stay in the nicer motels and hotels that spoke to me -- "You made it." And that's the kind of memory, your post brought to mind. Thanks.

  15. You seem to have so many memories of hotels, Wendy. Our family took annual vacations until the problem with the teddy bear, and then when I was 6 or 7, we began travelling vacations again. I don't have many memories of the hotels (except that they were usually ones we found along the way and that my parents wanted to see the room before they signed for it) but I remember most of the places we visited. I should probably pull out my old postcard collection because hotels/motels often gave away free postcards.

    It's fun that someone in your family took photos in and around the pools. Bathing beauties, for sure!

  16. I remember those days when motels were a special treat with swanky qualities like swimming pools, room service, color TVs, and steak restaurants. You got the menu right too. Mmmm cocktail shrimp and parfaits seemed so exotic once upon a time.
    Are you still the family travel agent?

  17. Wonderful post with not just the motels version, but your personal photos lounging by the pools. What a fun way to travel, and I am so glad you saved all this info to share here! I either tent camped, or later van-camped with a picnic table if we were lucky, and sometimes a grill. I remember how happy I was to stay where there were hot showers!

  18. This took me back to our own family trips, which although in a completely different part of the country, were very much the same. I'm impressed with all of the photos you have of the various places that you stayed! (and my favorite was the shrimp cocktail too---one more proof that we are twins separated at birth!)