Tag Archives: History

Rt 66: The Fading Mother Road

For years it has been a dream of mine to explore the iconic RT 66 from start to finish, photographing the current state of decay of the many memorable landmarks in juxtaposition with the overlooked communities that still remain attached to the Mother Road.

This is not that trip, not yet at least, but I take the opportunity, whenever it is possible, to explore bits of the old highway during my travels and scout for potential locations to photograph in the future. This image was taken during one of my short excursions into San Fidel, NM.

Today San Fidel is a ghost town, but once upon a time it was thriving community along RT 66 where Mid Century American families would stop for cool refreshments, fuel and perhaps make a purchase of local pottery made by the Acoma tribe.  Now all that remain are a handful of families and a few ghostly reminders of a former life along the fading Mother Road.


Cement factory

Recently, when passing through the Southern half of Idaho with a friend, we both noticed the remains of a crumbling cement building covered in several decades worth of colorful graffiti. We were driving North on Interstate 15 and fortunately for us the shoulder of the road was wide enough to safely park while we had our photo adventure!

Our adventure didn’t last long, a mere 10 minutes, and we never got to climb around the ruins. The owner of the property had seen us walk by and drove up to make sure that we didn’t trespass onto his property. The cement ruins were behind a typical wire fence used by ranch owners and this particular plot of land was used for cattle.

When I saw the landowner step out of his pickup truck I quickly walked over to introduce myself and ask him about the history and purpose of the building.

He explained in a gruff manner that the ruins were once an old cement factory that had closed in the 1930’s after a fire destroyed most of the building. The building was never repaired and sometime afterwards the government decided to build the Interstate through the original property. Supposedly the government was responsible for tearing the entire building down as a part of the agreement with locals, but only removed what was necessary for the interstate itself and thus leaving the Landowner with small section of unstable remains on his cattle ranch. He was not happy about this.

Apparently he has had a long battle with people, like my friend and I, stopping to take pictures and then trespassing onto his land to take better photos. It’s real nuisance for his cattle and an insurance liability for him. Because of these very real problems for him, the local police have decided to take up a no tolerance approach and will arrest and ticket anyone who pulls over nearby the property. At least that is what the Landowner told me. He did say I could take a few pictures if I wanted, but that I was not allowed to cross the fence onto his property.

We knew from his manner that there was no chance of changing his mind. So we took our few pictures and returned to the car to continue our trip North.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to walk around the building itself, which I found to be an interesting piece of local history definitely worth preserving, Just the same, I can completely understand the concerns and perspective of the Landowner. If I were in his place I would not be to keen to put myself at risk for a lawsuit either, nor would I want to risk the safety of the cattle.


Manly Hotel

Interestingly, it was my quest of learning the identity of the owner of a another abandoned house in the area that led me to this little quiet town of Manly in Northern Iowa and thus to the Manly Hotel.  The hotel was an intriguing brick building that stood apart from the rest of the town both in character and architecture; immediately it captured my imagination. After speaking with a few local residents I learned a bit more about the building and was given the current owner’s contact information.

The hotel dates back to late 19th century. It was originally known as the Doebel Hotel and was built by a German Immigrant and prominent Manly citizen, Henry Doebel, in 1895. Mr Doebel, his wife and their eight children ran the hotel for many years. At some point the building’s ownership changed hands and it was renamed the Manly Hotel. Eventually the building evolved from a hotel into several apartments and then into the base for the local Head Start program. The old hotel was shut down about 15-20 years ago and has been unused ever since, It is currently for sale by the owner.

Locally the building is known as the hotel in which John Dilinger and his infamous gang had spent a night in 1934 before heading into Mason City, about 9 miles South, to rob the First Union Bank the following morning.

Bill Goeken, the current owner, was kind enough to meet with me and allow me the opportunity to photograph the interior of his hotel. I was a little nervous at first when contacting him and had fully expected him to say “No, its too dangerous”, but to my grateful surprise he said okay and trusted me enough hand over the key to let myself in.

I went early the next morning with the hopes of there being some interesting sunlight peaking through the clouds, but instead the sky was a solid bleak grey; which did not make for interesting exterior photographs. It did, however, make for fantastic lighting for the interior shots.

Snow and ice hadpartially blockied the entrance and had to be scooped away so that I could open the side door wide enough to squeeze through. With the door closing shut behind me, I felt like I had entered another world. Outside noises were muffled and the only din to be heard were the steps of my own feet.

Mr. Goeken had warned me to stay mostly on the right side of the building because there was a leak from the roof on the left or backside of the building. He had figured that the continual moisture had made the floorboards weak and unsteady and he was probably right.

Like many other buildings I have entered in the past, the hotel floors held  bits and chunks of wall and ceiling debris, though the first floor was relatively clean. Years of dust had settled on everything and cobwebs collected in dark corners.  Standing in one room you could easily see, through the gaping holes in the walls, into what would have been the next three rooms. The building had been purchased a couple of times with the hopes of renovation, and the materials from those hopes still remain in place. Shovels, piles of lumber and rusted nails could be found and almost tripped over. One room was the bathroom, possibly the original, and easily identified by the salmon colored tiles and old personal hygiene items piled on the floor.

The first floor was easy to walk around, it felt sturdy. I felt comfortable even when slowly inching further to the forbidden zone on the left side for a closer look at some remaining sheets of tin ceiling. I suspect that this might even be the original ceiling from when Mr. Doebel built his hotel. At least the popular use of the material and style would have been consistent during the building’s construction.  Not much of the tin ceiling exists. Only a small corner in the left barely remains attached to the ceiling. The metal is rusted and most of the paint has come off over years of neglect.

It was the top floor that made me want to rethink what I was doing. The floor was fine to walk on as long as I was careful and remained on the right side as Mr. Goeken suggested. The damage from the leak was a bit more obvious; icicles had formed long the ladder’s steps and other wooden edges. I could easily distinguish the light sound of water consistently dripping from the ceiling onto the ladder, down the icicle and then finally into a puddle on the floor.

Most of the floor was barely visible through the thick layer of building materials, garbage from previous workers, chunks of porcelain and wooden boards. The walls, with the exception of a room or two, were almost completely gutted.

A couple of old bathtubs lined what was once the hallway and one room remaining somewhat intact was still covered in lovely floral wallpaper. Evidence of remodeling could be seen along the top edge of remaining walls when a newer ceiling was applied. Perhaps more tin ceiling still remains above the more modern ceiling panels. I don’t know the age of the wallpaper, possibly it could date to the 1940’s and 1950’s, but at some point somebody decided to cover the walls with sheets of wood paneling. My guess is that would have been sometime around the 1970’s or 1980’s when the building was transformed from apartment building into the home base for the local Head Start program. No evidence of this, just a personal hunch.

I spent about an hour inside the Manly Hotel before relocking the door and dropping the key off at the corner gas station for Mr. Goeken to pick up.

To be plainly honest I was a little sad to leave. Part of me wanted to stay longer inside and become even better acquainted with the melancholy remains of what was once a lovely Victorian hotel. It really is a lovely old building and has so much potential to be something amazing again.

The Hotel is for sale and if you have  a genuine interest in purchasing it please contact Bill Goeken at Goeken.bill@gmail.com