ASHEVILLE, N.C. — When you check into the Log Cabin Motor Court just north of Asheville, you're not exactly unplugged. There is cable TV on a flat-screen bolted to the cabin wall, and a microwave, mini-refrigerator and coffeemaker. The cabins even have wireless access.
But you are unplugged in a different way. Unplugged from the 21st century, and plugged into what travel was like when your parents were kids and your grandparents were doing the driving.
There was a time when tourist cabins like these were a step up in America's wanderlust. If you hit the road in the 1920s, there was no guarantee you'd find a hotel at all. Better keep that canvas tent folded up behind the rumble seat, Marge.
That's how the Log Cabin Motor Court started, back in 1929: Audrey and Zeb Foster had bought a pretty little pine grove between U.S. 25 and U.S. 719/23, about 5 miles from downtown Asheville, to build a country place. But travelers passing by on the way to Tennessee kept stopping and asking to pitch tents.
The Fosters were no fools. The next year, in 1930, they hired a local carpenter to put up seven cabins made from pine logs and whitewashed concrete. Each had a tiny porch, two single beds, a table and chairs and a two-burner wood stove. No indoor plumbing, but there was a washhouse up the hill.
They charged $1 a night and did so well, they added seven more cabins the next year. Fosters' Log Cabin Motor Court was in business.
That was right at the start of big years for travel in America. Smooth highways soon beckoned cars, and cars led to hotels with the convenience of parking right in front of your room. Those motor hotels were soon dubbed motels, and then motor courts and motor inns. Even our language showed we were a country on the move.
Up the road in Weaverville, even Harland Sanders owned a 20-unit motel, Sanders Court, while he was working on his fried chicken recipe, and there's another vintage motor court, The Pines, right next door.
These days, none of it is out in the country anymore. U.S. 25 is cluttered with commercial development, and you can hear traffic blowing by on I-26.
But the Log Cabin Motor Court hasn't changed much. There are 19 cabins now, ranging from shoulder-brushing small to big enough for fireplaces and kitchenettes. They're all made in the same log-and-concrete style that makes them look a little like Daniel Boone wearing a referee's jersey.
They have bathrooms now, but small ones: Doors are so low, anyone taller than 5-foot-8 will need to duck, and you may have to step into the shower to open and close the door.
All the cabins have names, from the Midnight Roost to the Snuggle Inn. (The Top of the Hill is where Robert Mitchum filmed scenes for the 1958 classic "Thunder Road," about moonshine runners.) They all have charcoal grills out front and most have rocking chairs on the porches.
Inside, everything that can be made from wood is, from the lamps to the bedsteads, even the toilet paper holder.
There may be no closet, just hooks on the wall, and there are more extension cords than your average hotel. Electricity wasn't all that big in 1930.
There is a restaurant on the property, although it's under separate management: The big cabin that houses Bavarian Dining, known for its high-quality German food and beer, was originally built by the Fosters in the 1930s to serve breakfast and chicken dinners to travelers.
So who stays here these days? You'd be surprised, says owner John Maltry. He's heard there are travel books in Europe that list only two accommodations in Asheville: The Grove Park Inn and the Log Cabin Motor Court.
A couple who honeymooned in the Hill Billy has returned for 27 anniversaries; other guests are just people who want something different, a throwback to simpler times. Maltry also gets a lot of guests who travel with dogs — for a fee of $15 a night, you can bring pets.
Not everybody fits at the Log Cabin, though. "Ninety-five percent of the people who come fall in love with the place," says Maltry. "But we get 5 or 10 percent who say, 'But this isn't a luxury hotel.'"
No, it isn't. There are no mints on your pillow, and no Jacuzzi tub. Would your grandmother have given a plugged nickel about that?
IF YOU GO:
Rates at the Log Cabin Motor Court vary by season and size of cabin. Most range from $64 to $135 a night, two-night minimum; the largest, the Black Bear Lodge, is $235 a night and sleeps 10. Details: 800-295-3392, http://www.theashevillecabins.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun