News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 3, 2013


Kimberly Smith
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Before today’s four-lane highways, brightly lit hotel chains and instant Internet access, those who traveled the U.S. by automobile consulted traveler handbooks, published by such organizations as AAA, to find places to eat as well as to sleep.

In “The River, The Roads, The Rails” exhibit at the Vigo County Historical Museum, a travelers handbook published cooperatively by the Silent-Nite Tourist Homes and the Federal Hi-Way Homes is on display. Published in 1940, it lists, by individual state, places where road-weary travelers could find a comfortable place to stay.

Different from our resorts and fancy bed-and-breakfast inns today, the “tourist home” was typically the private home of the hostess and supplied a room for the night as the traveler was just passing through. Rooms available would note what type of mattress was supplied, as well as if the room had furnished heat, hot water or a bath.

In Terre Haute, the Murphy Tourist Home is listed and operated by a Mrs. Steven Murphy at 2332 Wabash Ave. It states the room has “innerspring mattresses” and furnished heat. Its location on Wabash Avenue is important due to Wabash Avenue also being U.S. 40 and a major highway during that time. Another important note is that the home was only about a mile from downtown, where one could find restaurants and entertainment.

This listing is the only one for Terre Haute; however, it must have been a nice place to stay. To be listed in the handbook, each place was routinely inspected and held to high standards for basic comfort. A place was also “ … chosen primarily on the basis of their community reputation and standing.”

While there were other overnight establishments for travelers, such as motels, hotels and campgrounds, the tourist home offered another alternative without much hassle; one could stay for the night and be on their way again.

Changing modes of transportation created new choices for travelers and transformed Vigo County. The next time you are traveling through, stop by the museum to learn more about how “The River, The Roads, The Rails” did just that.

Historical Treasure

n The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through