Arthur Boots began construction of Boots Court in 1938 after moving his family to Carthage from Kansas City. Boots thought this location would be the ideal spot for a successful business venture. His son, Bob Boots, remembers his father poring over maps, looking for the perfect location, and choosing the site near the intersection of Garrison and Central Avenue in Carthage, Missouri, because it was where U.S. 71, running north and south, and U.S. 66, running east and west, converged and ran together for a few miles. Boots called it “The Crossroads of America. “ He opened Boots Court for business in 1939.
But the United States was in the midst of the worst economic depression the country had ever seen. A quarter of American workers had no jobs. Men roamed the countryside, looking for work. And Boots was a cautious man. First, he built a gas station, the 18’x11’ office at the front of the front building. He put in two gas pumps, just in case his motor court plans did not work out. He called his gas station the Red Horse. Then, he built the first four rooms just behind the gas station.
Arthur Boots, former farm machinery salesman, designed the building himself in a simplified, vernacular version of the Streamlined Moderne style, with bullnose, or rounded, corners, smooth stucco cladding with black glass accents, and a flat roof with a parapet on three sides. He hired a contractor and a plasterer named “Shorty” to help him, but he did much of the work himself. The exterior walls are constructed of hollow-core blocks filled with brick rubble and covered in stucco. The interior walls are frame with gypsum board lath to hold the plaster on the walls. Doors in the first building were handmade, as was some of the furniture. He experimented with various money-saving schemes. He lined the shower stalls with salvaged automobile windshields painted black on the back to simulate the black Carrera glass installed on the front of the building . It was often mistaken for black marble, but it wasn’t very waterproof. The painted glass was replaced with ceramic tile – only the glass baseboards around the toilet room remain as evidence of this experiment.. He attempted to provide natural cooling of the rooms, thereby saving on the cost of installing window air conditioners, by constructing a utility tunnel beneath the building. He planned to push cool air from underground into the rooms with a giant fan. He never installed the fan, and this idea was a total failure. He furnished his motel with handmade furniture and pieces purchased from older, failed hotels in the area. Bob Boots, his son, particularly remembered eight brass spittoons his father purchased from a defunct hotel. Bob was the one charged with keeping the spittoons clean and polished. What a disgusting job that must have been!
To Arthur Boots’ great relief, his motor court was a success! It was such a success that he didn’t have time to pump gas! Besides that, where was plenty of competition: there was a gas station right next door, one across the street, one on the south corner of the same block, and another one a block away. In fact, there were eight gas stations within two blocks of the motel. So, Boots had the gas pumps removed and concentrated on his motel business. He erected a red and white neon sign that said “Boots Court” to attract more attention. Other signs promised air conditioning, a radio in every room, and a public telephone. His advertising boasted the latest in other modern amenities as well, such as ceramic tile bathrooms and individual, thermostatically-controlled floor furnaces to provide heat! Unsure if motorists would understand what his establishment was all about, he painted the word “CABINS” over the door to the front office, but, of course, there were no cabins. That was a throwback word to an earlier time when motor camps, as they were then called, featured individual, one-room lodgings called motor cabins. Instead of being old fashioned motor cabins, Boots Court was the ultimate in travelling convenience: between each pair of rooms was a carport so that the lucky traveler who stayed at Boots Court could pull his car right up next to the door to his room and unload his luggage in sheltered comfort and ease. Arthur Boots didn’t put up with riff-raff in his motel, either. He charged the exorbitant rate of $2.50 a night to make sure his clientele was of the better sort.
In fact, Boots Court was such a success that, in no time at all, Boots added the back four rooms to his building. He changed the design slightly. The first four rooms could be opened up to be two suites of two rooms each. The back four rooms were each individual rooms with no connecting passageway. Instead, each room had a small alcove that could be used for “kitchenettes,” which were becoming popular. The “kitchenette” mostly just consisted of a hot plate for coffee or soup and a small counter for eating. Guests were expected to bring their own coffee and cooking utensils.
Although his business was a success, his personal life was not. Arthur Boots and his wife divorced in 1941, and she retained the business while he moved on to other endeavors. He built Boots Drive-In across the street from Boots Court in 1946. The Boots Drive-In building is still there, today, though it has been modified and is currently being used as a credit union.
Pleas Neeley and his wife acquired the Boots in 1944 and built the back building in 1946. Although the design mimics the general lines of the earlier Boots Court building, there are differences. This is a more traditional building, with square interior corners instead of rounded ones (though the exterior corners still retain some roundness), a different style of doors, and larger windows. The rooms are larger, too, with larger bathrooms and built-in vanity dressers. Still, it was stucco-covered inside and out, and sported the same flat roof as the front building. Another change was that, instead of carports beside the rooms, the Neelys built them beneath the rooms due to the constraints of building space. There were originally four openings where guests could pull their cars into the basement of the building from the alley that runs behind it. It is unclear if these openings were originally open or had doors that could be closed. The covered carports and the enclosed garages enabled celebrities like Clark Gable to stay at Boots Court virtually undetected because their cars could be put out of public view, lessening the chance they would be spotted by fans.
The Neelys sold Boots Court to Reuben and Rachel Asplin in 1948. By then, it was being called Boots Motel, but the sign still read Boots Court until at least 1964. You might wonder why the name was not changed to Asplin Motel or some such moniker. But there was already an expensive neon sign out in front of the building, and it was much cheaper to just change one word on it than to change the entire sign. So, despite the fact that Arthur Boots owned it for only a few years, his name has become synonymous with the motel on the corner of Central and Garrison in Carthage, Missouri. By the time the sign was changed, the word “court” to describe lodgings for motorists was obsolete, and the term “motel,” which was so new in 1938 that Arthur Boots wouldn’t use it for fear that people would not know what it was, had become the term of choice.
Reuben Asplin died in 1974, but Rachel continued to manage the motel, apparently living in part of the back building and renting out the front building to travelers. She soon grew tired of “mopping” the flat roof with tar to keep it waterproof, a task which should be done at least yearly, so she had gabled roofs constructed upon the parapets of the building, covering the flat roofs. To enhance this new arrangement, she had pink neon installed along the gable of the front building and very likely also had the word “cabins” over the office door changed to “office” in neon and installed the neon “vacancy/no vacancy” sign. People who remember Boots Motel when the Asplins owned it remember that Rachel Asplin had very colorful tastes in furnishings, with bright colors everywhere, a far cry from the austere black and white color scheme preferred by Arthur Boots.
Rachel Asplin managed Boots Motel until her death in 1991 at the age of 91. The property was then sold to John and Jane Ferguson. The Fergusons converted the front two units into a managers’ residence and ran the motel for ten years but then sold it to Vincent Scott. Scott had no intention of running an aging motel: he bought the property as an investment, intending to sell it for the land to a drug store chain looking to demolish it to construct a new store. That plan fell through, and the property was eventually repossessed by the bank that held the mortgage. The bank put the property on the market, and it was snapped up by sisters, Debye Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw. Fans of old Route 66, we had been talking about purchasing a motel on the storied road and running it as part of our retirement plan. We fantasized about how much fun it would be to meet the travelers from all over the country and the world who came to find “the real America” on Routes 66 and 71.
And now that dream is coming true! It’s still a work in progress. The plan is to eventually restore both buildings to the late 1940s appearance, with appropriate period finishes, fixtures, and furniture. But that takes time. And a lot of money. So, for now, we have “restored” the 1946 building to usable condition, which it was not when we bought it. We have retained nearly all of the historic fabric, replacing very little. We have attempted to furnish it as closely as possible to its early furnishings. We consulted with Bob Boots and others who worked at Boots Court and Boots Motel to get their memories of how things were furnished “back in the day.” Fortunately, the built-in vanities were mostly intact, and even the original mirrors and fluorescent light fixtures were generally still in place (or at least still in the building). Unfortunately, most of the original bathroom fixtures were gone, and some of the newer fixtures were in such bad condition they had to be replaced. Most of the bathroom tile is original, but some of it is replacement tile installed by an earlier owner. More than half of the exterior doors were not in usable condition and had to be replaced, but the windows are original except for some replacement glass. The wood floors, the interior panel doors, the woodwork, and the furnace units and furnace grates are all original.
On the exterior, two important changes were recently made. The inappropriate gable roofs, installed in the 1970s, were removed and the flat roofs reinstated using a matching grant from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. With the gable roofs gone, Boots Court will be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. And the neon sign has been restored to its original colors and wording thanks to a generous donation from a fan of Route 66 and Boots Court. The front sign pole again sports a big, round sign advertising “A Radio in Every Room,” as it did in the 1940s.
The exterior still needs work. Additional repairs must be made to the stucco finish, though the buildings themselves are in sound condition. Some of the window sashes in the front building, which were replaced sometime in the past with inappropriate sashes, must be refabricated to match the original. The old window canopies and their metal frames have been removed until new canopies can be fabricated that replicate the earlier canopies. The metal storm door on the front building will be replaced with a replica wood screened door. The loose and broken black glass decoration on the exterior will be repaired and replaced. We also plan to have the green and red neon on the buildings restored. As you can tell, this won’t happen overnight.
Currently, five of the thirteen rooms at the Boots have been restored. All rooms have double beds: three rooms have one double bed, and two rooms have two double beds. Rooms with one double bed are $66 per night in honor of the Boots being on historic U.S. Route 66, and rooms with two double beds are $71 per night in honor of also being on historic U.S. Route 71. These prices include taxes. All rooms have hardwood floors, ceramic tile in bathrooms and showers, built-in vanities, and air conditioning as well as the historic, thermostatically-controlled floor furnaces! Carthage did not have television available until 1953, so Boots does not offer it, but there is a radio in every room as was advertised in the 1940s. Free Internet is available because it is invisible in the 1940s-style rooms. Some of the modern amenities of the rooms, such as the soap dispensers in the showers, are temporary conveniences until we can find and purchase period fixtures. Others, such as the smoke detectors and the GFCI outlets in the bathrooms, are required by current building code. All rooms are non-smoking. You can pull your car right up to your door, as they did in the early days, or we offer ample parking for guests driving a recreational vehicle or towing a camper.