I pine for the days when travelers coming into Muncie had an abundant variety of lodging options, even though I live there and thus wouldn’t have any use for them. Sixty or seventy years ago, motorists could stay at the Delaware, Roberts, Kirby, or Braun Hotels downtown or try their luck at a smaller place like Gray’s, Maples, Star Lite, or Hill Top. Although it more closely resembled jungle ruins from a distant past in its final days, the Hill Top was one of Muncie’s best-known Southside landmarks for nearly seventy years. It was a colorful place!
The Hill Top (or Hilltop) Motel opened on October 7, 1956, on State Road 3 just south of Muncie1. Ed Turner built the building, but its construction was a team effort by Muncie contractors, including Ernest and Jack Turner, Muncie Oil and Coal, City Glass Company, Hoosier Bedding, and the Kirby-Wood Lumber Company2. Once it opened, the Hill Top was managed by Morris Davis3.
As first built, the motel consisted of a single ten-unit building. It was the most prominent lodging a weary traveler encountered on their way to Muncie from parts south on old Highway 3 until Muncie’s Holiday Inn opened in 1960 a mile-and-a-half north. To keep up with Holiday Inn, Davis added a second, L-shaped building with twelve more rooms in 1961.
Davis purchased a two-acre parcel immediately south of the property as the new wing was being built. There, he planned to convert an old house into a restaurant and build a swimming pool4. The process of turning the home into a restaurant was nearly complete by August, but the “completely redecorated” home was advertised for rent as a dwelling only two months later5. The 1875 house still exists today at the northwest corner of Old State Road 3 – now Walnut Street- and East Fuson Road6.
A period postcard advertised the Hill Top as “Ultra Modern” with “TV, Tile Baths, Telephones, Adjacent Grill,” and located five minutes from an uptown shopping center. “Located at Junction 3 and 67,” the card continued, noting that the Hill Top was “Air Conditioned in Summer and heated for winter living. One half mile South of Muncie, Ind.”
Unfortunately, The Hill Top wasn’t ultra-modern compared to the Holiday Inn just up the highway. Furthermore, South Walnut Street was supplanted as a major entry point to Muncie once the city’s bypass was built in the late 1960s as part of a process that rerouted State Road 3 a mile southeast from the motel7.
I romanticize places like the Hill Top in this modern age of homogenous hotels. Unfortunately, local institutions were on their way out by the early 1960s: the domination of large, established chains boiled down to changing travel habits, rising standards, urbanization, and branding. Places like Holiday Inn were good examples of why. As travel became more accessible, people wanted to stay in more luxurious quarters. Small motels struggled to keep up with larger competitors that offered bigger rooms, more amenities, and a known quantity where accommodations were the same at whichever location a family stopped.
The Hill Top was sold to Vern Anderson in 19658. By the 1970s, the place achieved a reputation as a cheap place to rest and, well, do other things that only cost $28 a night (for the room, not the services9). In 1970, two TVs valued at twenty-five dollars apiece were stolen from the place10. Six years later, owner Herm Anderson told police that a man and woman entered the office and pulled a gun before Anderson called his dog out from a back room. The would-be robbers fled by foot11.
My favorite story about the Hill Top involves a retired teacher from Chicago, Vivian Love, who forgot her luggage after a stay there during a trip to visit family in 1981. Management recovered her suitcases but left them unopened, hoping she’d return. Eventually -after a year or so of waiting and hoping that its unidentified owner would return to retrieve it- the motel’s manager opened the luggage, only to discover eighteen government savings bonds, each with a face value of $1,000!
It turned out that Ms. Love’s real name was Mary and that she’d filed a police report under that name, but the case was never followed up on. Eventually, Love’s sister-in-law tracked the luggage down, and it was returned12.
My second-favorite Hill Top story involves a boa constrictor. Four years after Vivian Love’s savings bonds were returned, a man staying at the Hill Top during the Delaware County Fair between July 11 and 20th lost his snake. Policeman Dave Smith found it on October 2nd and called Sgt. Larry Hammond to meet him at the motel to wrangle it from the weeds across the street. Before Muncie Animal Shelter had a chance to arrive, a local named David Beard grabbed the snake, which he was allowed to keep. After the boa was given a warm bath, veterinarians remanded it to Beard’s custody13.
Vern Anderson ceded the old Hill Top to his son-in-law, Ray Duncan, in 1986. Twenty-five years later, Duncan lamented that the bypass had taken away much of his business, as had the newest generation of larger hotels. “We don’t have the facilities that they do,” he said, “and we’re on the south side. Everything is out north.”
Anderson had a point, albeit it not one due to the Muncie bypass since the Holiday Inn down the road -once labeled the city’s “newest and finest motel-hotel14” never regained its prominence after it was sold in 1987. Rather, Muncie’s south and east sides fell victim to the interstate when I-69 was planned through Delaware County’s western front. Ten years after the interstate was completed, work began on a four-lane expressway, State Road 332, that connected it with Muncie. The area surrounding it is home to nine of Muncie’s ten national motel chains!
Unfortunately, the tides never turned back for the Hill Top. In 2012, police officers found the body of a local animal hoarder in a room at the Hill Top, where they also found the skeleton of a dog along with several cats, who were still alive15. The motels sellable contents -including lawnmowers, a truck, guns, toys, tools, furniture, and air conditioners- were auctioned on May 20, 201416.
Seven years later, unpaid property taxes landed the derelict Hill Top in the hands of the Delaware County Commissioners, who quickly deeded it to the Indiana Veterans Foundation, which hoped to establish housing for veterans with PTSD and substance abuse issues17. That never happened, and the Hill Top was razed in 2022. Today, nothing remains of the motel aside from part of the driveway that wound up the fourteen-foot tall hill it stood on.
1 Open House (1956, October 7). The Muncie Star. p. 26.
2 We Built The Hill Top Motel (1956, October 7). The Muncie Star. p. 26.
3 Engagements, Forthcoming Marriages Are Announced (1960, July 2). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
4 Hill Top Motel (1961, August 26). The Muncie Star. p. 12.
5 OLD Colonial white brick home (1961, October 6). The Muncie Star. p. 30.
6 Delaware County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2023). Parcel ID: 1127376002000. Delaware County, Indiana Assessor. map, Muncie, IN.
7 Muncie Bypass, U.S. 27 Work on New Department Schedule (1963, March 2). The Muncie Star. p. 1.
8 Roysdon, K. (2001, August 13). Motel marks city’s southern boundary. The Muncie Star Press. p. 7.
9 (See footnote 8).
10 Portable TV sets Stolen From Motel (1970, July 1). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 5.
11 Watch Dog Foils Motel Robbery (1976, August 28). The Muncie Star. p. 3.
12 Retired Teacher to Claim Small Fortune Found Here (1981, June 5). The Muncie Star. p. 6.
13 Escaped 10-foot boa nabbed near motel here (1985, October 3). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
14 Holiday Inn Plans Open House for Muncie Area Friends (1960, January 30). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 13.
15 Slabaugh, S. (2012, December 30). 2. The year of the dog owner. The Muncie Star Press. P. A1.
16 LIQUIDATION AUCTION (2014, May 19). The Muncie Star Press. p. B5.
17 Roysdon, K. (2021, July 23). Old Muncie motel could see new life as housing for vets. The Muncie Star Press. p. A1.
6 thoughts on “Muncie’s old Hill Top Motel, the peak of overnight accommodations”
What a sad story. I kept waiting for you to say it had been repurposed. There used to be an old roadside motel in Terre Haute that was turned into a fantastic antique mall. I’m hoping it has survived.
This would have been great to house veterans or homeless people. Sigh.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I agree! I wish it had as well. I’ll have to look up the antique mall motel in Terre Haute next time I’m out that way!
LikeLiked by 1 person
You should! I was there pre-pandemic and it was one of my favorite stops.
Straight up terrific article. You’ve told the broader story of the American motel’s ascendency and decline through this one motel.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow. Thank you!!
I am sure I probably passed that one a time or two in the distant past, but cannot recall it. I think another thing that probably doomed local motels like the Hilltop was consistency. If you were a frequent traveler, you could probably get experience to tell the better ones from the ones that were not as good. When you are hot and tired with squalling kids in the car, you didn’t have time for research and with a Holiday Inn or the like, you knew what you would be getting – just like with McDonalds over a local diner or drive-in.
This was a really great read of a sad, long-term trend and how everything could go wrong after a bright start.