In the 1950s, places like the Gem, the Shamrock, the Town and Country, and the Vel-Mor served as early oases for weary travelers headed into Hancock County on US-40. Some still stand today! Among the survivors is the Howard Hughes Motor Lodge, now known as the Budget Motel.
US-40 is one of the United States’ most storied routes. In Indiana, most of it follows the National Road, an early highway built by authorization of Thomas Jefferson. The National Road was a pioneering infrastructure project that stretched 620 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. It came through Indiana in 1829, and today, nineteen miles of the early thoroughfare go through Hancock County.
The Indiana State Highway Commission was officially formed in 19191. At first, Indiana designated the National Road as State Highway 3 when it was little more than a wide gravel path2. Fifteen years later, the highway department announced plans to widen the roadway in Hancock County after a period of neglect3. Once the improvements were made, tourist camps sprung up to serve cross-country travelers. Soon after, a new breed of accommodations called “motor hotels,” evolved from the archaic campsites and by 1950, the United States was home to 50,000 motels4! The Howard Hughes Motor Lodge joined the scene two years later.
The Howard Hughes was built by Jack Meyers of nearby Anderson in 1952. Meyers named the place the Motel Weston due to its location just south of Greenfield’s brand-new Weston Village housing development. Meyers even bought a home in Weston Village that he connected to the motel with a sidewalk5. With fourteen rooms, the U-shaped Motel Weston featured colonial elements like its overhanging roof, white columns, and cupola.
In 1954, Meyers sold the Motel Weston -and his house- to Howard Hughes, who moved in and immediately assumed management of the place6. Hughes was a busy man that year, wresting control of RKO to become the first sole owner of a major Hollywood film studio since the 1920s! Of all the motels in and around Greenfield, Hughes’ involvement was why I decided to investigate this one.
Needless to say, it was a different Howard Hughes -a hotelier from Evanston Illinois- who bought the Motel Weston from Jack Meyers, and he wound up making significant changes to the place after he assumed control. For one thing, Hughes changed the name of the motel to recognize his ownership. He also added an enormous neon sign that advertised the facility’s association with AAA. I imagine the motel was quite a landmark coming into Greenfield from Indianapolis on US-40. Its sign would have been impossible to miss!
Hughes added nine rooms to the complex by erecting a second building just west of the main structure in 19637. Despite his efforts, the environment was changing: US-40 was one of Indiana’s most heavily-traveled east-west routes until Interstate 70 – an expressway that spans 2,171 miles from Baltimore to Utah- was completed8. I-70 reached Hancock County in 1968 but, unfortunately, it bypassed Greenfield two miles north of the Howard Hughes Motel.
Hughes retired five years later and sold the motel to Bert and Louise Stegerman, natives of the Netherlands who previously owned motels in Wisconsin and Florida9. The Stegermans operated the motel until 1997 when they sold the property to new owners who rebranded the place as Budget Motel10. It’s remained the same ever since.
The old Motel Weston/Howard Hughes Motor Lodge continues with daily and weekly rates that cater to locals instead of cross-country road warriors, but a cluster of big boys- inns named Hampton, Fairfield, Holiday, Quality, and Country- dominates the landscape north of Greenfield at the I-70 exit today. Although they’re bland and impersonal, the major players offer a consistent experience that locally-owned motels couldn’t provide, and there’s something to be said for that.
I’d stop at one of the big boxes if I was tasked with taking I-70 across the continent, and there’s no shame there. Interstates are built for fast travel, and I’m too young to have experienced the golden age of the motel. Nevertheless, I wish I had. Places like the old Howard Hughes are rapidly disappearing from our collective conscience!
Thankfully, the Howard Hughes Motor Lodge is still among the living. albeit under different guise. Although the Budget Motel doesn’t look like much, it serves as a link to a previous era of pre-interstate travel. I’m glad it’s still around, and would love to have spent the night there during its heyday when US-40 -the old National Road- was still the fastest way to travel.
1 INDOT History (n.d.) Indiana Department of Transportation. Web. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
2 Map of Indiana Showing State Highways (1920). Indiana State Highway Commission [Indianapolis]. Map.
3 National Road Improvements (1934, January 24). The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. p. 6.
4 Margolies, J. (1995). Home Away From Home: Motels in America. Bullfinch Press, Little Brown and Co. [Boston]. Book.
5 Weston Motel Is Sold (1954, February 27). The Greenfield Daily Reporter. p. 4.
6 Weston Motel Is Sold (1954, March 4). The Greenfield Republican. p. 2.
7 Hughes Lodge Owner Retiring (1973, June 20). The Greenfield Daily Reporter. p. 1.
8 Bradley, D. (2020, November 17). ‘Under the highway’: How interstates divided Indianapolis neighborhoods and displaced 17,000 people. WRTV [Indianapolis]. Web. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
9 (See footnote 6).
10 Rooms for Rent (1998, March 10). The Greenfield Daily Reporter. p. 8.
2 thoughts on “Greenfield’s Howard Hughes Motel on US-40”
I worked for Howard and Louise Hughes from 1954 till I graduated from high school in 1956, than I worked selling room at night in the 60’s
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I am just barely old enough to remember staying in places like this on family trips when I was a little kid. Even then, places like Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson were becoming the choice for modern travelers.