Somehow a Tweet about Wigwam Villages showed up in my feed today. I have no idea why. For those of you who are too young or not lucky enough to live in Birmingham back in the 50’s, you may have no clue what I am talking about.
After we got our first car in 1949, my parents liked to go on Sunday drives around Birmingham. Because we lived in the west end of town, West End, to be exact, we were closer to downtown Bessemer than we were to downtown Birmingham. So, many of our Sunday drives took us that way. We would pile in the car – Momma drove since my dad did not know how – Dean and I in the back seat. We drove over to Lomb Avenue and followed it Southeast until we hit Highway 11. Bessemer Road as it was known then, a main drag if there ever was one. We would drive south past the coke plants and steel mills that so stunk up our air, through Bessemer toward Tuscaloosa, though I cannot remember ever going all the way there.
There was a restaurant downtown Bessemer owned by a friend of my father. We did not eat out often and when we did it would be a restaurant where we could get family-style meals at a cheap price. I cannot recall the name of that restaurant now, and I am sure it ceased to exist long ago.
But the highlight of the trip for Dean and I was the Wigwam motor hotel just about midway between the Alabama Fairgrounds and downtown Bessemer. You could not miss it. 15 silver teepees surrounding an even larger central teepee containing the restaurant. The Wigwam Village, as it was called, opened in 1940, the fifth of seven eventually built across the country. My understanding is it was torn down in 1964 when I was in my first year at the Academy.
Dean and I loved to argue with my father about the name. You see, Dean and I watched Hop-along Cassidy on our new TV and we knew that the “wigwams” were really teepees. Wigwams, we tried to convince my father, were short and squatty, not tall and pointed. But he never listened to us and just said, “Then why did the rich man who built Wigwam Village call them wigwams?”
Unfortunately, our arguing with him meant he would never agree to stop the car and let us explore them. So, we drove by, always missing our chance to go in a real teepee.
That is until one cold December day in 1951. My birthday fell on a Sunday that year and I guess my father decided to give in to our pleas because of that when we drove by the teepees on the way to Bessemer. Mother pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked by the big restaurant teepee.
“How would you like to eat dinner here?” he said. We were ecstatic and could not wait to get out of the car and run inside. I honestly cannot remember what we had to eat. More than likely, we had vegetable plates because they were usually the cheapest dinners on the menu. We gobbled our food down and ran around the restaurant looking at the sloping walls. Mom talked to the manager and he let us into one of the wigwam cabins. I cannot remember much about the inside – just a bed and a bathroom. But you could look up at the top of the teepee and see out because there was a window up there, just down a bit from the peak.
The photo below was taken Dec 6, 1951, just four days after we were there.