Retro Stays: 5 North Carolina Motels That Will Take You Back in Time

These refurbished motor lodges with vintage and Mid-century design elements offer a nostalgic weekend getaway.
by Elizabeth Lincicome

Four wheels, a suitcase and the open road — as cars became more affordable in the 1950s and ‘60s, the idea of a weekend away at a drive-up motel gained in popularity. And in the last few years, hospitality folks across the state have been exploring that nostalgia, refurbishing motor lodges from the era for a new generation of travelers. “The ease and access of pulling up and parking right in front of a lodge offers a totally different experience from what could be a more antiseptic hotel stay,” says Andy Schrader, who owns and operates the Sunset Motel in Brevard. “Plus, you get to meet your neighbors, because all that separates you is a front door.” 

Alongside modern-day amenities, many of these redone motels work to create a community among the guests and locals, offering spaces like outdoor pools, lounges, fire pits or game areas. “With these restored motels, people are responding to a link to the past — these properties have a soul,” says Russ Jones, president of LODEN Hospitality, which developed Rhode’s Motor Lodge in Boone. If that appeals to you, consider one of these spots for a weekend away. 

Mother Earth Motor Lodge in Kinston

Originally known as the Mid-Town Motor Lodge, this 44-room lodge in Kinston was transformed into the Mother Earth Motor Lodge in 2016 by Stephen Hill, owner of nearby Mother Earth Brewing. The motel was built by George Dubose of Dubose Realty Company in 1963 and was long a draw for downtown shoppers and those traveling on Highway 70. James Brown and some of his band stayed at the original motel after performing local shows in the 1960s, and the building is on the National Historic Register.

After the 1980s, the motel went through one more owner before Hill revived it. The exterior was preserved throughout the revamp, and the interior decor remains true to its period feel with design details like wood paneling, a spunky orange-lime-and-teal color scheme and Mid-century modern furniture. But the centerpiece of it all may be the pool in the central courtyard, with nearby picnic tables, shuffleboard and a nine-hole mini-golf course to keep guests entertained. Down the street from the lodge, Mother Earth Brewery and its attached Tap Room are destination spots for local beer lovers. 
501 N. Herritage Street, Kinston;

Rhode’s Motor Lodge in Boone

Offering easy access to many of Central North Carolina’s scenic hiking and ski areas, Rhode’s Motor Lodge in Boone was originally built in the 1950s. It was renovated by Loden Hospitality (the design group behind Raleigh’s Longleaf Hotel) and reopened in October 2023.

Christine McDonald, Loden Hospitality’s chief operating officer, oversaw the design team that transformed this 54-room boutique inn. “We wanted to create a cozy spot that feels like a throwback to those Mid-century motor courts, mixed with the charm of a rustic lodge, but pulled together with a modern camp feel,” she says. The structure pretty much had to be gutted, but they kept small sections of terra-cotta tile flooring and the original iron balconies, whose design became the inspiration for the lodge’s logo. The decor nods to the Mid-century roots through pops of orange but also leaned into the camp inspiration with elements like tree-trunk side tables, Adirondack chairs, tent-inspired pendant lights and Coleman coolers instead of ice buckets.

The Rhode’s team also wanted to make sure that the hotel was “a destination for locals,” says Jones: “We created lots of spots — on the front patio, in the courtyard and in the lobby — where anyone, not just hotel guests, can gather around a cozy fire, regardless of the weather.”
1377 Blowing Rock Road, Highway 321, Boone;

Skyline Lodge in Highlands

Built in Highlands in the 1930s, the Skyline Lodge was designed by Arthur J. Kelsey, an architect who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. The Indigo Road Hospitality Group renovated and reopened the hotel in 2021. “We wanted to preserve the nostalgic, whimsical feel of the property by maintaining its signature design characteristics and interaction with nature,” says Indigo Road founder Steve Palmer. “Our intention was to create an environment where guests feel welcome, comfortable and connected to the natural beauty of the Highlands area.” 

From the outside, the 40-room boutique hotel blends into the scenery with its low, long rooflines and artisan stonework. The interiors incorporate reclaimed wood, terra-cotta flooring and native granite. The mezzanine and reading room sport whimsically mismatched decor, and the rooms get a 1960s vibe with pumpkin orange doors and platform beds. A central courtyard includes seating areas, lawn games and small fire pits for guests. 
470 Skyline Lodge Road, Highlands;

Sunset Motel in Brevard

About a 10-minute walk from Brevard’s Main Street, the 20-room Sunset Motel first opened its doors in 1955, but after multiple owners and steady decline it was forced to shut down during the pandemic. Current owner Andy Schrader rescued it in 2022. “When I first bought this place it was pretty much in disrepair,” he says. “The decor was kitschy and quirky, so I’ve been bringing it back to its roots with Mid-century modern atomic flair.” 

Now, brightly painted rooms feature retro appliances like Victrola record players, vintage furniture and art. Schrader is continuing to renovate the hotel, outfitting the common area out back to incorporate a fire pit, as well as a glamping tent. “I want this motel to be the go-to place for folks here for our mountain biking, waterfall hiking, fly fishing and summer music series,” Schrader says. Most of all, Schrader’s proud to have gotten a long-beloved motel back in operation: “I grin from ear to ear when I see my guests taking selfies in front of our sign.”  
523 S. Broad Street, Brevard;

Route 19 Inn in Maggie Valley

Located within the Great Smoky Mountains in Maggie Valley, off the iconic U.S. Highway 19, the Route 19 Inn was originally known as the Rocky Waters Motel. It first opened its doors in 1948, and the 32-room lodge was restored and reopened in spring of 2020 after sitting vacant for a decade. The design was a collective effort of a group that includes majority owner Robert Verkaik, who has been in the hospitality industry for 50 years, and Matt Ferguson, a former Disney executive, along with partners Lori Ferguson (Matt’s wife), Mark and Mary Elizbeth Craft, and general managers Angela and Eric Frisbee.

“The process of bringing the property back to life took two years,” Frisbee says. “It was like entering into a time capsule. Beds had been left made, towels were still in their racks — everything frozen in time. There were literally trees growing inside some of the rooms!”

Today, guest rooms boast crisp white walls and colorful vintage furnishings, with artwork including retro posters, collages made from old newspapers and magazine clippings, and old records. In addition to the rooms, the site also hosts a playground, shuffleboard court, seasonal outdoor pool and trout fishing in nearby streams. “Guests love the decor, they love the mountain views and the cooler weather, but most of all they love the family that works here,” says Devan Messer, who runs the front desk. 
4898 Soco Road, Maggie Valley;

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.