ELM CREEK — The Red Top Cabin Camp — a remnant of the heydays of the United States’ first coast-to-coat highways — is being demolished on the east side of Elm Creek.
Named “Red Top” because if its distinctive tile-look roof, the motel and campgrounds was built in 1929. That was just 16 years after U.S. automakers and other promoters announced the United States’ first transcontinental roadway — the Lincoln Highway — would stretch almost 3,500 miles from Times Square in New York City on the East Coast to San Francisco on the West Coast.
Americans were excited because the Lincoln Highway opened a pathway to explore their nation in their own automobiles. Entrepreneurs along the route through south-central Nebraska worked fast to capitalize on the thousands of tourists on the Lincoln Highway.
The Red Top was typical of the hotels, campgrounds and service stations that sprang up along the Lincoln Highway, which was designated U.S. Highway 30.
During its 91-year history, the Red Top had nine owners. Among them were Norris and Minnie Stevens, who moved from a farm near Amherst to Elm Creek. The couple ran the Red Top from 1953 to 1956.
One of their daughters, Peggy Porter, lives with her husband, Joe, north of the Red Top property. Peggy was only 3 years old, but she helped her mother at the Red Top.
“My mom had me helping to strip the sheets from the beds,” Porter said.
The property’s new owner, Larry Gydesen, has removed several buildings, leaving the empty Texaco station on the west side and two of the buildings fronting U.S. Highway 30. Those buildings housed apartments. Their distinctive roofs, made to look like red tile, date to the Lincoln Highway era.
Gydesen operates Larry’s Service Center just east of the Red Roof property and said the buildings have become eyesores and safety hazards. He declined to say whether he has plans for the property.
The Red Top’s first owner, A.G. Anderson, built the cabin camp in 1929 on the east side of Elm Creek. According to the Elm Creek history book, Lee Miller managed the camp and later bought it. The business had hotel buildings, but guests also could lodge in the small cabins on the back of the grounds. Travelers could refill their fuel tanks or have their vehicles repaired at a Texaco service station and garage that was on the property.
The Elm Creek history book said that in the 1930s a cafe and some apartments were added. A few years later the garage was divided into apartments. Miller bought property north of the Red Top complex and moved in two houses for rentals.
The camp did a thriving business until Interstate 80 opened to traffic in 1974. The modern high-speed interstate contributed to the downfall and eventual failure of many of the motels, restaurants, service stations and attractions that sprang up in the early days of the Lincoln Highway.
Other Red Top owners were Murl Watson, Bill TenEyck, Gail Taylor, Clarence Hays and Norris Stevens.
Stevens installed televisions in 10 of the cabins. It was the area’s first small motel to have televisions.
Walter Garringer bought the business from Stevens. Don Sturgeon was the last owner before Larry Gydesen, who operates Larry’s Service Center, bought the property and began demolition.
In addition to stripping beds with her mother, Porter remembers drinking cold pop from a machine in the Texaco station. Frequently she talked customers into buying the pops for her.
Porter said her father decided to sell the business and return to farming. It was a good decision, Porter said, because Interstate 80 soon would be built, and all of the travelers who supported businesses along U.S. Highway 30 soon would shift to I-80.
Sarah Focke of the Kearney Area Visitors Bureau said original Lincoln Highway attractions like the Red Top Cabin Camp are crumbling into oblivion. Focke and staff from visitors bureaus in other Nebraska communities have nominated U.S. Highway 30 to be designated as a National Scenic Byway. The designation would add notoriety to the former Lincoln Highway, which paved the way for many of the nation’s other famous routes.
Efforts also are targeting Highway 2 — the Sandhills Scenic Byway — to be nationally designated. Highway 2 angles northwesterly from Grand Island to Crawford and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
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