At one time, the American landscape was dotted with quirky hotels, which often shared a theme with an area’s attraction. For instance, outside of Washington, D.C., a motel called the White House was shaped like, well, the White House.
In recent decades, many of these unique lodgings have disappeared, remodeled due to changing tastes or abandoned altogether.
Several, though, still can be found in Lancaster County, heightening the tourist experience for visitors who want something beyond the blandness of the usual chains.
Red Caboose Motel
The Red Caboose Motel is nestled along the Strasburg Railroad tracks in Ronks, Pa. Perfect for train enthusiasts, it doesn’t get any more hobo chic than sleeping in an actual train car.
The word “motel” may conjure a certain image, but don’t be dissuaded. The motel has a camping-trip kind of feel—family-friendly, with children weaving around yard ornaments, playground equipment and clothesline poles. Chances are, the kids are making their own fun, just waiting to wave at passing train passengers.
The rooms are simply appointed, yet comfortable, with many updates for family stays.
Most of the sleeper train cars are cabooses, although you can book a more spacious mail or baggage car. Why so many cabooses? According to the motel’s written history, the founder, on a whim in 1969, placed a bid on 19 surplus cabooses from the Pennsylvania Railroad. The idea to rent them out grew from there. Appropriately, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Railroad are two of the closest attractions.
But you don’t even have to leave the 10 acres of the motel grounds to find fun activities or stick-to-your-ribs food. On site, you’ll discover a petting zoo, a silo transformed into an observation tower and Amish buggy rides. Situated in two dining cars is a PA Dutch-style diner, appropriately named Casey Jones’ Restaurant.
The Red Caboose Motel is located at 312 Paradise Lane, Ronks. For more information, call 717-687-5000 or visit www.redcaboosemotel.com.
Fulton Steamboat Inn
Finding a steamboat-shaped hotel in Lancaster County may seem odd at first. But it does make sense if you flip through your American history textbook.
Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, was born in the southeastern part of the county in 1765. His invention transformed transportation in the early 1800s and directly led to the concept of the floating hotel—that is, the modern cruise ship.
The inn hearkens back to the golden age of river boating, and you have a choice of two room themes: nautical or Victorian. The period-style décor features fussy drapes, intricate woodcarvings, wrought iron embellishments and somber patterns. Depending on where you are in the hotel, you may be in a room with wavy walls.
In a nod to Fulton himself, the hotel is situated on the water (sort of)—a little pond with Adirondack chairs along the bank. If you’re like me and like to watch things happen while you sit in those chairs, the pond contains a fountain, koi and ducks. On the right night, you can stare at the fire pit along the shore. If you’re feeling more active, there is a walking trail and a ship-shaped playground for the kids.
The Fulton Steamboat Inn is located at Routes 30 & 896, Lancaster. For more information, call 717-299-9999 visit www.fultonsteamboatinn.com.
Tiny Estates is more unconventional than unusual, but it still offers far more interest than a night in your average Hampton Inn. Newly built, the Elizabethtown complex is perfect for camping or glamping (glamorous-plus-camping), a writer’s getaway retreat or to test drive minimalist living.
You may already be familiar with the tiny house movement due to programming on channels like HGTV. Just how tiny? The smallest micro-house is the Alfa, measuring 140 square feet. That rental is for one or two people. Some cabin models, up to 400 square feet, can fit six people.
“Most people who stay in a tiny home find it liberating,” said Amy Schaefer, administrative assistant at Tiny Estates. “Many people who take our tour are researching to see if they could go tiny.”
Inside the tiny homes, you will find creative design foldout features, putting you in mind of a Swiss army knife on wheels. For example, you might find vertical ladders to loft bedrooms instead of stairs. If you do find a staircase, there are drawers or cubbies inside or under them. Doors slide instead of swivel. One unit even has a Murphy bed.
There were no closets or secret compartments under floorboards, like those on HGTV. But guests will find homey amenities similar to a boutique hotel, plus some common areas to spread out a little. Property amenities include a hot tub, fire pit, games and entertainment area and fishing from the retention pond.
Tiny Estates has been growing quickly since its debut in early 2018. When the property first opened, there were a handful of houses along dirt roads. Now there are 32 houses of various styles and improvements like paved roads, stones (to lessen the mud) and an electronic gate. Future plans include a privacy fence and a community room for entertaining larger parties.
Tiny Estates is located at 867 Schwanger Rd., Elizabethtown. For more information, call 717-715-0030 or visit www.tiny-estates.com.