Between today’s miles traveled and tomorrow’s: the shining American way station with a middle-class glamour all its own.
That’s how my wife, Jill, and I feel as we pull into Mother Earth Motor Lodge in Kinston one sunny afternoon, after driving past miles of farms and fields and slowing for a few small, quiet towns straddling the highway. Then, suddenly, civilization: a lighted sign and the motor lodge, bright and sharp, all straight lines and bold colors, the doors just a shade darker than the Wedgwood blue of my family’s ’59 Ford.
Neon lights and vintage designs take guests at Mother Earth Motor Lodge back in time. photograph by Baxter Miller
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Once, this was the MidTown (or Kinston) Motor Lodge, built in 1963, when such motels had their own distinctive personalities rather than a corporate uniformity. Travelers came to Kinston from New Hope and Dover and Ayden to shop in the busy downtown and gather at the tobacco warehouse-nightclubs, where big bands entertained with jazz and swing and soul. Performers often stayed at the motor lodge — even James Brown himself, the Godfather of Soul.
If Mother Earth Brewing is your first stop in Kinston, the motor lodge, located right down the street, should be your next. photograph by Baxter Miller
With the decline of the textile and tobacco industries that drove the town’s economy, the motor lodge fell on hard times. But in 2012, Stephen Hill, the local entrepreneur and patron of the arts who owns Mother Earth Brewing Company, bought the motel and restored it to its former glory — and then some: 45 rooms and suites, all colorfully decorated with original artwork on the walls, retro chairs, and polka-dot bedspreads. The three-ring pool (reminiscent of the kidney-shaped pools of yesteryear) is surrounded by palm trees and freshened by five fountains. Behind the pool is a play area with grilling stations, picnic tables, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, and a miniature golf course.
Sip beer from Mother Earth Brewing Company before kicking back at the motor lodge. photograph by Baxter Miller
Mother Earth brings back all kinds of nostalgia. Jill and I play shuffleboard — a game I haven’t played since I was 12 — and several rounds of miniature golf before dinner. Afterward, I sit in the cool courtyard like my dad used to do, listening to the splash of the fountains and sipping a beer from Mother Earth Brewing — a Park Day Bohemian-Style Pilsner available right in the lobby — and reminisce on days gone by. As evening fades into nighttime, the palm trees glow with blue, red, and green lights.
One of the last old-school fish houses in Onslow County stands sentry on the White Oak River. Clyde Phillips Seafood Market has served up seafood and stories since 1954 — an icon of the coast, persevering in pink.