New owners restoring, upgrading Kentucky city’s most sought after tourist icon

Published 5:54 am Monday, May 10, 2021

What some might see as a curiosity, Greg Davis of the Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission sees as a valuable contributor to his city’s economy.

So much so that Davis has gladly endorsed an investment in the Cave City property being branded as Historic Wigwam Village No. 2 that will help its new owners restore the historic inn and its 15 teepee-like motel rooms to a modern-day version of their glory days.

“It’s such an icon for this area,” said Davis, executive director of the tourist and convention commission. “One of the top questions we get when we go to conferences is if the wigwams are still there.

“It has been in need of repair. Now the new owners are going to bring it back to its heyday. We’re very pleased to see it come back.”

That comeback begins in earnest Saturday, when new owners Keith Stone and Megan Smith officially unveil the neon “Sleep in a Wigwam” sign that was refurbished at Louisville’s Rueff Sign Co. with the help of the tourist and convention commission.

Davis said the commission awarded a $2,500 grant to help Stone and Smith pay for repairs to the neon sign that will be turned on about 7 p.m. Saturday as part of an open house event scheduled to last from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

“Bob Rueff with Rueff Signs had the skills to do the neon,” said Stone, who plans to have a wigwam cake and sleep-in-a-wigwam cookies at Saturday’s event.

It will be a grand opening of sorts for Wigwam Village, which actually reopened under its new owners in March.

Stone and Smith bought the 4.5-acre property from Bowling Green’s Afzal and Masuda Rahim, who had owned the quirky tourist attraction since 2005.

The sale was handled by Glasgow Realtor Kerry Mears, who listed the property last year for $395,000 and thought she had it sold to a buyer from Lexington in September.

Although that deal fell through, Mears said there was plenty of interest in the property that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mears said potential buyers from several states expressed interest in the property that has been located on North Dixie Highway (U.S. 31-W) since it was built by Wigwam Village founder Frank Redford in 1937.

The Cave City attraction was actually Wigwam Village No. 2, coming a couple of years after Redford built the first Wigwam Village in Horse Cave.

Redford added more Wigwam Villages, building five more for a total of seven by 1949. Today, the Cave City site joins locations along Route 66 in Arizona and California as the only Wigwam Villages still in operation.

That uniqueness appealed to Stone, who said he and Smith are working to “restore it to its 1937 splendor.”

That work has already started, not only with the neon sign but with the rooms themselves. Stone said eight of the 15 steel-frame-and-concrete teepees have been refurbished and are open. The remaining rooms will be open within a month, he said.

The restoration has been a labor of love for Stone, who has a background in architecture, and for Smith, who has an interest in historic preservation.

“We’re working on finding historic photos of the property,” Stone said. “We want to update it with modern touches but also keep the original feel.”

The 21st century touches include flat-screen televisions, USB charging ports and wireless internet service; but Stone doesn’t want the property to lose its mid-20th century charm.

One thing Stone wants to keep are the two large fire pits in the center of the property that he has been updating.

“I fell in love with that (fire pits),” he said. “People would come out in the center of the property and talk to each other. People just wanted to be here.”

Another historic aspect of the property that Stone wants to bring back is the restaurant that was once housed in the main building (or “Bigwam”) now used strictly as an office and gift shop.

“Our goal is to restore it and find someone to lease it as a coffee shop,” he said.

There will be no coffee shop available at Saturday’s open house, but Stone said visitors curious about the rooms will be able to peek inside a couple of them.

More information about Cave City’s Wigwam Village and its history can be found at the website.