North Hills Flashback: Buskey's Motel

Taking a trip from Ross, we find ourselves checking in at a motel in Hampton...with a reputation!

Nothing makes for a good story like an old hotel or motel. For many towns, they are the source of folklore, true stories, tall tales, and settings for scary stories. In Ross, we had the Beverly Hills Hotel and Evergreen Hotel, both of which produced plenty of tales over the years. The former was most notorious for sitting vacant for nearly three decades following a fire. Thankfully, developers were able to save the building, renovate it, and turn it into an office-type building. The latter was demolished two years ago after serving most recently as a house of debauchery, although its overall history is quite rich and deserves a column of its own.

Neither Beverly Hills or Evergreen were considered to be motels, which started popping up as travelers began to take trips by car and needed quick, accessible hotels for motor vehicles (hence the name). Today, most people stay at brand name motels or hotels when they travel, and many are fiercely loyal to a particular brand. (I almost always stay at Hampton Inns and have even recommended particular locations to friends and fellow travelers). Before the chains, however, the mom-and-pop motel we remember fondly from stories of old (or from Alfred Hitchcock) was the way to go.

Small motels owned by families are a dying breed, although a few still dot the landscape. Chains and public perception of old motels put more of these businesses on the chopping block each year. Some are quite nice and have great reputations, including the Wiltshire Motel in Breezewood, PA. Unfortunately, every town seems to have at least one notorious motel. Breezewood itself has the Breezewood Motel, which anyone who has ever eaten at the town’s McDonald’s has undoubtably had the pleasure of seeing as they exit the restaurant. A few miles from my apartment in Fort Mill, SC (a suburb of Charlotte directly over the state line) is a vacant lot which, when I moved to the area in August, was home to a decrepit motel in the process of falling down. Curious, I did my homework on the building. A little research revealed it to be Porter’s Motel, a setting for plenty of depressing yet somehow exciting stories told by residents of Fort Mill and Rock Hill.

Things change when you place a motel in a small township known to its residents as “the bubble” instead of an interstate stop known as “Town of Motels” or a satellite city of Charlotte. Enter Buskey’s Motel, which has been serving travelers and serving as a distraction for commuters stopped at the intersection of Route 8 and McNeal Road in Hampton for at least 60 years. (I can’t seem to find an actual establishment date for Buskey’s). Mention the name to a Hampton High School graduate and you’re sure to get a laugh, a cringe, or some combination of the two. In the early days of Facebook, there was even a group called “I shack it up at Buskey’s” where folklore and rumors were posted. Sadly, the group, which was more about humor than the history of the motel itself, died with many other neglected Facebook groups when the new groups format was introduced.

Buskey’s actually had a pretty normal history in the early days. In fact, there are motel postcards featuring Buskey’s circa 1961 circulating (there’s even one on eBay for $4.09 as I write this). At the time, it was a nice stop for those traveling along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and, at least for some time, had unique carpeted walls. All accounts state the original owners were very nice people who made sure every guest had a great experience at the motel. It is unknown when the motel changed hands, although that has happened several times since its founding.

Buskey’s continued to operate as usual until the early morning hours of June 29, 1972, when Anna Akers shot her husband, James Akers, in room four of Buskey’s. Mr. Akers was a truck driver who had been traveling through from Iowa and had stayed at Buskey’s with his wife for the evening. Mrs. Akers blamed the shot on a masked intruder, although another guest staying in the motel claimed to have heard a loud argument, which led to the gunshot. Four years later, the pistol used to shoot Mr. Akers was found in the bathroom during a renovation. Mrs. Akers was proven guilty in 1986 for the murder of her husband.

Since then, the reputation of Buskey’s has taken quite a beating. According to locals, the motel is notorious for crime, especially involving drugs. At least one arrest took place over the past few years for drug-related crimes, and more undoubtably happened in the years before the world wide web helped us track down crime information with a few keystrokes. Motel ownership did not take any pride in the appearance or reputation of Buskey’s, sometimes renting rooms for only a few hours at a time. Rumors about the motel swirled around the community, with a story about what actually went on (actually, “prediction” may be a better word) popping up from time to time as residents drove past.

The 1972 murder certainly made Buskey’s a less desirable place to stay, much less a reputable motel in the Hampton community. Hotels and motels tend to lose credential very quickly if a disaster happens at one (Disney even used this as the premise of the Tower of Terror ride, which is based on an elevator crash at a hotel set in Hollywood).

Thankfully, there is a school of thought that any wound can be healed, if not by time, by positive action. It’s always great when people at odds with each other can forgive, move on, and become stronger friends. Although we think this is something reserved for Hollywood, it’s something that happens every day (and perhaps not often enough).

The same sort of miracle can happen in business, although it’s even tougher to pull off. That is, unless you have a knack for something. Enter the new owners of Buskey’s, members of a group known to turn around struggling, nearly dead motels. Ironically, the group is based in Iowa, the same state Mr. Akers had been in before stopping at Buskey’s in 1972.

The motel currently uses its back rooms as long term rooms, designed for single adults who don’t require a kitchen or a lot of living space. In front are the rooms for travelers. While the motel is quite basic and lacks features such as an ice machine, it seems as though the owners are definitely putting effort into Buskey’s and wish to make it a desirable old-fashioned travel stop for those who don’t need the frills associated with modern chain hotels. (There is also very little competition at the Butler Valley turnpike exit; Quality Inn is the only other motel currently operating following the closure of Route 8 Lodge/Econo Lodge/Conley’s, Pittsburgh Motor Lodge/Howard Johnson’s, and Comfort Inn, which was converted to a nursing home in 1988).

Time will tell what will happen to Buskey’s, especially as it looks to build a new reputation for itself. The 1972 murder will never be forgotten and the tall tales about what goes on at an old motel will continue to run rampant through the halls of Hampton High School, but for travelers looking for a place to crash, perhaps Buskey’s will become the premier destination on Route 8.

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