Kaaterskill Falls, 8X10, unframed, by Carol L. Douglas. Kaaterskill Falls is one of America’s oldest tourist attractions.
Yesterday I was moaning with a friend about how a busy holiday leaves us needing a vacation. She said, “I can’t remember the last vacation I took.”
That’s something I hear frequently. It got me wondering about the history of the vacation. Luckily, while we may not get much time off, we can find almost anything online, and I went to Cindy Aron’s Working At Play: A History of Vacations in the United States for a précis.
|The first tabernacle at Ocean Grove, NJ, in 1876, from Harper’s Monthly.|
Of course the idea of vacationing arose with the elite: those wealthy people who could afford to get out of the steaming city in the summer and head to their rural estates or the shore. That started as a way of avoiding disease, just as the Grand Tour was meant as an educational capstone.
It wasn’t until the Civil War that vacationing became more commonly available. And as with so many things in 19th century America, the vacation was tied up with religious reform.
|Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. This poster is from 1938.|
On the one hand there were secular resorts like Saratoga Springs, NY, Hot Springs, VA, and Newport, RI. These catered to money, with a whiff of dissolution and activities like billiards, bowling, gambling, dances, and concerts. On the other hand, there were the improving resorts, like Chautauqua, NY (and all the little chautauquas it spawned) or Ocean Grove, NJ.
|Kaaterskill Creek, 8X10, unframed, by Carol L. Douglas.|
Even as transportation improved and religious revival died down, the middle class tended to prefer improvement to frivolity, favoring camping, touring, and the National Parks over fashionable resorts. While there have always been amusement parks like Coney Island to attract middle-class visitors, it wasn’t until the opening of Disneyland in 1955 that the modern theme park was born.