What Would a Bucket List Look Like 100 Years Ago?
PHOTO: Camping was a popular way to explore our nation's natural landscapes. (photo via Wikipedia)
For Americans, our travel bucket lists generally span the globe. Many of us want to hit all seven continents or visit all of the 50 U.S. states. Whatever your bucket list looks like, it’s probably much more elaborate than anyone’s travel dreams 100 years ago.
Based on history, the list would probably resemble more of the modern-day staycation. While U.S. elites would have rambled through Europe and cruised the Med in the early parts of the century (or perhaps before that), with World War I engulfing Europe and much of the world embroiled in battles, there wasn’t a big call for international travel.
The idea of “vacation” for the typical U.S. worker was still a blossoming idea in the eyes of the American public and the idea of getting away and exploring nature as a pleasurable escape for the harried city dweller wouldn’t truly take hold until around 1869 when William H. H. Murray’s self-help book “Adventures in the Wilderness” was published.
Europeans have long been more evolved on the matter of vacationing, as the idea had taken hold as far back as the Romantic Age among its leisured classes. However, Americans were just building a leisure class and Murray’s book had the good fortune to come along at the right time.
By 1916, Americans still hadn’t reached peak leisure levels as those seen in the Gilded Age, but there were some significant developments that showed Americans' ongoing lust for exploration and their thirst for getting away from it all.
The Official Automobile Blue Book, for one. It was a comprehensive road trip guide and included “touring information for the year.” In 1916, it was already in it 16th edition and included more than 1,300 individual driving routes meant for exploring and sightseeing. It made traveling by car look formal, luxurious and sophisticated and provided detailed instructions for traveling in places such as Colorado’s Estes Park, navigating the Pacific Coast or transcontinental crossings.
Nineteen-sixteen was also the year that the National Parks Service was formed. Clearly, Americans were eager to preserve and visit these celebrated natural spaces. By the early 20th century, Americans had developed a love affair with camping and reconnecting with natural spaces as a form of escaping their everyday lives, enhanced by intellectuals and academics such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who romanticized and revered the land and our connection to it.
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Here are some of the top vacation spots that were probably topping the bucket lists of travelers around 1916 — notably, most are still popular with U.S. travelers today:
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Before the 1900s, the beaches of Horry County were nearly inaccessible. A timber and turpentine firm, Burroughs and Collins Company, began developing Myrtle Beach as a resort area in the beginning of the 1900s. The beach’s first hotel, the Seaside Inn, was built in 1901 and the town growing up around it came to be known as New Town. A contest later determined its more permanent name, Myrtle Beach.
By 1916, the Adirondacks had grown from a camping destination where city residents flocked to reconnect with nature to a place where families of many income levels could escape to a hotel or resort and have a vacation.
Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard
Around the turn of the 20th century, Oak Bluffs, which started out as a retreat for Methodists, became a popular secular tourism destination where visitors arrived by steamer from the mainland to enjoy the shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, dance halls, band concerts and more. Resort hotels lined the waterfront and the bluffs.
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Newport, Rhode Island
Industrialization skipped over Newport, and that turned out to be a blessing for its burgeoning tourism industry. Frozen in time, the city used its picturesque qualities to attract summer visitors, bringing influential groups of artists, writers, scientists, educators, architects and theologians to its shores. Perhaps this led to Newport’s elite status in the Gilded Age, with Henry and William James, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, William Ellery Channing, Barton Rogers and more paving the way for the elite clans such as the King and Griswold families of New York and the Vanderbilts and turning the Newport into the Queen of the Resorts.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
In the early 1900s, Atlantic City, already a popular escape with a booming boardwalk, was in the midst of a hotel boom. Boarding houses were being torn down and replaced by large hotels such as the Chalfonte Hotel, the Brighton, the Chelsea, the Shelburne, the Ambassador, the Ritz Carlton and more. The boardwalk was so busy in the early part of the century that it had to be enlarged.
More by Janeen Christoff
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