Vacation and Leisure

views updated


VACATION AND LEISURE. Vacationing began as a privilege of the colonial elite in the eighteenth century, when southern planters and wealthy northerners started to make periodic retreats to mineral springs and seashores. Early destinations included Saratoga Springs in New York, Stafford Springs in Connecticut, Berkeley Springs in Virginia, and Newport in Rhode Island. The Antebellum period saw the number of vacationers and vacation retreats increase. Added to the list of destinations during this time were the resorts around the mineral springs in the Virginias like Red Sulfur Springs and White Sulfur Springs; seaside resorts like Cape May in New Jersey and Cape Cod in Massachusetts; and the Catskill, Adirondack, White, and Green Mountains. Meanwhile, Niagara Falls became the preeminent tourist destination of the nineteenth century. But the vacation remained largely confined to the upper classes and was intended primarily for health reasons. In fact, the word "vacation" to describe these types of journeys did not enter into the American lexicon until the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was at about this time that a considerable debate emerged. Taking time away from work for leisure ran counter to the Puritan ethic, which had pervaded for two centuries; idle time away could be justified for health reasons, but not simply for amusement. The eventual change in public opinion, the emergence of the middle class, and changes in transportation technology following the Civil War gave rise to a vast array of resorts and types of vacations for leisure, recreation, education, and, indeed, health.

The railroads changed the vacation landscape dramatically. With the introduction of the luxurious Pullman Palace Cars after the Civil War, the railroads developed a wider tourist trade. In addition, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 made the West a viable tourist destination. Mineral springs remained popular and proliferated throughout the country, including Waukesha, Wisconsin, in the Midwest, Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the South, and Congress Springs, California, in the West, to name a few. Seaside resorts began to spring up on the West Coast, for example, in San Diego, where the famous Hotel Del Coronado first opened its doors in 1886, and in Monterey Bay, where the equally famous Hotel Del Monte opened a year later. The railroads were also the main proponents of America's first national parks; The Northern Pacific promoted Yellowstone; the Santa Fe marketed the Grand Canyon; and the Great Northern was instrumental in the development of Glacier National Park in northern Montana.

Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation in general became widely popular in the decades bracketing the end of the nineteenth century, especially among America's growing, urban population. Backwoods resort regions emerged across the country wherever there was a concentration of lakes, forests, or mountains. The typical resort was operated on what was called the American plan, which meant that literally everything was provided for guests, including food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, and guides.

The twentieth century witnessed dramatic changes in vacation and leisure activities. The automobile and the development of a nationwide highway system liberated the vacationer from the railroad; they were free to travel virtually anywhere. Camping and inexpensive motels brought the vacation experience within the grasp of almost the entire American population. Attendance swelled at national and state parks in the decades following World War II. Theme parks like Disneyland and Disney World paved the way for new types of family-based vacations, while the thrill of gambling and nightlife put Las Vegas on the map. Once exclusively for the wealthy, inexpensive air travel in the latter decades of the twentieth century allowed middle class Americans to travel to vacation destinations in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii.


Aron, Cindy. Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Belasco, Warren. Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910–1945. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1979.

Jakle, John. The Tourist: Travel in Twentieth-Century North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.


See alsoHotels and Hotel Industry ; Recreation ; Resorts and Spas .