Tin Can Tourism: The Golden Age of camping
November in Bradenton brings with it cooler weather and the anticipation of our seasonal friends: the snowbirds.
Ever wonder how this traditional migration got its start? Well, let’s go back in time. Back to a time before modern commercial air travel, and just after the Model T was made accessible to the average American. In this area, roads were nothing more than wagon ruts. Mud, sand and the occasional stream were encountered along many routes. But for those Northern travelers seeking adventure and a respite from the cold of winter, the nomadic spirit prevailed.
During the 1920s, as this new style of travel progressed in popularity, highways were being opened throughout the South. Many of these new highway systems wound their way around Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to find their end in Florida.
Travelers in these early automobiles modified them to include sleeping areas and kitchens, since hotels and restaurants were scarce along the rural routes where the new roadways passed. Some of these trailering enthusiasts even had large metal barrels welded to their rides for carrying water. They touted the freedom of this mobile lifestyle, forming a membership group: the “Tin Can Tourists.”
Where the name came from is cause for some speculation. Some say that it came from the campers’ reliance upon canned food. Some say it refers to the automobile of choice among this middle class group – the Ford Model T or “Tin Lizzie.” Others say that the name came from the tin can welded to the radiator cap on a car, which was an outward symbol to others of membership in the group.
The membership formed a network of reliable help while traveling on the sometimes treacherous roads. For example, the 62-mile trip from Tampa to Bradenton was no easy feat. This was a day’s journey, and a camper could encounter as many as 17 tire punctures in this span. Each blow-out of the tube would have to be patched. Every traveler carried a kit of patches and a hand pump for repairs.
THE GROUP WAS FORMED WITH THE GOAL OF PROVIDING ITS MEMBERS CLEAN, SAFE CAMPING AREAS WITH WHOLESOME ENTERTAINMENT AND HIGH MORAL VALUES.
The group was formed with the goal of providing its members clean, safe camping areas with wholesome entertainment and high moral values. Regardless of this goal, some communities regarded the groups as too raucous. Such was the case in Tampa in 1922, where many campers using the public land were deemed a nuisance and dispelled from their encampments. Heading south again, a caravan of three couples found their way to Braden Castle Point, which had been used for many years by locals as a campsite. Word quickly spread and the area became a popular winter encampment for the TCT.
$16,000 – Amount paid for the 34.75-acre lot at Braden Castle Point in 1924
In February 1924, a committee of these Tin Can Tourists was formed and incorporated as the Camping Tourists of America. The CTA purchased the 34.75-acre lot at Braden Castle Point for $16,000. The tract was divided into 200 lots, 40 feet by 40 feet each. The corporation sold shares to CTA members who wished to build on the lots and who met the minimum 55-year age requirement and had no children and no pets. The unique subdivision was named Braden Castle Point.
The continued popularity of travel trailers continued to draw tourists and snowbirds to our area and in 1936, the Bradenton Kiwanis purchased land on 14th Street West from the City of Bradenton to build the Bradenton Trailer Park to welcome them. Rent at that time was $1.50 per lot. The club’s initial $17,000 investment grew into a 40-acre lot which Kiwanis sold in 1997 for $8.8 million, which enabled the club to meet its mission by investing in our community.
The original Tin Can Tourists pioneered camper travel, and the booming families of post-World War II America would find this mode of vacationing ever more popular. Through the dawn of air travel, the number of automobile tourists coming to Florida still increased year over year and eventually, motels would spring up taking the place of camp grounds.
Still, more sophisticated travel trailers and mobile home parks would continue to be an appealing option for retirees. As the American highway system matured, roadside attractions sprouted up seemingly out of nowhere, and the more formalized tourism industry boomed. While we enjoy our fair share of beach tourists, here in Bradenton, the carefree retirement lifestyle of mobile home living is alive and well.
Better get ready for those snowbirds! They’ll be here before you know it!
Phaedra Carter, supervisor at Manatee Village Historical Park, is a native of Anna Maria Island. Email: Phaedra.firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 941-749-7165