The Birth of American Tourism

The Birth of American Tourism: New York, the Hudson Valley, and American Culture, 17901835

Richard H. Gassan
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Birth of American Tourism
    Book Description:

    Today the idea of traveling within the United States for leisure purposes is so commonplace it is hard to imagine a time when tourism was not a staple of our cultural life. Yet as Richard H. Gassan persuasively demonstrates, at the beginning of the nineteenth century travel for leisure was strictly an aristocratic luxury beyond the means of ordinary Americans. It wasn't until the second decade of the century that the first middleclass tourists began to follow the lead of the welltodo, making trips up the Hudson River valley north of New York City, and in a few cases beyond. At first just a trickle, by 1830 the tide of tourism had become a flood, a cultural change that signaled a profound societal shift as the United States stepped onto the road that would eventually lead to a modern consumer society. According to Gassan, the origins of American tourism in the Hudson Valley can be traced to a confluence of historical accidents, including the proximity of the region to the most rapidly growing financial and population center in the country, with its expanding middle class, and the remarkable beauty of the valley itself. But other developments also played a role, from the proliferation of hotels to accommodate tourists, to the construction of an efficient transportation network to get them to their destinations, to the creation of a set of cultural attractions that invested their experience with meaning. In the works of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper and the paintings of Thomas Cole and others of the Hudson River School, travelers in the region encountered the nation's first literary and artistic movements. Tourism thus did more than provide an escape from the routines of everyday urban life; it also helped Americans of the early republic shape a sense of national identity.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-092-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Francis Dallam took only two weeks of vacation in the summer of 1827.

    He could have taken much more: he was from an old-line Maryland family, with solid wealth; rents from land holdings in Maryland, Tennessee, and Kentucky; several slaves; and a position as the collector of taxes for the city of Baltimore.¹ Although he had a sizable family—he and his wife had six children—he took this journey without them, traveling with just one other male friend and, probably, a slave.²

    This was not going to be a leisurely trip: he planned a tight schedule, never budgeting more...

  5. 1 Laying the Foundation
    (pp. 9-33)

    One day in 1792, Nicholas Low, one of America’s richest men, began an unusual project. He ordered that a substantial inn be built, complemented by a bathhouse, on one of his poorer and more remote properties, a tract of sandy, forested land in upstate New York. What made this even more unusual was that the inn was to be located near another inn, one that had itself just been improved at considerable expense.¹

    The bathhouse is one way to understand what was happening there. Low’s inn and its rival (later to be called the Aldridge House) were located at Ballston,...

  6. 2 Inventing the Resort: Saratoga Springs
    (pp. 34-51)

    While Ballston Spa was being built, the nearby springs at Saratoga remained quite rustic, despite the higher regard in which connoisseurs held the waters.¹ The springs had first come to the attention of outsiders after a legendary 1771 visit by Sir William Johnson, when one of the springs, High Rock, supposedly cured him of the lingering consequences of an old war wound, a cure so efficacious that the previously crippled hero purportedly walked the fifteen miles back to Schenectady. His accommodations at the springs were a Mohawk hunting hut covered with hides. In 1773, there was a brief attempt at...

  7. 3 The Revolution of Seeing: Tourism and the Founding of the Hudson River School
    (pp. 52-69)

    A trip up the Hudson River to Albany reveals a series of spectacular sights. Once clear of the New York City metropolitan area, the river cuts between steep mountains and sharply cut valleys. At times it opens into large bays, at others the cliffs close in tight to the water. Parts of the journey, even today, closely resemble what a traveler of 1820 might have seen, particularly at the river’s wildest parts. To our modern eyes, this seeming wilderness is spectacular and exciting; we revel in its ruggedness. For most people in the United States of 1820, however, that wildness...

  8. 4 Travel Literature, the Fashionable Tour, and the Spread of Tourism
    (pp. 70-84)

    By the 1820s, a huge change had begun among those who could afford to travel. In Great Britain, the idea of travel for leisure had been widespread among the prosperous classes for more than thirty years. For a number of reasons, however, it had been very slow to gain any ground among Americans of that class. There were a number of reasons for that. In the 1790s, few Americans could afford to conspicuously consume; among those who could, it was not at all fashionable to do so. By the early 1820s, the number of wealthier Americans had grown significantly. In...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 Expanding Tourism beyond the Springs: The Catskills and Niagara
    (pp. 85-104)

    As other writers noticed the Catskill references in Irving and Dwight and Cooper, they, too, began incorporating references to the area in their works. For example, James G. Percival, a minor poet, issued his second book of poetry,Clio(volume 1), in 1822, and in it was “A Picture, Catskill Valley,” which in turgid lines described a storm-tossed night as witnessed by an overheated, sensitive youth.¹ This level of literary attention—Percival’s superheated Romanticism, Irving’s whimsical tales, Cooper’s dashing stories, and Dwight’s stern but appraising eye—created a sudden opportunity for tourist development in the Kaaterskill Valley and up on...

  11. 6 Tourism and Literature: James Fenimore Cooper and Others
    (pp. 105-111)

    During the summer and fall of 1825, the same year that Thomas Cole made his seminal journey up the Hudson, James Fenimore Cooper’s career hit a rocky patch.The Pioneershad been as big a success as he had hoped for when it was published in 1823. The following year, his next book,The Pilot, was also a success. When the editor and poet William Cullen Bryant first met Cooper in April 1824, he described him as “a little giddy.”¹ At that point, Cooper’s next book,Lionel Lincoln, was well under way; it was completed several months later. A Revolutionary...

  12. 7 The First Tourist Guidebook War
    (pp. 112-124)

    Had Gideon Minor Davison’s 1822 tourist guide,The Fashionable Tour, not faced any competition, it would have been just a novelty and curiosity, destined to land into the dustbin of history. For three years, it was just about that.¹ But the tourist fad in literature led others to Davison’s guide, and by 1825 two competitors had appeared. Like the authors of travel and tourism-related fiction, the new guidebook authors hoped to create writing careers for themselves. Each author defined his book to appeal to distinct aspects of the market, thus revealing the growing factions that were already appearing among tourists....

  13. 8 Tourism’s Broader Audience
    (pp. 125-133)

    Nathaniel P. Willis’s “The Vacation,” published in the 1828Atlantic Souvenir, begins predictably enough. The narrator is a wealthy young man just freed from the bonds of study at Yale. Standing in the yard of the college, “twirling my empty purse round my forefinger,” he is the image of leisure and fecklessness. Why not a diversion? Why not a trip to Saratoga and Niagara?

    This young man is sophisticated, indeed dripping with high fashion: “Every body has seen New Haven,” he tells us, “and the same indefinite person knows that in the ‘garniture of June,’ it is like a scholar’s...

  14. 9 Skeptics
    (pp. 134-156)

    Even as tourism crested in the late 1820s, it raised the hackles of critics. Skeptics saw tourism from a variety of negative angles: some felt it exemplified the commercial and consumerist changes the United States was experiencing in the 1820s, changes that would come to shape American culture profoundly; others viewed tourism as typical of the worst of their times, artificial, manufactured, superficial. And one observer, the Virginian Anne Royall, saw what was happening in the Hudson Valley as typical of the superficiality of the North and wrote about it in negative contrast to the genteel and aristocratic travel culture...

  15. 10 The Next Big Thing
    (pp. 157-162)

    The cumulative discontent with the Hudson Valley route—its overexposure, the rising crime, the large number of “would-be ultra-genteels”—meant that some began to look for new fields for tourism, for places that could deliver the promise of unspoiled, yet readily accessible nature.

    One way to measure this development is to look at the tourist guidebooks. Gideon Minor Davison’sFashionable Tour, for example, was the first description of that pioneering tourist circuit. In the original 1822 edition, it described a route from New York up to Saratoga, out to Niagara, and back via Quebec to Burlington, Vermont, and through western...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 163-208)
  17. Index
    (pp. 209-213)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)