This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago
This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago

This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago

Larry Holzwarth - March 20, 2021

This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago
New York’s Grand Central Station, eastern terminus for the 20th Century Limited. Wikimedia

19. The 20th Century Limited became a tourist destination of its own

The flagship train of the New York Central Railroad, in 1921 the 20th Century Limited drew riders from New York to Chicago who made the trip simply for the prestige of using the train. For just over $50 ($650 today), riders received a Pullman sleeping birth in a community car, separated by a curtain and attended by a porter. Private compartments cost considerably more. They also had access to a dining car, a smoking lounge car, and a club car, as well as their seat in a passenger coach. The train, which earned international renown for its service and ability to meet its schedule, became a symbol of prestige, and tourists often rode it simply to say that they had.

Competing railroads offered similar flagship trains. The Pennsylvania Railroad ran the Broadway Limited in direct competition with their New York Central rival. None caught the attention of the public as did the 20th Century Limited. It became the subject of songs, musical plays, and eventually films. It appeared as a plot device in books. The red carpet on which its passengers walked to board the train gave birth to the phrase “red carpet treatment” in the English lexicon. Arguably no other train in history earned such high regard among its riders than the 20th Century Limited. It earned its greatest profits during the 1920s, the Golden Age of American Railroading. In 1967 the train which connected La Salle Street station in Chicago to Grand Central Station in New York ran for the last time, an event unforeseeable in 1921.

This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago
Grossinger’e became one of the most famous of all the Catskill resorts, known collectively as the Borscht Belt. Pinterest

20. The Catskills attracted thousands of visitors in the summer months

In 1921 resorts dotted the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York. They consisted of luxury hotels, bungalow camps, and catered boarding houses offering entertainment. Many discriminated against Jews, including openly refusing to admit Jews in their advertisements. The discrimination led to Jewish owned resorts and hotels, many of which offered religious services as well as kosher foods, and attracted popular entertainers from the New York scene. The number of such establishments grew from the early years of the 20th century, with so many operated by descendants of Russian and other East European Jews the region became known as the Borscht Belt.

The bungalow camps offered entertainment in the form of games, community bingo, and other such pursuits, while the larger hotels and resorts provided stage shows a la vaudeville. The Borscht Belt became a cradle of early American standup comedy. Among its veterans were George Burns, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and many others. In 1921 tourists arrived at their destinations by automobile or trains from New York and other points, and the Catskills welcomed visitors throughout the summer months. Few remained open during the winter. Following the holidays most remained closed until the spring thaw brought with it another season in the mountains.

This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago
The Pikes Peak Highway led the region into becoming a popular tourist attraction in the 1920s. Pinterest

21. A gravel road allowed tourists to drive to the top of Pikes Peak

The first ascent by automobile up Colorado’s Pikes Peak took place in 1913. The driver, William Wayne Brown, used an old carriage road to make the climb, which took 5 hours and 28 minutes to complete. Two years later a wealthy American miner and entrepreneur named Spencer Penrose constructed the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit. Largely paved with gravel, it allowed intrepid motorists to drive to the summit for a fee. Motoring up Pikes Peak became a popular challenge to tourists, despite the difficulties encountered. A round trip up and down the mountain took several hours. The drive provided challenges to the cars and drivers. Multiple stops along the way were required to allow overheating engines and brakes to cool.

By 1921 the views afforded from the mountain’s summit and the bragging rights obtained by having driven to the top proved irresistible to thousands of motorists. Many found the descent more challenging than the climb. The limits of 1921 automobile technology taxed some cars severely. No gasoline or services were available along the nearly 20-mile route. Drivers had to rely on their own resourcefulness to successfully complete the trip. Ascending the mountain, as well as other summits across the United States, became a popular tourist activity, and remains one today. Penrose’s highway is still the motorist’s route up Pikes Peak in the 21st century, though maintained and operated by the City of Colorado Springs.

This is What Tourist Destinations were 100 Years Ago
Miami Beach became a major tourist destination in the early 1920s. Miami History

22. Miami Beach became a major tourist attraction in 1921

Miami Beach incorporated as a city in 1915, already a destination for visitors from the North during the winter months. Several enterprising citizens of the region envisioned the city as a tourist resort in the early 20th century. James Allison and Carl Fisher, magnates who made a fortune in the automobile industry through the manufacture of sealed-beam headlights, envisioned a world class aquarium in the city. First though, they addressed the scarcity of hotel rooms in the region through construction of the Flamingo Hotel, expressly designed to cater to the rich. When construction costs exceeded the budget in the first decade of the 19th century, Allison withdrew from the project and turned his attention to his aquarium.

Allison drew advisors from diverse sources, including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and the United States Commissioner of Fisheries. His aquarium catered to both tourists and marine wildlife professionals. The aquarium opened on New Year’s Day, 1921; the Flamingo Hotel opened to celebrate New Year’s Eve the night before. Both were immediate successes. Miami Beach quickly developed the reputation of being a playground for the wealthy, drawing residents for the winter months which included the famous and the infamous. In April, 1921, state and federal agents raided the aquarium and found over 2,400 bottles of illicit liquor, delivered by boats which routinely arrived to deliver tropical fish and other specimens. Like most tourist meccas in 1921, the availability of imported booze added to the appeal of the destination.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Goggles and Side Curtains”. Gerald Carson, American Heritage Magazine. April, 1967. Online

“The Municipal Automobile Camp 1921-26”. Jan de Leeuw, Piedmont Neighborhood Association. September, 2017. Online

“The American Bartender invasion of 1920s Cuba”. Ian Cameron, Difford’s Guide. Online

“Bruce’s Beach – The Pretty Park with a Stormy Past”. Article, California Beaches. Online

“Sightseers to Niagara Falls in the 1920s”. Article, Niagara Falls Tourism. April 10, 2017. Online

“Last Days of the Nickel Empire”. Article, The Irish Times. June 20, 1998

“On the water”. Exhibition, Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Online

“Grand Canyon: The Continuing Story”. Connie Rudd. 1990

“Our history”. Article, The Chautauqua Institution. Online

“The Lost Canals of Venice of America”. Nathan Masters, KCET. April 5, 2013

“Ford and Edison’s Excellent Camping Adventures”. Christopher Klein, July 30, 2013

“Boss Nucky Johnson”. Article, The Atlantic City Experience. Online

“Series Attracting Many Visitors Here”. Article, The New York Times. October 4, 1921

“Time’s Square’s Inspiring History”. Drake Baer, Business Insider. January 2, 2016

“The Early History of Theme Parks in America”. Article, Arcadia Publishing. Online

“Hollywood”. Article, The Editors. August 21, 2018

“Mammoth Cave: Explore the World’s Longest Cave”. Article, US Department of the Interior. Online

“History in Hawaii: Tourism takes hold”. Article, Frommer’s. Online

“20th Century Limited”. Article, American Rails. Online

“What happened to the Borscht Belt?” Robert Gluck, The Jerusalem Post. May 19, 2012

“History and Geography of Pikes Peak”. Article, Colorado Encyclopedia. Online

“The Aquarium – An Early Miami Beach Tourist Attraction”. Article, Miami History. November 1, 2014