A recent article from Florida Weekly by Jan Norris highlights “Florida Before the Mouse”:
IT WAS THE LATE 1940S, AND Dad was home after serving in World War II.
Gas rations were lifted, and the family at last could take a well-deserved road trip. So, they gassed up the Dodge or the Hudson or the Buick and they hit the bumpy two-lane road to Florida, escaping the cold and savoring the scent of the orange blossoms that lined the highways of the day.
If the kids were lucky, Mother and Dad had a little extra cash to spend along the way at places like Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs or Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Later still, they could marvel at the car collection of an opera star, at James Melton Autorama in Hypoluxo, or visit Caribbean Gardens in Naples.
Waltzing Waters beckoned visitors to Cape Coral, where they spent evenings mesmerized by lighted fountains that seemingly danced and swayed to canned music.
It was another world, and author Ken Breslauer takes you there, along winding roads paved with nostalgia, with “Florida: Roadside Attractions History.”
His book is rich in stories about the Sunshine State’s tourism during its golden age — starting in the 1930s when auto travel boomed and culminating in the ’70s when interstates cut off former main roads and passed by small towns that boasted the parks and gardens.
“Early tourism was so important to Florida,” Mr. Breslauer said. Many attractions were started before or during the Great Depression and saved the state’s economy after its 1920s land boom went bust.
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Tourism would become and remain Florida’s leading industry. In 2018, a record 121.1 million visitors were here, according to Visit Florida, the state’s marketing department.
The Florida author writes of a tourist state he remembers traveling post-war and during a baby boom — pre-Disney World. Families made a loop of the state “like the Grand Tour of Europe, but in Florida,” he said, getting in as many sights and attractions as possible in a two-week vacation.
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