Skip to main content

Summertime Revisited

March 2023
2min read

Of resorts and vacationers in the long ago, when the sports wore stiff collars and the dream girls five-piece bathing suits, and Americans became reacquainted with nature

When we sing “America the Beautiful,” or for that matter plain “America,” with their apostrophes to woods, hills, and “purple mountain majesties,” and when we vacation, as free as you please, in what conservation has rescued from the wreck of all that landscape, it takes quite an effort to remember that what we do, and even feel, today is in fact something very new. To our first Puritan forefathers, the land was not beautiful at all but a bleak and dreadful wilderness. Leisure was sloth, enjoyment sin. Cotton Mather could go fishing, a pleasure excused as grim necessity, and, in later times, eighteenthcentury “invalids” could enjoy themselves at “restorative” beaches and spas, but the earlier ethic and its gospel of work were scarcely overcome until well into the nineteenth century. Then at last the philosophers and poets—men like Emerson, Thoreau, Bryant, Whittier—rediscovered nature, so that recreation and travel for pleasure became respectable.

About a century ago Americans began, in considerable numbers, to return to the out-of-doors. Spurred on by a few adventurous spirits, weary of the increasing confinements of the cities, endowed for the first time with vacations, even paid ones, they took walking tours, climbed mountains, camped, fished, and hunted. Games became popular among adults. Croquet, once thought a fairly strenuous pastime, appeared in the 1860’s, and tennis and golf in following decades. As the prejudices against idle leisure waned, resorts and watering places spread all over the eastern and then central states. A bicycle craze swept the nation, although one minister warned his flock that “You cannot serve God and skylark on a bicycle.”

Everything seemed to come at once: new wealth, and the desire to spend it; leisure, and the means for enjoying it. The difficulties of travel dissolved as steamboats and railroads made far places accessible. The boats served the sea resorts and newly popular islands, the steam cars would take you to the Adirondacks, to the Berkshires so dear to Bryant, and to the White Mountains, where an enterprising resort-keeper built a cog railway to carry his patrons to the summit. For the poor, there was the ubiquitous trolley, 40,000 miles of it in 1909, open to rhr hreezes as it carried hanpv crowds to the “trolley parks.”

As the woods filled with campers and the beaches with “bathers” in five-piece suits, the habit of annual summer migration grew upon the upper and middle classes. The East sprouted resorts, from Mount Desert Island, Maine, to Palm Beach, while more audacious souls set out for Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, suddenly reachable by rail. Where first a few artists and writers had ventured into the wilds, great resort hotels sprang up, vast structures like the one at lower right. The final accolade, so to speak, came at last from the noted German author of travel handbooks, Karl Baedeker, who decided soon after the turn of the century that the United States had become a fit place for gentlefolk to visit. He issued a guide. The traveller should, it noted, first dismiss his European prejudices against equality and be patient with “the absence of deference or servility on the part of those he considers his social inferiors.” Thereafter,
He will seldom meet any real impoliteness.…Throughout almost the whole country travelling is now as sale as in the most civilized parts of Europe, and the carrying of arms, which indeed is forbidden in many States, is as unnecessary here as there.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "June 1963"

Authored by: Jeanne Van Nostrand

The crusading conservationist thought he had saved the fur seal from extinction. Then from the Pribilofs, home of the last great herd, came an alarming telegram:

Authored by: Richard M. Ketchum

Sixty-five years before the bomb destroyed Hiroshima, a medicine man from Sf. Louis dreamed up a weapons system “so terrible and devastating” as to banish war forever. He would be, he modestly admitted, the savior of mankind

Authored by: John D. Weaver

By freight train, on foot, and in commandeered trucks, thousands of unemployed veterans descended on a nervous capital at the depth of the Depression—and were run out of town by Army bayonets

The aged ex-President grew giddy and his family became alarmed as the mask-maker’s formula hardened around his venerable head

Authored by: Shelby Foote

Could ironclads successfully attack land positions? No one knew. Into the very “nest of the rebellion,” sewn with mines and ringed by bristling forts, steamed the proud monitors of the Union fleet

Authored by: Suzanne T. Cooper

Of resorts and vacationers in the long ago, when the sports wore stiff collars and the dream girls five-piece bathing suits, and Americans became reacquainted with nature

Authored by: The Editors

The Supreme Court has become the most powerful judicial body in the world. In a new series under the editorship of Professor John A. Garraty , AMERICAN HERITAGE examines the crucial, often bitterly fought cases that have helped define the Court s unique role as a shaper of the nation’s history

Authored by: Allan Nevins

Were the great business tycoons of the nineteenth century only that? A distinguished historian says no—most emphatically

Authored by: Bertha L. Heilbron

An artist turned land agent used his paintings to promote paper townsites in Minnesota. Though most of these settlements failed to materialize, his charming record of an opening frontier remains

Authored by: Louis C. Jones

Who was the prosperous Negro in the long-lost painting? Scraps of evidence pieced together have revealed him to be

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.