The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Victorian Resorts and Hotels: Essays from a Victorian Society Autumn Symposium. Edited by Richard Guy Wilson. Philadelphia: The Victorian Society in America, 1982. Illustrations. 127 Pages. $10.00.

Reviewed by Keith R. Widder, Curator of History, Mackinac Island State Park Commission, author of Mackinac National Park 1875-1895 and co-author of At the Crossroads: Michilimackinac Dnring the American Revolution.

This volume is a collection of eleven of the best papers presented at the 1979 Victorian Society fall symposium which dealt with the topic of “Nineteenth Century Resorts and Hotels.” Throughout the nineteenth century hotels and resorts developed across America to accommodate travellers, to create fashionable destinations for wealthy vacationers, and to make luxury, recreation, and entertainment available to an ever increasing class of people with leisure time. Readers of this book will become acquainted with several aspects of this often neglected aspect of our social history.

Following Richard Guy Wilson’s introductory essay we read excerpts from foreign travellers’ comments regarding American hotels ranging from Charles Dickens’ disgust with the American habit of spitting on the floor to the Polish actress Helena Modjeska’s interest in “the singular custom of men sitting in rocking chairs and putting their feet on window sills in hotel lobbies.” Papers cover a wide range of topics including wicker furniture, early amusement parks, hotel and resort architecture, and accommodations for visitors to national parks in the West. Throughout the various essays we see the importance of American vacationers’ desire to visit places that had healthy climate, offered entertaining recreation, and afforded opportunities for social interaction with people of their own class. We are introduced to facilities throughout the country including New England, New York State, Kentucky, Florida, Montana, and California.

One paper of particular note is Ann Halpenny Kantor’s “The Hotel del Coronado and Tent City.” In 1886 Elisha Babcock engaged architects James and Merritt Reid to build a hotel on the Coronado Beach where hay fever victims would find that the climate “does not merely relieve the sufferer from hay fever but absolutely removes every vestige of the disease.” Wealthy guests began experiencing the year-round grandeur of the del Coronado in January, 1888. Wanting to meet the leisure needs of people with less means, the Coronado Beach Company and the Santa Fe Railroad opened a tent city south of the hotel in 1900. Visitors from southern California and beyond came between June and September to enjoy the refreshing air, nightly concerts, dances, sports, and camaraderie of fellow vacationers.

While this volume is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the subject, it is an excellent introduction to it. The essays are lively and well illustrated. After reading about these by-gone days, one wishes he could still dive into the hot spring water of the Natatorium’s pool at the Hotel Broadwater in Helena, Montana or slide down the Boyton Chute at Summerville in Rochester, New York, or spend a night at the Tremont House in Boston.