Florida Stories

Roads

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Florida residents and tourists in the late nineteenth century did not have the miles of paved roads and interstates we enjoy today. At best, the few roads connecting towns were clay or gravel; at worst, they were bumpy "sand ruts" that made travel slow and uncomfortable.

"We borrowed a buggy last Tuesday and drove to Altamonte, we go alright to Orlando but they have made new roads from there to Altamonte and it was pitch dark, and we had no light we lost the way and never arrived until eight o'clock instead of six, altogether we drove nearly fifty miles with only an hour and a quarters rest for the mare, halfway there, she was right as anything next morning too…" ;- Excerpt from a letter, Helen Warner to her Mother, dated January 9, 1886, Bray Grove, Narcoossee, Florida.

Early motor tourists to Florida came to be known by the term "Tin Can" not just for the cars they drove, but the supplies they carried with them. They were most likely driving Ford Model 'T's, affectionately known as "Tin Lizzies." In their cars, they also carried a large assortment of canned goods. "There would be cans stashed under the seats, slung over the top, packed along the sides, tucked behind cushions and stacked on the floor." The tin cans not only provided a readily available source of non-perishable, easily cooked food, but income once they arrived at their destination! For these early tourists, the motels and hotels so abundant in Florida today did not exist. They set up camp wherever they could find a convenient…

…convenient spot: by the roadside, undeveloped fields and other open spaces. A tent hooked to the side of their vehicle would serve as a sitting room, lavatory and pantry. As their members grew, many cities in Florida, such as Tampa and St. Petersburg, were eager to bring the auto-campers' dollars to their city's merchants. They began to create free municipal campgrounds for the Tin Can Tourists. The auto camps were still located in rustic settings, usually on the outskirts of town.

Property values rose dramatically and quickly. The automobile created social changes, providing vehicular access to a different class of tourists than Florida had previously attracted. Many people who came to visit the state remained as new residents. Due to increases in automobile traffic and tourism, the Good Roads Society was started with chapters throughout the country. The goal of the Society, which was part of the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, was to promote the hard surfacing of roads and the development of road networks. It was believed that better roads would ensure the growth and prosperity of a community. Florida, even then a leader in the tourism industry, was at the forefront of the Good Roads Movement with more miles of hard surfaced and paved roads than any other state.

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