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The birth of American tourism: New York, the Hudson Valley, and American culture, 1790--1835

Richard H Gassan, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

This study describes a moment when tourism was created in America, and how, in the decades after, it was discovered by a broad swath of American society. Beginning as an infrastructure created for the recreation of wealthy, the tourist world created in the Hudson Valley became increasingly more accessible and visible in the years after 1790, most particularly after 1817. ^ This new visibility heavily influenced artists such as Thomas Cole and writers like James Fenimore Cooper, who created for the tourist market. By the late 1820s, these images combined with the rising prosperity of the period and the falling cost of travel spurred thousands of Americans to travel to these storied sites. By 1830, all classes of Americans had became exposed to tourists and tourism. ^ All this happened in the context of the changing society of American cities, especially New York. There, rapid growth led to increasing social disorder. A search by the gentry for safe enclaves resulted in the tourist sites, but the very infrastructure they created to facilitate their travels was later used by the very classes they had wanted to avoid. ^ The large numbers new tourists from non-wealthy classes began to overload the traditional tourist sites, causing increasingly visible cultural tensions. By eighteen-thirty the Hudson Valley was being written of by the cultural avant-garde as being overexposed. A search for other tourist sites ensued. Exclusivity would be briefly found in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but others in the gentry sought longer-term solutions including private clubs, summer homes, and semi-private resorts such as Newport. Places such as Saratoga, too, would find ways to reinvent themselves, especially in the light of the decline of other formerly exclusive sites like the nearby Ballston Spa. ^ This study uses a large body of cultural evidence supported by dozens of diaries and letters to demonstrate that by eighteen-thirty the idea of tourism had penetrated deep into American culture, affecting art, literature and commerce. Although it would take another generation before tourism became a truly mass activity, by 1830 the basis of American tourism had been set. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Art History|Literature, American|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Richard H Gassan, "The birth of American tourism: New York, the Hudson Valley, and American culture, 1790--1835" (January 1, 2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI3056228.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3056228

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