One of the definitions of vacation is “the action of leaving something once previously occupied”. I think that is what I love about vacations, going away from the familiar and returning with a fresh perspective. In America, the vacation evolved from the British Holiday. The word holiday differs slightly from vacation in that it is generally tied to observance of something or tied to traditions. This shift in trend from holiday to vacation can be directly traced to one man and one book.
The Rev. William H. H. Murray is sometimes referred to as the father of the Outdoor Movement. He published his book “Adventures in the Wilderness” in 1869 and it quickly became popular, even going through eight printings in the first year. Although the idea of recreating and relaxing in nature was promoted by writers such as Emerson and Thoreau, for the general public the thought that being in nature would be enjoyable would have been laughable. Nature was an inhospitable place that needed to be conquered.
The book was filled with practical advice on what to pack, eat and do in the wilderness–some editions even contained train schedules which helped popularize the train route. The book was such a hit that within 5 years “Murray’s Fools”, as they were called, poured into the Adirondacks to recreate–giving rise to many grand hotels and “great camps” for the privileged.
As the society people began to take an interest in having summer homes, the aesthetic that developed reflected their romantic notions of being in the wilderness and was an early example of vernacular architecture. Utilizing native materials, the camps were grand compounds with a wilderness aesthetic applied. One iconic example is the Vanderbilt families Great Camp Sagamore.
Particularity appealing are the boat houses. Their scale and breezy openness, advantageously displays the native building materials.
In the late 1800’s grand hotels were being built all over the country, but driven by the proximity to New York City, the Adirondack hotels were sprawling and well-appointed. For many people, the amenities offered in these hotels such as lights, running water, telegraphs, sanitation, and many others were not available in their own homes thus adding to their appeal. The popularity of these grand hotels was over by the 1950’s. Sadly, many had burned never to be rebuilt, because their patrons had moved on to other pursuits.
With my friends now sending pictures of summer vacations from locations far and wide, I think it is interesting to consider that what started with a book set off a vacation institution that has also become one of the largest industries in the US today. In the last gasps of summer, I realize the summer vacation season is coming to a close and it is time to go back to the spaces previously occupied– but not without a bit of the vacation lingering along.