Florida Museum of Natural History

Natural History & Early Tourism in Florida

by Charlotte M. Porter

florida springs

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the observations of naturalists such as the Bartrams, Titian Ramsay Peale, Thomas Say, and John James Audubon made Florida a destination point for those interested in outdoor recreation-hunting, fishing, and bird-watching.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the natural beauty of Florida attracted real estate developers, railroad magnates, artists, photographers, game hunters, sports fishermen, naturalists, and their wives. After the Civil War, tourists traveled to see the natural sights, especially the springs, in steamboats, buggies, and railways. Natural history was part of their expectations.

Commercial image-making was important to the early success of Florida tourism. Real-estate developers invited well-known photographers to take pictures of their hotels to attract tourists. Artists, enjoying the tourist trade, sought the patronage of developers and also helped them design tourist attractions. Distant publishers, many in mid-western cities, printed photographic images of Florida. To meet the needs of tourism, the United States Post Office permitted a new mailing piece called the penny postcard. Many hand-colored postcards have become collector's items.

Published in such national magazines as Harper's, photos became promotional media for Florida.

Another offshoot of black and white photography were penny postcards, especially hand-colored postcards. Printed in a useful format, postcards became popular tourist souvenirs, sent to relatives and friends around the world with that famous remark, "wish you were here." In the print shops, workers, (many immigrants from Central Europe) who had never been to Florida, selected the bright colors and omitted both insects and shadows in these durable images of the Sunshine State. Ironically, many of these postcards show introduced species, such as orange trees, banyan trees, and camellias.

One of the most famous photographers in Florida was William H. Jackson (1843-1942), a veteran photographer of the government surveys of the western territories, especially of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone, taken in 1871, were largely responsible for the establishment of the national park.

Jackson's camera opened new vistas of the American frontier, and he hauled 100 lbs of equipment to get this view of Mount of the Holy Cross, one of Jackson's most famous photographs, taken in Eagle County, Colorado, in 1873. This image secured his national reputation and made landscape photography into a viable commercial enterprise.

After the Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1892, Jackson began photographing northeastern Florida for a Detroit postcard company. He later changed careers and spent the second half of his long life as a landscape painter and muralist of public buildings in Washington, D.C.

Besides photographic images, other important considerations in the development of Florida nature tourism were:

  1. Game hunting, including 'gator wrassling
  2. Fishing
  3. Plume hunting for hats
  4. Captive birds, especially pet mocking birds
  5. Springs with benefits of hydrotherapy
  6. Railroads
  7. Steamboat traffic
  8. Citrus groves and
  9. Archaeological pursuits
  10. Hotel

Hotels, some with artist's studios, photographic dark rooms, swimming facilities, and tennis courts, marked tourists' inroads in northeastern Florida.

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