A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions: From Mermaids to Singing Towers, by Doug Alderson. Pineapple Press. 184 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.
In this gloriously illustrated book, with many of the 132 color photographs by the author, novelty and nostalgia blend and complement one another. Mr. Alderson provides a feast of adventures for the Florida tourist and the long-time resident who has not yet ventured forth to the distant corners and often remote inland crossroads of this varied and sizeable state.
In the first part of his book (divided into five chapters), Doug Alderson presents a sturdy and engaging history of Florida tourism. Here he underscores the early fascination with Florida through referencing several classic studies of Florida exploration. In chapter 1, we learn that tourism as an industry began to flourish after the Seminole Wars and the Civil War. The late 19th century ushered in the interest in Florida’s freshwater springs, especially the supposedly restorative mineral springs. Just as popular were rides on the steamboats that plied several of Florida’s rivers. White Sulphur Springs was the first commercialized mineral spring, though over the decades it has had many rivals.
Today’s nascent medical tourism industry owes a debt to the heritage of health tourism. I’ll take a mineral spa to a hospital any time.
In Chapter 2, Mr. Alderson’s guidebook focuses on the interest, then and now, in Florida’s coastal delights. Beach tourism, tourism involving Native American history and customs, and the growing ease of tourism that followed the proliferation of automobiles and highways receive detailed, vivid attention. We are now familiar with roadside attractions, but first came the roads! The early prominence of St. Petersburg as a tourist destination became more and more challenged by the growing highway network.
The author treats nature tourism in chapter 3. Here Mr. Alderson pays attention to national and state parks, the high profile of St. Augustine and environs, and environmental challenges that came with growth and incursions into the Florida wilderness. The beauties of the Everglades, the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the abundance of historical museums all get energetic discussion.
Chapter 4 considers further the uneasy blending of the natural and the man made in the development of tourist destinations. Many such destinations are detailed later in the book, but for now we can ponder the hybrid nature of such attractions as Cypress Gardens (now absorbed into LEGOLAND), Jungle Island, Monkey Jungle, Tombstone Territory, and various places where concrete dinosaurs and other creatures can’t quite roam the earth. But you might be able to climb on one, have someone take your picture, and perhaps enjoy a snack and miniature golf. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 14, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 15 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – New Guide to Old Florida