The Florida Dream

The Florida Dream from 1923 to today

Florida is the dream vacation for visitors from all over the world … and since the turn of the century, it’s been the winter break of choice for many Americans. Today international travelers can make it to Florida from almost anywhere on the planet in less than 24 hours – but that wasn’t always the case.

What compelled these earlier generations to make such a journey? Many things: Florida weather, vacation rentals that offered grace, style and comfort, the unspoilt natural beauty of the Florida Keys, the new craze for ‘sunbathing’, freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast … well, all the same things that draw today’s visitor, come to think of it.

But the way they traveled was very different. Before the 1890s, only the rich could afford vacations and they traveled with an entourage of servants, staying in grand hotels that were often constructed by the very railroad companies that transported them to their destination. It wasn’t until 1896 that the rail line actually got as far as Miami and 1912 for Key West. Even then, once you got to Tampa, you had to transfer to a steamer to travel to other west coast such as Sarasota and Fort Myers.

Beginning in 1908 the Model T (tin lizzie, leaping Lena) generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American was rolling off the line and soon the first two national highways (1911-1915).  The Dixie Highway S and the Lincoln Highway W brought tin canners – people taking their first ever vacation, in a car packed high with bedding, books, clothes and canned food to sustain them during their days and nights of travel. At the same time, the short-lived St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled passenger airline service.

Now that vacationers were arriving, they needed places to stay. Florida’s natural abundance of slash and long leaf pine meant that it became the obvious building material, today the Heart Pine floors of Erehwon Retreat always astonish our guests.

Explorers on Tamiami Trail 1923Finally, by 1928, it became possible to drive from Tampa, via the Tamiami Trail, to Miami but in the weeks ahead, we’re going to tell you why this road shaped the future of Florida.

By the 1950s Snowbirds were common. These weren’t migrating flocks of exotic birds but affluent people who could afford to rent a property for the whole winter – they often picked their vacation rental from a brochure that had been mailed to them – the precursor of browsing online today! After that things moved rapidly.

1995 saw the next huge leap – Vacation Rental by Owner or VRBO. Individual vacation property owners began to move into the space that had previously been occupied by the real estate firms. Personal bookings of winter vacation rentals became possible, and popular. In 2008 Airbnb disrupted the market again and the ability to book short term stays (average 5.4 days) through their site became possible. But by 2016 many vacation rental owners were recognizing that some things had been lost along the way – the personal communication between renter and property owner, the ability to communicate little details that turn a vacation into an unforgettable experience for example. Booking direct from a vacation rental owner’s website has brought back some of those personal touches and also cuts some costs!

Erehwon Retreat aims to offer the best of both worlds. In decor and ambience, we hark back to that earlier, simpler time when the economy boomed and women bobbed their hair, when a scandal was the sight of a lady’s ankle and a box office success was Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But today’s vacation rental pros require very different things to their forebears, so instead of offering tennis lessons or tea dances, our Florida getaway provides luxury, elegance and style. Vacation rental by owner means our visitors walk into a property that is as loved, and lovely, as a home and our vacation rental website means that we keep our visitors in touch with all the great activities that Tampa Bay and Seminole Heights has to offer, whilst ensuring that they don’t miss out on a single aspect of Florida’s amazing tourist economy from theme parks to food festivals.

Whether they come from Denver or Denmark, Austin or Australia, our visitors delight in the personal touches that make Erehwon Retreat into much more than a home from home – it’s the ideal base for a dream holiday, and the perfect place to come back to at the end of the day.

What I discovered at the library regarding my Tampa Vacation Rental

What I discovered at the library regarding my Tampa Vacation Rental

Although I was told it was built in 1923, it was first listed in the Tampa City Directory and Sandborn Fire Insurance book in 1922 as under construction. The home and original garage were built by Shields Brothers.

Arthur B Shields and brother Archie L  were born on Burton Island, VT . As recently as 1874, Lake Champlain navigation charts label it “Potter’s Island,” though C.C. Burton, a farmer on the mainland, was using the island for pasture by the 1840’s. Sidney Burton owned the island through the early 1900’s and leased it to tenant farmers who raised cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. Crops included beans and peas. Burton Island became the site of a Vermont State Park in 1964. Remnants of the island’s agricultural past such as fence lines and stone piles, rusted farm implements and the foundation of the old barn are still visible.

Arthur Shields was born 8 years after the end of the Civil War and moved to Tampa in 1908.  He was 35 years of age. Archie and Arthur built all of the homes on the 5800 block of Suwanee along with an additional home a block away (5806 N Branch).  They sold 5801 in 1928 to John N & Augusta Mutton.  The Mutton’s occupied the home from 1928-1946. In 1931, the Mutton’s expanded the original garage into a cottage for his relative Callie M Mutton. In 1947 Ralph W Fairchild purchased the home from Augusta Mutton following her husband’s death in 1945. Ralph and his wife Katerina who originally hailed from Worcester County, MA remained in the home until she passed in 2001.

Other interesting factoids the 1923 production of cigars in Ybor City and West Tampa totaled a half billion never to be met again. The Tampa Electric Streetcar system was launched in 1908 and by 1920 had 156 cars. The cost of a streetcar ride was 5 cents.  The first phone number for 5801 was 91-316.

The population of Tampa in 1880 was 720, by 1920 it has rocketed to 51, 60
8 and tourists reached 125,000 during High Season. Miami that same year had a population of 29,571. In 1923 Tampa’s Mayor C H Brown authorized $3,000,000 to be spent on new roads.

Arthur Shields eventually moved to Pinellas County and passed in 1952 followed by Archie in 1957.

Economic Impact Study

Economic Impact Study


Erehwon Retreat was the first Vacation Rental to open within our Historic District in 2010 and we’ve seen many other home owners join in making Seminole Heights a vibrant community.  Over the last eight years the vacation rental industry has made a real economic impact that is both significant and largely taken for granted.  In February 2017, we approached 1/3 of our former guests by Email and asked them to respond to our economic survey.  We’re sharing the results and have added an underscore for this presentation of a wonderful Jerome Kern and P G Wodehouse song from 1917 for your added enjoyment.

Erehwon Retreat’s REFRESH program

Erehwon Retreat’s REFRESH program

Set in the heart of Tampa’s Old Seminole Heights, ErehwonRetreat remains the epitome of timeless elegance, and consistently earns 5 Star stay from it’s guests.

ErehwonRetreat is proud to have preserved both the physical and spiritual aspects of its unique heritage while adding modern flourishes, all bound together by our commitment to service.

Thanks to Facebook, Pinterest, guest can witness not only the special qualities of staying at a vacation rental, but also read of the lengths Henry and his staff go to keep guests happy.

To that end each May and December Henry spends a night in both the cottage and the bungalow.  In May the properties receive planned maintenance review and each fall Henry stay encompass what may need to be “Refreshed”.  For example in early December, I had six dining room chairs crowned with new foam and recovered in leather, the reading chair in the cottage was reupholstered, the deck furniture was sent off to be sandblasted, primed, powder and clear coated and after six years of service we replaced the box spring and mattress in the cottage.  Finally we replaced deck boards where needed and added a hand rail between the deck and the path to our off street parking and to enhance the awareness of our 90 year old  canopy we added passive lighting and new low voltage path lighting.  Check out pictures of the latest REFRESH.

Whenever a room is “REFRESHED” before it is put back into rental availability I spend a night in the property to ensure that everything is as it should be.  I examine it from every angle to check nothing unsightly is visible. It is not acceptable for a guest to sit down on a chair only to be able to see a nest of untidy cables. The slightest of scuff marks on a skirting board requires attention the next morning.

ErehwonRetreat has two housekeepers who have been with us since we opened,  but I maintain an emergency team of electricians, plumbers, carpenters and painters all of whom are highly-trained, and each has worked on Erehwon on and off for a decade.

Every third day, our vacation rentals continue to be vacuumed and towels refreshed and annually replaced.  There are countless panes of glass and mirrors that have to be cleaned regularly, with some requiring attention every week.

One guest comes to stay so often that we now store their possessions.

The employees see their jobs as being beyond hospitality, they know given my theatrical career I see Erehwon as ‘a stage, a theater of the roaring twenties.’ My role is to make a history a reality. ‘Memories of one’s childhood, Grandparents, a stronger family for having survived the Depression, are being fulfilled at Erehwon.  My constant focus is that Erehwon means more than just sleeping.”