13 or 58 mph? America chooses

As snowbirds are speeding down modern Interstates consider that in 1923 the Dixie Highway had just reached Tampa. It would be three more backbreaking years before the Tamiami Trail would cross the Everglades and finally reach Miami. The speed on the Dixie Highway in 1923 averaged 12.9 mph. A trip from Chicago to Miami would take two weeks in those early years.


13 or 58 mph? America chooses Florida Vacation Homes
As the Dixie Highway pushed South it would be a few more years for standard signage

As late as 1910 good highways eluded most Americans and nearly all southeners. People rode trains if any distance was involved. Locally, they traveled by wagon, buggy or city streetcar. Dirt roads were all local – from the farthest farm to nearest railhead. “Improved roads” were graded dirt, clay or gravel. And when it rained, mayhem.

13 or 58 mph? America chooses Florida Vacation Homes
Counties paid farmers to grade the roads and pull the joy riders out


13 or 58 mph? America chooses Florida Vacation Homes
Dixie Highway went thru phases in surfacing

Beginning in 1914, Carl G Fisher proposed a route that would connect or merge hundreds of short roads into interstate roads that looped from the Mackinac MI ferry to Miami and back. The story of struggle to create the Highway, and later a Federal highway system, ignited debates about federal power and local control between many stakeholders – automobile brands, farmers, the Goodroads movement, and in the south prison commissions (chain gang labor) and with increasing post WW I automobility, racial control.

By 1880 railroad mileage (250,000 miles) exceeded travelable roads. Railroads had a monopoly! Express trains were the fastest way to travel averaging 58 mph.

By 1900, under pressure from Progressive reformers and lobbying by Sears, Roebuck and Co, Mongomery Ward the push for Rural Free Delivery (RFD) pitted over 77,000 small town postmasters against Home Delivery and the Railroads were deeply admired.

At the same time the number of auto manufacturers soared. Between 1900 and 1908 some 485 automobile companies had formed. Barely half survived by 1909. Henry Ford’s Model N in 1906 sold for $600. His Model T was selling for $345 in 1916. By 1918 HALF of the cars sold in the U S were Model T’s. Ford offered an affordable means of travel, but Fisher knew the missing ingredient- roads that could withstand heavy rain.

13 or 58 mph? America chooses Florida Vacation Homes
The Florida map of the Dixie Highway by 1926

Fisher had begun developing Miami Beach and wanted an easy way for people with a car to travel. Initially this proposed road was called the Cotton Belt route. By 1915 when construction began it was changed to the Old Dixie Highway, all part of an effort to promote a romantic image of the old south as warm, inviting southern hospitality.

13 or 58 mph? America chooses Florida Vacation Homes
By the 1920’s vacationing in FL was growing exponentially

If you are driving on I-75 and want to track the Dixie Hwy

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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.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesBut 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.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesBeginning 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.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesFinally, 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.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation Homes1995 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.

Florida Avenue

Florida Avenue

In 1920, Florida had a population of 968,470 people. Just five years later, the population had grown to 1,263,540. For the first time Americans had the time and money to travel to Florida to invest in real estate. For the educated and skilled working American, the 1920’s meant paid vacations, pensions, and fringe benefits unheard of during the Victorian Era. The United States also had the automobile and “tin-canners” clubs, named for the heavy metal cans which tourists carried for extra gasoline and water. On Nebraska Avenue not far from Erehwon Retreat we can still see a property built for TCT’s as well as a few properties where small cabins were built for the Roaring Twenties tourists. This influx of motorized tourism convinced leaders that new roads were needed. 

Florida Avenue Florida Vacation HomesFlorida Avenue approaching Sulpher Springs 1920.

An unusually cold winter in 1925 followed by an extremely hot summer cast doubts on the state’s reputation as “heaven on earth.” The inevitable began to occur land prices had reached such a zenith that new customers failed to arrive and old customers began to sell their land. Suddenly, the only market for Florida land was for selling land. St. Petersburg, FL was the most indebted per citizen town in the United States by 1929 and Key West ranked second.

Florida Avenue Florida Vacation Homes

Florida Avenue Florida Vacation Homes