Florida Roadside Attractions History: The Complete Guide to Florida Tourist Attractions Before Disney
By Ken Breslauer
Gaithersburg, Md.: Signature Book Printing, 2018
208 pages; $29.00 hardcover
Reviewed by Ralph S. Wilcox
Three years ago, my parents retired to Florida from Pennsylvania. They, like many other Northerners, fled south for warmer weather and to escape the never-ending snows that always seemed to blanket their area. It was for these very same reasons that thousands of tourists flocked to Florida every year beginning in the late 19th century.
Since my parents moved, I have enjoyed visiting them and exploring Florida and its many historic buildings and attractions. As a result, it was with great anticipation that I read Ken Breslauer’s new book, Florida Roadside Attractions History: The Complete Guide to Florida Tourist Attractions Before Disney.
Breslauer’s book is a great addition to the literature on Florida’s history of roadside attractions and tourism. The book focuses on a period during the 20th-century when the car was king and tourists found fun in the sun traveling routes such as the Orange Blossom Trail, St. Johns River Trail, the Ocean Highway, and the Tamiami Trail.
The book’s biggest strength is the illustrations, which number in the hundreds. There are several pictures of each site along with images of brochures, tickets, and souvenirs. Since many of the sites are no longer extant, the illustrations do an outstanding job of giving the feel and character of each attraction.
The accompanying text is succinct yet informative, giving details on each site’s exhibits and history. Many of the sites’ accounts are short, probably because of a lack of documentation about the attractions. Sites receive at least one page of coverage, and some, like Silver Springs outside Ocala and Marineland, have larger spreads.
There are two chapters on the roadside sites, one for the more well-known attractions and another on the more obscure ones. They are preceded by sections on “Roadside Florida Before Disney” and “Highways to Paradise” each of which provides an excellent introduction to the development of Florida’s highways and tourism industry.
For anybody planning a Florida trip, this book would be a valuable resource. The book’s use as a travel guide, however, spotlights its most significant deficiency. The entries lack an address or directions. Although it’s possible using Google Earth to find the remains of some of the sites, including street addresses or driving directions would have made the book that much more useful.
In summary, Breslauer’s new book is an outstanding volume on the early history of Florida’s roadside attractions. It’s a quick read that, counterintuitively, one can spend hours with examining the book’s illustrations. Breslauer grew up in Florida and is currently the Media Director and Track Historian at Sebring International Raceway. He’s also “an avid collector of Floridiana,” which means that he has an intimate knowledge of the subject, and it shows.
Ralph S. Wilcox is the National Register and Survey Coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and a previous member of SCA’s Board of Directors.