Nineteenth-century vacations demanded large resources of time as well as money, and only Chicago's elite enjoyed these in abundance. Prominent families, such as the Palmers, Armours, and Fields, regularly fled urban clamor and climatic extremes for the woods, mountains, seaside, and lakeshore. They circulated among exclusive resorts in Europe and the New England coast in summer (Bar Harbor, Maine and Newport, Rhode Island) and flocked to Florida's private beaches in winter.
For middle-class professionals, getting away in the 1870s meant camping at summer colonies on the urban fringes, such as Lake Bluff and New Buffalo, Michigan, or a pilgrimage to the Indiana Dunes. More distant vacation destinations remained too expensive for middle-class Chicagoans.
Increasingly, the nearby woodlands and pristine waters of the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana shores of Lake Michigan beckoned Chicagoans seeking recreation and repose amidst natural beauty. Hunters, anglers, and boaters drawn to the strenuous life took to the woods and waterways, camping in tents or in rugged shelters in proximity to rural agricultural and logging settlements.
As the industrial city grew, health activists celebrated the moral benefits of vigorous activity in the fresh air and contributed to an emerging view of the vacation as a necessary antidote to urban life. Middle-class sufferers of physical and mental ailments “took the cure” at fresh-air spas, mineral springs, and wilderness retreats and sanatoriums in Wisconsin, Michigan, and downstate Illinois. Religious organizations sponsored “camp meetings” combining recreation with spiritual education and fellowship.
Soaring population in the 1880s and 1890s increased demand for affordable, accessible, and stimulating getaway opportunities. Railway and steamship lines joined forces with commercial developers to create vacation resorts for consumers seeking speedy and inexpensive access to lively surroundings where they could unwind with their families or meet members of the opposite sex.
By the turn of the century, resort hotels and campgrounds serving Chicagoans of various incomes were transforming sleepy encampments and lake ports such as Holland, Michigan, into bustling vacation spots. Thousands of Chicagoans traveling as families, church congregations, ethnic societies, and neighborhood groups might visit on a Fourth of July weekend.
The post-1945 boom in production, prosperity, and improved benefits packages for workers expanded vacation budgets and options. Loaded into station wagons and recreational vehicles, Chicagoans took to the new interstate highway system in record numbers.
By the end of the twentieth century, competition in the tourism and airline industry, along with Chicago's national status as an air hub, had increased middle-class access to national and international travel. Chicagoans traveling beyond the Great Lakes region have been especially partial to California and Florida.
Amory, Cleveland. The Last Resorts. 1952.
Bateman, Newton. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. 1908.
Bogue, Margaret B., and Virginia A. Palmer. Around the Shores of Lake Superior: A Guide to Historic Sites. 1979.
The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
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