Family Car Camping, Harris & Ewing, photographer between 1915 and 1923

Auto Camping in the American West

August is the traditional car vacation month and this year is no different. With millions of drivers and families checking out national parks, monuments, American backroads, and various types of amusements, many towns, cities, and toll roads will see an increase in revenue (as well as population).

As America became more mobile during the 1910s and 1920s, Americans ventured out on America’s roads.. Many heeded Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go west…” and like the pioneers of old, they explored the back roads and towns of western America.  On the way, travelers with limited budgets or who wanted to experience the fresh air of the countryside, outfitted their cars with camping equipment. Others, realized that towns were few and far between and so needed an alternative to a hotel.

Family Car Camping, Harris & Ewing, photographer between 1915 and 1923

Family Car Camping, Harris & Ewing, photographer between 1915 and 1923

Early on towns were skeptical of these “auto gypsies” and farmers and ranchers were concerned with these short-time squatters on their lands. Some folks camped on roadsides, but this proved dangerous in an era when speed limits and paved roads were almost non-existent.

By the early 1920s, towns realized the commercial opportunities in providing dedicated “auto camps,” where campers could patronize local stores for food and gas. Many towns in the West opened auto camps that provided a variety of free amenities, including fireplaces and showers.

The full-text search capability of the American County Histories database permits the student/researcher to explore all the publications of a particular county by using a single query. In addition, those wishing to read or browse the text on a page by page basis may do so in the original format merely by scrolling down the screen and then continuing to the next chapter.
This article provides a brief highlight on the changing American interest in outdoor recreation via the automobile, the development of roads in western states, and the economic and commercial activities of America’s towns in the early 20th century.

Auto Tourists Camp, August 20, 1923

Auto Tourists Camp, August 20, 1923

. In the page below the Nevada City Free Auto Camping Park provided a “free swimming pool, which is now well stocked with mountain trout.

“The Nevada City Free Auto Camping Park, located within the city, fills a want long felt and attracts many tourists to Nevada City during the summer months. This park was established by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, and is maintained without expense to the city. It is free to the automobilist. The only charge is twenty-five cents deposited in the slot for gas for cooking. There is no charge for stoves, bath water, lights, or camping grounds. The park is well patronized. Often as many as forty automobiles are camped there. Emil J. N. Ott, the mayor of Nevada City, whose assay office is adjacent to the park, is in charge, and manifests a very live interest in the orderly conduct of the park and the comfort of the tourists who use it.

The park has a free swimming pool, which is now well stocked with mountain trout. There are also free parking places for automobiles, tenting grounds, dining tables, shower baths for men and also for women, rest rooms, toilets and an excellent sewerage system. Free gas stoves are provided, and also electric lights and free water. A natural spring furnishes an abundance of the very best drinking water, which stands at a temperature of fifty-one degrees winter and summer.

Yellowstone National Park - Auto camped at Mammoth Public Auto Camp

Yellowstone National Park – Auto camped at Mammoth Public Auto Camp

The grounds have fine trees, shrubbery and flowers; and the place is orderly and sanitarily kept. In fact, it has been pronounced most excellent by the State inspector, as to both cleanliness and sanitation.

The Chamber of Commerce gives a masquerade ball in the month of April, each year, which is generously patronized and nets about $400, which sum is used for necessary equipment.

The Park Committee, of which Mayor Ott is chairman, is composed of public-spirited men of Nevada City.

The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, formerly known as the Nevada City Improvement Association, was organized on February 3, 1910, with the following officers: Samuel Butler, president; W. H. Martin, vice-president; and George B. Finegan, secretary. Its present officers are: Emil J. N. Ott, president, and W. E. Wright, secretary.”

American County HistoriesSource:  American County Histories –  HISTORY OF PLACER AND NEVADA COUNTIES CALIFORNIA WITH BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF THE LEADING MEN AND WOMEN OF THE COUNTIES WHO HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED WITH THEIR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT FROM THE EARLY DAYS TO THE PRESENT. W. B. LARDNER AND M. J. BROCK. HISTORIC RECORD COMPANY, 1924, page 421.

Top Image: Lake Public auto camp party (E. S. Bach)
Image Source:  Family car camping
Image Source: Auto tourists camp, 8/20/23
Image Source: Wyo. – Yellowstone Nat. Park – auto camped at mammoth (public auto camp)

 

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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