York Beach, Maine
At Home on the Road”
I unexpectedly happened upon this exhibit, at the Smithsonian, and found myself taking a moment to savor a piece of both familiar and foreign history.
One of the things I first noticed, when driving through Maine, many years ago, was that the landscaped was dotted with small vacation cabin parks and campsites for recreational vehicles. These parks were not located in remote locations, but rather on the main thoroughfares and beaches.
I soon learned that “camping” was not just a tourist activity, but very much of a Mainer and in many cases New Englander activity. Repeatedly, I met people who owned “cabins”, sometimes just a few miles from their home; they would retreat to their “cabins” for a long weekend to enjoy communing with nature and stepping away from their daily life.
Map: “New England All year tours,” about 1940
“In the 1930s, as more Americans enjoyed paid vacations and access to automobiles, many families purchased or made house trailers. Ads promoted trailer life as a way to strengthen family ties through the pleasures of a vacation on the road. Trailers built in the 1930s were scaled-down versions of a home, with fold out beds, stoves, sinks, and other amenities that let a family travel without having to pay for a hotel or meals. Although taking the housekeeping on the road often meant that women did not have much of a holiday, trailers provided a way for hundreds of thousands of people to take vacations.”
“Every summer in the late 1930s and 1940s, the Cate family of New Hampshire towed their Trave-L-Coach house trailer to York Beach on the southern coast of Maine. They stayed at one of the thousands of trailer camps that sprang up around the county to accommodate this new form of tourism. There, like other middle-class families, they spend a week in a vacation cottage on wheels.”
A peek into another world
Today, this stretch of beach still has room for those who wish to set up their campers, and enjoy the beach.