Manatee County — A Look Back



“Tin Can” tourists marked birth
of travel trailer parks
by Morgan Stinemetz

The next time you go out for dinner and spend $100 or more, just remember there once were temporary Floridians who didn’t spend $100 the whole time they were visiting here, wintering from places up north.
They were the Tin Can Tourists.  Many were farmers who came down from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin.  They spent their winters in Florida for a couple of reasons.  They didn’t have much to do back on the farm in the winter.  And it was far more comfortable down here in Florida than it was back home, where the wind blew cold snow and the ponds froze.
The Model T Ford was the prime carrier that brought the winter refugees south.  The roads were not good back then and no one had heard of anything like an Interstate Highway System; it was beyond comprehension.  As a result, the trips to Florida were a bit on the rugged side.  Covering 125 miles in a day was considered making good time.
Easterners came down U.S. Highways 1 and 301.  In their cars they brought folding chairs, mattresses, canvas to erect a tent, stoves and cooking utensils.  They also brought along lots and lots of canned goods.
With a tarp tied to their cars to keep the sun and rain off, the Tin Can Tourists could set up light housekeeping just about anywhere.  They cooked their meals and camp stoves.  They drank a lot of fresh squeezed orange juice and grapefruit.  They caught fish and cooked them.  Except for the canned goods, they lived the good life right off the land.
Some even took to putting a tin can over their car’s hood ornament to let others know that they were members of a special society.  In the early 1920’s they even had national conventions.  In 1922, for example, 30,000 attended a convention in Tampa.
Merchants who had hoped to separate the Tin Can Tourists from some of their money ran into “the immoveable object.”  Tin Can Tourists didn’t shop out much.  They browsed in stores for entertainment.  They played cards in their parks.  They liked shuffleboard.  They played checkers.  And they had their own entertainment in the parks anyway, singing songs and telling tales.  Local schools accommodated Tin Can Tourists by taking in vacationing children for just 50 cents a week.
It was a time when Florida was the attraction and the state didn’t need Disney Worlds to bring people here.  The cold weather did it for them.  Some of those who headed south found their way to Braden Castle, a camping park just east of Bradenton.  The Braden Castle Park was incorporated as the “Camping Tourists of America” in 1924.  Tin Can Tourists had experienced some hostility with the Cuban element in Tampa.  Bradenton was, therefore, deemed safer for some. The park was 85 acres and was purchased for $16,000 in 1924.
People who had been camping at the Manatee Fair Grounds came over to the Braden Castle property.  Still others came down from Tampa.  Within a year of the closing on the Braden Castle land it was cleared of palmetto scrub and tenacious gatorbacks and a number of winter cottages were erected by members on land allotted them.
The Tin Can Tourists and their followers have been here ever since.  The only thing that has changed is the town and, of course, the prices.

Source: Eaton Room files, Manatee County Historical Society