“Weaving together the stories of private conservationists, state boosters, and New Dealers, Nelson captures a pivotal moment in the development of Florida as a tourist destination. We may be surprised by the sacrifices of CCC workers or the schemes of Florida’s politicians, but readers will appreciate all the more how their efforts have preserved some of the Sunshine State’s most beautiful landscapes.”—Anthony J. Stanonis, author of Faith in Bikinis: Politics and Leisure in the Coastal South since the Civil War
“A masterful account of the synergy that gave birth to the Florida State Parks system. This volume throws light on Florida’s transition from its nineteenth-century past to its modern form.” —Brian R. Rucker, author of Treasures of the Panhandle: A Journey through West Florida
Countering the conventional narrative that Florida’s tourism industry suffered during the Great Depression, this book shows that the 1930s were, in reality, the starting point for much that characterizes modern Florida’s tourism. David Nelson argues that state and federal government programs designed to reboot the economy during this decade are crucial to understanding the state today.
Nelson examines the impact of three connected initiatives—the federal New Deal, its Civilian Conservation Corps program (CCC), and the CCC’s creation of the Florida Park Service. He reveals that the CCC designed state parks to reinforce the popular image of Florida as a tropical, exotic, and safe paradise. The CCC often removed native flora and fauna, introduced exotic species, and created artificial landscapes that were then presented as natural. Nelson discusses how Florida business leaders benefitted from federally funded development and the ways residents and business owners rejected or supported the commercialization and shifting cultural identity of their state.
A detailed look at a unique era in which the state government sponsored the tourism industry, helped commodify natural resources, and boosted mythical ideas of the “Real Florida” that endure today, this book makes the case that the creation of the Florida Park Service is the story of modern Florida.
David J. Nelson is professor of history at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College at Bainbridge.