In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews in American History 30.4 (2002) 555-563

[Access article in PDF]

Tourism and the Market Revolution

Thomas A. Chambers

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis. Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. x, 293 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. $55.00 (cloth); $19.50 (paper).

Theodore Corbett. The Making of American Resorts: Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, Lake George. xviii, 285 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. $59.00 (cloth); $28.00 (paper).

Jon Sterngass. First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. ix, 374 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. $36.50.

The nearly simultaneous publication of these three books on nineteenth-century mineral springs resorts marks the maturation of the history of tourism and its inclusion in the mainstream of historical studies. For years the study of tourism stood outside traditional historiography, regarded as a subject for sociology or cultural studies. Even the most important works to emerge over the past decade or so, including John Sears' Sacred Places (1989), Dona Brown's Inventing New England (1995), and Cindy Aron's Working at Play (1999), addressed broader issues such as tourism's cultural importance, its commercial development, or the concept of leisure in American life. The appearance of Orvar Lofgren's theoretical work, On Holiday (1999), and the reissue of Dean MacCannell's classic sociological study, The Tourist (1976; reprint, 1999), might lead some readers to assume that theory and the most general questions about tourism's historical significance were again dominating the subfield. But Charlene Lewis, Jon Sterngass, and Theodore Corbett have used the archetypal method of social history, the case study, to remind historians of nineteenth-century America that tourism and leisure were central to American culture and society. The resorts that these historians study both created and responded to the major changes of nineteenth-century America: the Market Revolution, the process of class formation, the commercialization of leisure time, and the construction of regional identities. What some scholars might see as the esoteric diversions of a dissipated leisure class [End Page 555] are instead crucial components in the creation of nineteenth-century American culture, society, and economics.

All three authors focus in large part on a popular and widespread institution in nineteenth-century America, the mineral springs resort. Each summer thousands—probably tens of thousands—of Americans left their city homes, plantations and farms, or commercial centers to escape heat and disease, improve their health by drinking and sometimes bathing in sulphurous water, announce their gentility, perhaps secure a spouse, and generally enjoy themselves. Whether located in Virginia or New York State, mineral springs resorts shared a unique social setting and cultural atmosphere based on the pursuit of health and pleasure. Lewis, Sterngass, and Corbett focus on the social side of springs life to demonstrate how Americans constructed gender roles, class hierarchies, and regional identities at these temporary communities. As such, the authors are writing histories not of mineral springs resorts, but of how these institutions shaped, influenced, and articulated nineteenth-century American society and culture.

The most specific and analytically sophisticated of these works is Charlene Lewis's Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860, a revision of her excellent dissertation. Lewis weaves a complex and subtle argument throughout her text that casts the Virginia springs, a collection of resorts stretching along the modern Virginia-West Virginia border in the Appalachian Mountains, as a key locus for the formation of the southern planter class. The springs defined "what it meant to be an elite 'southerner'" (p. 7). Wealthy Southerners from across the region gathered each summer at these resorts to dance, drink, and relax with their social peers, all the while playing to roles of gentlemen and ladies, belles and beaux. The springs provided a stage upon which southerners could display their status and gentility.

Lewis divides Ladies and Gentlemen on Display into three thematic sections. Part 1, "The Scene," describes the springs' architecture and landscape as "backdrops or stage sets for the genteel visitors" (p...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 555-563
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.