Off the Beaten Track - Roadside Attractions
The opening of Bok Tower marked the beginning of a roadside-attraction era. Prior to the opening of Edward Bok’s Singing Tower at Mountain Lake Sanctuary in 1929, most of Florida’s tourists came to see the natural side of Florida.
The most frugal visitors were called “tin can tourists”, who camped out and ate food out of tin cans. As time went on and modes of transportation evolved, the tourist industry grew with it. Once highways, expressways, and turnpikes were installed throughout the state, the amount of tourists in Florida rose because of increased accessibility. The introduction of commercial fights brought in more people from the west coast of the United States because it allowed for less travel time. Also, most attractions were only open during sunlight hours until a lighting system was installed.
Prior to the establishment of Disney World and industrial construction of theme parks like Universal Studios, many roadside attractions were built around Florida's natural beauty. Places like Cypress Gardens, Sunken Gardens, Marineland, and Wakulla Springs opened in the 1930s. Other attractions in Florida were based on animals--like alligator wrestling, Monkey Jungle, and Parrot Jungle--or on things like the automobile, with places like James Melton’s Autorama and Cars of Yesterday. Sometimes people or cultures were also themes for roadside attractions, like the Seminole-Indian village known as Musa Isle; a place that closed in 1956 called Midget City; and a tribute to Florida’s citrus industry called Citrus Tower and the Citrus Hall of Fame. During the decades of segregation, whites were the only ones allowed in the parks, and some places, like Silver Springs, made additional parks for those of color. Paradise Park was advertised as the “Silver Springs for Colored People”.
However, once larger attractions like Walt Disney World appeared, the smaller attractions began to go out of business or would go unnoticed because they were more out of the way and less advertised. Places that began to go out of business were torn down and rebuilt as apartment complexes, homes and condominiums. Today, only a few of the old roadside attractions are still in operation. Some of these include Busch Gardens in Tampa, Weeki Wachee in Brooksville, Gatorland Zoo in Orlando, Parrot Jungle in Miami, and Silver Springs.