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The Birth of American Tourism

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  • The Birth of American Tourism: New York, the Hudson Valley and American Culture, 1790-1830 BY Richard Gassan talks about the argument that tourism in America was established through coincidence and chance.
  • The main argument in the book is based on the belief that successful tourism requires three major aspects that include comfort, social boundaries and a destination with an illusion of novelty. Gassan traces the origin of American tourism in New York specifically the Hudson Valley.
  • For him, the establishment tourism in the US occurred during the early 1790s. This happened in small upstate New York Settlement of Ballston where Nicholas Low, a land speculator and entrepreneur, decided to use the mineral springs that were on his property to his advantage. He built an American version of the great British Spa Towns.
  • The Ballston Spa successfully thrived from the turn of the 19th century through to the war that happened in 1812. Gassam argues that the establishment of tourist attraction sites in New York attracted the development of transportation infrastructure that laid the ground for the establishment of tourism in other parts of America.
  • The Hudson Valley is an important inclusion in the book as it provided easy and quick access to destinations that were in the interior, such as Ballston, Catskills, Saratoga and Niagara. The author also brings the importance of the romantic tradition of the British mode of picturesque that was included in the American landscape.
  • Gassam’s story is not just about the information of how tourism began in America. He spins around an appealing conversational, informal and humorous tone in certain parts of the book that add flavor to it.  However, beneath the smooth description lie certain important questions. When did other early resorts, such as Lebanon and Stafford Springs begin? Who were the tourists who participated in the fashionable tour? These among other questions come up from Gassam’s book.

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