Feb. 14: Imagining the American West / Transcontinental Travel

For Tuesday, please read Hal Rothman, Devil’s Bargains, chaps. 1-3.  Then, in a 200-word comment to this post, please choose one of the following topics to address.

1) How does Rothman’s idea of tourism as a “devil’s bargain” reveal itself in the role that the Fred Harvey Company played in the West?

2) In what ways did tourism exploit the mythic nature of the West?

3) How did railroads transform the experience of the West?

Avatar of Mark Souther

About Mark Souther

I am an associate professor of history at Cleveland State University and director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. I'm the author of New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City, editor of American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, and am writing a new book on perceptions of decline in postwar Cleveland. Apart from my involvement in CPHDH, I authored a recent successful National Register of Historic Places nomination and serve on the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. My history interests include urban and suburban history, 20th-century U.S. political and cultural history, leisure and tourism, and architecture and historic preservation.
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10 Responses to Feb. 14: Imagining the American West / Transcontinental Travel

  1. Avatar of hfearing hfearing says:

    Fred Harvey capitalized on the increased interest in western tourism, specifically in the Grand Canyon. His company set up restaurants along the railroad route, in the train, and at the canyon. The Harvey Company also set up hotels. Because he was able to provide services at all price ranges, he drove local companies out of business or forced them to join with the Harvey Company to survive. Also, he set the architectural style for the Grand Canyon. The Park Service used the New Mexican pueblo adobe style rather than the traditional style in which near locals actually lived. Also, the company exploited the Hopi and the Havasupai for profit by using the Havasupai for manual labor and the Hopi for service labor and commercial artisans, “superimpos[ing] the Hopi culture on the Havasupai but in a manner that the typical visitor would not grasp,” and changed the living conditions of the Havasupai. Grand Canyon tourism essentially became a corporate business, created as a reflection of national ideals comfort and of the south western local characteristics. In other words, the Harvey Company shaped the tourist experience by using travelers’ expectations. By doing so it eliminated the many of the elements that made the region unique.

  2. Avatar of luzelac luzelac says:

    Hal Rothman states in Devil’s Bargain that “The railroad made tourists out of travelers, especially in the western United States.”(p.39) In that way, railroads transformed the experience of the west. Tourists were able to board a train in the east and pass through the country without really experiencing it. Traveling by wagon or riverboat did not create the same displacement as the train could. Rothman also notes that with a train, any unpleasant experience could be abandoned when tourists returned to the train. This is not dissimilar to the cruise experiences we have discussed in class. A person might visit an area briefly then move along to another location without being very invested in the areas in between. Furthermore, the creation of the Harvey facilities insured that tourists might always trust that they will have a pleasurable experience when they travel even if it might not be an authentic experience for the areas they visit. Railroads created the tourist destinations and created the best way to reach them and escape from them. While early rail travel was primitive, conditions on trains improved and creature comforts gave way to luxury in some trains. Partnerships between railroads and hotels also could determine which hotels prospered and which failed. Local merchants who did not have a connection to the rail roads would face difficulty in trying to compete for guests.

  3. Avatar of James Lanese James Lanese says:

    The ‘development’ of the attractions in the U. S. West loosely folows the phenomenon of the Hudson Valley spring resorts. Located by explorers, sought at first by the wealthy with where-with-all to travel to out of the way places, and opened to the masses with affordable transportation, the Grand Canyon added the dimension of the struggle between private entrepeneurs and the public governance to develop and control the site. Fred Harvey’s reputable and successful record serving rail travellers became the chosen resource to accomodate hig volume visitors. With passenger rail access and Teddy Roosevelt’s impetus to preserve and control the resource, the tourism industry evolved as a unique blend of public/private service to accomodate millions of visitors for the past century. Other western locations were at the mercy of rail development to gain tourists during the beginning of the 20th century. Interestingly, once the tourists arrived, the experience was designed by the visitors’ expectations and often compromised the authenticity of the place (i.e. the Hopi Indian role at the park).

  4. Amelia Duff says:

    Question 2. In what ways did tourism exploit the mythic nature of the West?

    As tourism throughout America increased, more Americans found themselves drawn to the mythic nature of the west based on the equation to classical European cultural features such as cathedrals or ancient castles. America, as such a young country, sought to prove its own worth from a cultured standpoint, but had far less history to draw upon. However, this did not stop the elite class (as well as other classes seeking to prove their status) from drawing on the European tradition of travel as means of enculturation. Thus, using the rugged nature of the west, people began to want to see their country’s natural wonders, the standard example being Yellow Stone National Park. However, as conditions for travel continued to improve and more people flocked westward in order to see a vision of the sublime in reality, maintaining the natural ruggedness of the land became more and more difficult. While many people were attracted to viewing the landscapes that their favorite adventurers had previously conquered, the fact remained that with the additions of railways and hotels (as well as the removal of the land’s previous inhabitants, the Native Americans) that eventually the presence of the tourists themselves would undermine the naturalness they had come to see.

  5. Avatar of cciullafaup cciullafaup says:

    Railroads transformed the way people could experience the West, as well as, transformed the landscape, and economics of the West, in various ways. The industrial development, and then the major improvements of railroad cars, created a more comfortable form of travel, and faster travel than the past, making it easier to access and explore the West. With the creation of railroads came the creation of new communities along the railroad lines. The new communities that sprang up became the more significant of communities due to the pull of people, romantic landscape, and creating capital. The combination of these things created the support for tourism, allowing for more economic profit. The railroads connected cities, and states, creating not only the new communities but also brought transformation for preexisting places. These transformations included cultural, physical, and economic change. Prior to the railroad, the locals or regional visitors primarily experienced much of the West, as their homes. The railroad made way for people across the nation, initially, the wealthy, to come and explore the West. However, not unlike a lot of change, this tourism created much loss to some environments and people. The industrialization of the West, specifically, the industrialization of the West’s spectacular environments created numerous results. The most obvious of outcomes was a love-hate relationship with modernity.

  6. Avatar of cjones14 cjones14 says:

    3.) How did railroads transform the experience of the West?

    Hal Rothman wrote specifically about the Grand Canyon as the birthplace of tourism in the American West. After Dutton wrote The Tertiary History, the romanticized region began to see more and more expansionists moving into the area. Originally they merely staked mining claims, such as John Hance in 1883, but soon the main focused shifted from mining to visitor entertainment. However, travel was very primitive in the early years of western settlement. A stage coach from Flagstaff took approximately three days to travel to the Grand Canyon, and cost twenty dollars. Tourism was stunted by the lack of a “consistent, comfortable, and efficient form of transportation.” Thus, the railroads were established. Mostly acquired from small mining railroads, trains gave visitors a much cheaper form of travel, and lead to the growing economic importance of tourism. More people meant that the crude amenities needed to be upgraded, and visionaries such as Fred Harvey moved in to capitalize on the growing needs of travelers. Railroads offered a many more comforts to travelers, and allowed them more access to other regions of the country without having to sacrifice time. In addition, the development of the railroads brought not only tourists but also a steady workforce, as laborers were needed to upkeep the amenities, attractions, and also the railroads themselves.

  7. Avatar of elkaiser3 elkaiser3 says:

    3) The biggest and most obvious effect the railroad system had on the west was the new opportunity it gave for more tourists to travel farther into the frontier. From this there was the alteration of nature from the construction, the displacement of the Native Americans, the extinction of species, and the general pollution that comes from trains and hoards of tourists. People traveled to the west seeking an authentic experience with nature, like the explorers and artists that came before them, but ironically their very presence was destroying the possibility of that opportunity. The landscape had changed, thus making it impossible to achieve that sublime experience with nature. As the way people traveled changed (from wagon to train) people actually interacted differently with nature because they were physically removed from it. They no longer engaged directly with the elements as they traveled. This change according to Rotham, “made tourists out of travelers” because “they became observers, not participants.” Even though more people were able to visit the west after the democratization of travel, less people truly experienced the nature of the west.

  8. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    Railroads had a transforming impact on the experience of the West. Railroads provided a much faster form of transportation across the country, which in effect lead to a massive boost in the tourism industry. Materials and people could now travel across the country in a matter of days, leading to an increase in industrial production. Shops, lodging and even cities began to appear along the railroad lines on the ride out west as business thrived due to the increase in people traveling. The railways helped the country to connect together. The tourists from the east were able to bring their business; culture and way of living out west as well as explore the magnificent landscape. Needless to say the railroads were maybe the biggest factor in the rise of the development out west. However as the title of Rothman’ s book, “The Devils Bargain”, seems to imply that everything comes with a cost. Parts of the beautiful landscape of were destroyed to make way for the railroads and big businesses as they made their way westward. However, whatever the negative effects of the increase in travel out west may have been, railroads and business kept growing and expanding across the landscape.

  9. Avatar of Matt Sisson Matt Sisson says:

    Rothman Ch.1-3, prompt #1:

    Rothman argues tourism can take the form of a devil’s bargain, which he describes as uncontrollable change that transforms the cultures that adopt tourism as a major economic strategy. The Fred Harvey Company embodied Rothman’s notion of a devil’s bargain in the west. The chain of Harvey Houses that went up all along the AT&SF made the rugged west familiar and bearable for tourists, by making the west a little more like home for travelers while maintaining a façade of southwestern flair that tourists desired. For example, the Harvey Company’s Hopi House offered tourists luxurious accommodations that other inns near the Grand Canyon could not. It also dominated the market of selling western-themed crafts to tourists that local Indians traditionally sold, further reaping profits because it did not trade with the local Indians who offered the same crafts and depended on the business they provided. The consequence was that the conglomerate of Harvey Houses dispossessed the local entrepreneurs. The locals that had initially adopted tourism as an economic strategy found themselves displaced by a neonative population, which was the Harvey Company, its employees, and the general audience/tourists that the company attracted with its national ethos.

  10. shannon miller says:

    Railroads transformed the way people could experience the west by giving them the opportunity to actually see the places they were traveling through without having to deal with each place. By boarding a train, they were able to observe from the railcar windows the many places they passed through without dealing with people who lived in these places or have to pay extra to participate in the activities of these places. Traveling by train became more comfortable and more time efficient than the transportation methods of the past. As more people traveled out west, it helped increase the economy as well. The landscape became an experience that travelers added to their list of things and places to “do” and see. As we discussed in class the view from the train also protected travelers from the less desirable places a certain city may have to offer. I actually have traveled on a train in some parts of the west and you mostly get to see the beautiful mountains and landscapes that are almost picture like. But having explored the desert and other parts out west with family, I know that not all of the landscape is “pretty” so for travelers who like to sugar coat their trips for kids or to make themselves feel like upper class people, trains were the way to go and the rise of train transportation helped make that possible.

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