Automobile Camp at Elmwood Park

Long distance travel in the early days of the automobile was difficult, and comforts along the way were few. Motorists pitched their own tents and cooked their own meals in the auto tourist camps that soon sprang up along the nation’s roads. Some were free; others were operated by a commercial businessman. Pay camps, with more conveniences, soon became common.

“What a fount of information is the tourist camp at this season of the year!” said the Sunday World-Herald of August 8, 1926, “And what a place is a tourist camp of an evening, filled by people from everywhere. There are hundreds of such places in the land, but according to motorists who have availed themselves of the hospitality and advantages of the one out Elmwood Park way, there is none that beat it.”

The camp was situated on high ground overlooking Elmwood Park, with features that attracted an American public increasingly drawn to the open road. “There are plenty of trees, ample accommodation for 150 cars and the parties that go with them, while permanent buildings contain baths, equipment for the washing of apparel and dishes, cooking facilities and other things to make things easier for the traveler. In the assembly room are writing tables, a big fireplace, maps, free stationery and all the comforts you would find in the writing room of a big hotel. . . . The paths and driveways are of the finest chipped stone, and the grounds themselves are kept neat and clean all the time.”

The cost for such services was modest, even by the standards of 1926: fifty cents per car for a twenty-four-hour period. The usual stay was limited to four days, although one could stay longer if conditions permitted. The World-Herald noted, “In 1924 some 7,302 cars stopped in the camp, and in 1925 there were 7,792. Already this year there has been 3,280 registered there . . . . The summer months are the big months, but spring, fall and even winter brings visitors in number.”

The establishment of this popular auto tourist camp was due to the Omaha Automobile Club, which had appointed a committee to propose its establishment before the Omaha City Council. The camp was viewed from the first as a successful advertisement of Omaha’s wealth and hospitality to travelers. “Members of one family going west were loud in their praises for the local camp. ‘We’ve been in 20 or more. This is by far the best in every particular. We are certainly going to stop here for a while on our way back.'”

As auto campers demanded more comforts, roadside accommodations such as those found at the Elmwood Park camp were accordingly upgraded. Individual tourist cabins were constructed that provided not only cooking and sanitary facilities, but overnight privacy and shelter from bad weather. Some owners connected their cabins and arranged them around a central court to form a motor court-which, in turn, gave rise to the modern motel.

(April 2007)

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