Tin Can Tourists in Bradenton, FL
Once upon a time, these folks and their tiny trailers were a major vehicle in Florida's tourist industry.
That was the 1930s and '40s, and their enduring presence has been felt for years at Braden Castle and Bradenton Trailer Park.
They were among the Camping Tourists of America, hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to Florida as a winter retreat after World War I.
The Tin Can Tourists are now more of a club with winter conventions, but their legacy remains.
“When you talk about tourism, that's the beginning - where it all started,” said Gary Bogart, owner of Jake's Automotive and an active member of Bradenton Kiwanis, which once owned Bradenton Trailer Park. “And we all know how much we feed off it now.”
Braden Castle, once home to plantation owner Joseph Braden, became a destination for Tin Can Tourists after the CTA bought a 34-acre tract for $16,000 in the 1920s. It became a tight-knit community where the trailers and small homes stood but a few feet apart.
The roots of the Bradenton Trailer Park go back to 1936, when Bradenton Kiwanis leased land from the city to build the trailer park to draw tourists.
Bob Sweat, a Bradenton native, Supervisor of Elections and Kiwanis member for 28 years, remembers seeing what he described as “tiny (trailers) that were about 8 feet by 16 feet. They'd come down, stay for two, three months, go back north and eventually they just started staying.
“Nobody was really crazy about building a trailer park other than our (Kiwanis) forefathers,” Sweat said. “What tourism was in the '30s and '40s certainly isn't what it is today. I don't know how many folks flew down here unless they were part of baseball team. But the trailer park grew, thank God, more and more and more.”
The club's initial $17,000 investment grew into a 40-acre, 596-lot park that Kiwanis sold in 1997 for $8.8 million. Those proceeds were put into a foundation that enables to club to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the community annually.