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Sunday Favorites: Tin Can Tourists and Braden Castle Camp


Braden Castle Park is a charming 55 and over community featuring quaint cottages, mobile homes, and RV campers. Nestled at a picturesque point where the Manatee and Braden Rivers converge, the park boasts 200 lots, including 198 small houses. The trailer park offers 94 mobile home sites, while 10 spots are reserved for recreational vehicles.

Joseph Braden originally settled the property in the early 1840s, first building a home along Ware’s Creek that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1846. Together with his brother, Hector Braden, he established a large sugar plantation. In 1850, Joseph began constructing his dream home, Braden Castle, using tabby—a concrete-like substance made of lime, sand, and oyster shells. Upon completion, Braden Castle stood as the largest home in the area. Joseph frequently hosted new residents as they established their homesteads, and the castle's sturdy construction made it nearly impenetrable. During the Third Seminole War, it even served as a makeshift fort, protecting several settlers during a skirmish, according to the historical marker.

Joseph Braden left the area in 1857, and the home burned down in 1910, leaving behind only the ruins of what was once an epitome of impenetrable grandeur. For years, residents camped at the site, as it was a good halfway point for the trip from Braidentown to Fort Hamer and a picturesque point to enjoy the beauty of nature.

During the 1920s, a new form of camping emerged with the advent of the Ford Model T, enabling middle-income families to travel south during the harsh winter months. These travelers, who dubbed themselves "Tin Can Tourists," journeyed in their "Tin Lizzies" (a nickname for the Model T) and primarily relied on canned goods to save money on their adventures. To further showcase their membership as a Tin Can Tourist, they would often display empty tin cans on their radiator, according to the article “Braden Castle Camp and the Tin Can Tourists of America” by Loren O. Binkley and Pamela Gibson.

These individuals camped in public parks throughout the southern U.S., residing in tents, creatively constructed lean-tos, and house cars all erected on Model T chassis. They organized informally at Tampa's DeSoto Park in 1919. By 1922, the group had grown to over 100,000 members, promoting friendship, wholesome recreation, cleanliness, and adherence to campground rules. However, tensions developed when native Floridians felt the tourists didn't contribute enough to the local economy by bringing their tinned provisions. Resentment surfaced in Tampa as early as 1920-21, culminating in 1924 when the Civic Club of East Tampa successfully sued to close DeSoto Park, Binkley and Gibson stated.

By-laws in the Tin Can Tourist's charter prohibited them from owning property, so a subset formed a separate organization and sought to establish a campsite they could own.

Generations of campers must have spread the word about the Braden Castle property because, in 1924, the new subset of campers called Camping Tourists of America, purchased the property, according to Binkley and Gibson.

On March 7, 1924, the 34.75 acres surrounding the ruins of Braden Castle became their new campground. They swiftly organized the site, deciding which areas to leave undeveloped and which should be cleared. By the late 1920s, 177  of the current 199 cottages had been built. Over time, the campgrounds transitioned from tents to homemade house cars, travel trailers, and eventually mobile homes. Additional amenities were built including separate men's and women’s clubhouses, a shuffleboard court, boat docks, and a pier.

Even during the war years of the 1940s, Braden Castle Park continued to develop. A swampy area known back then as the “Alligator Pool” was dredged to create a beautiful lagoon and. a portion of the remaining jungle and marsh was drained to plant "Victory Gardens.” These gardens helped supplement the provisional rations enacted during the war.  

The 1950s-60s were a time of decline for the park, as the property values dropped with political discussions about installing a bridge at the site. However, the development never came to fruition and the park saw a resurgence in the 1970s, as descendants of the original tourists seemed to rediscover the park.

Braden Castle Park is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  It serves as a unique combination of two historically important periods in the development of Central Florida. Remarkably has survived and functions much as it did when first conceived.

Tin Can Tourists, Braden Castle, Braden Castle Camp, Camping at Braden Castle


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