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A History of American Vacation Cottages

The Traditional Cottage Resort: A History of American Vacation Cottages

Old post card of the resort
An old postcard showing The Dunes property

Spoiler alert: We’re older than we look — nearly a century older in fact. The Dunes on the Waterfront is part of a long line of American family resorts that became popular at the turn-of-the-century. As cottage resort owners, we find this history both beautiful and fascinating. So, we’re using this blog post to share it with you.

A cottage in 1938

In the early 1900’s, life in American cities and towns was becoming increasingly mechanized. Industries were booming, new gadgets were pouring into homes, and landscapes and lifestyles were being revolutionized by the rise of the automobile. American families — many of which had just entered the middle class in a time of pre-war prosperity — reacted to this bold new way of life by removing themselves from it.

Armed with cars, a little extra cash, and craving time outside, American families took to the coasts and highlands. To meet this new demand for vacation locations, private and public seaside resorts sprung up all across the country. Billing themselves as “self-contained” tourist destinations, these businesses would offer collections of vacation cottages and on-site activities like swimming, boating, games, dances, and more. Families and groups of friends came together to recreate outdoors and refresh themselves in the clean and open surroundings.

Cottages from 1938When The Dunes was opened in 1936, we had twelve acres of farmland. Soon that landed hosted four cottages, and our guests started coming in by train. At that time, our visitors rented our cottages for the entire season and treated Ogunquit like their second homes.

Traditional cottage resorts have a unique architectural style and layout. The cottage style buildings allowed whole families to come and stay together, and the smattering of cottages across one property re-created a neighborhood feel in a remote setting. This way, the people of the 20th century could network with other like-minded vacationers and intermingle with extended family while on vacation.

These folks wanted to escape their suburban location and the stresses of technology without sacrificing the social aspects of it. In a way, the traditional cottage resort allowed them to transpose the best of their society onto a new and refreshing landscape (in our case, the stunning expanses of the tidal river and Ogunquit Beach). In other words, they would ditch the roads, but retain the friends.

Today, resorts with vacation cottages for rent are still beloved but not as ubiquitous as they were in the 1930s. Part of a great tradition of American leisure, this history makes the Dunes even more of a gem for the people who’ve found it. As our guests will tell you, our classic cottage details, and old-school layout allows you to relish history in the everyday. If you’re looking for cottages for rent, you won’t believe what we’ve got in store for you.

2 Comments

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  1. Thank you for posting the history of the Dunes. I am not surprised that generations of summer vacationers have enjoyed the Dunes as much as I have. Thank you for making the Dunes a wonderful vacation escape.

    • Sharyn– you’re so welcome. Thank you for cherishing the Dunes and Ogunquit as much as we do. We hope the history adds even more depth to your next visit!

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