RV Living.. a History...
In1980, the March issue of Trailer Life Magazine, featured an article proposing RVs as
an affordable housing alternative. In the article Freemor Homes was mentioned as
starting a pilot project in Slippery Rock, PA, featuring a subdivision for “trailer houses”.
After attracting much attention this article was followed by a Feb 81 article announcing
a similar 70 lot subdivision opening in Mesa Arizona. This article made reference to
additional subdivisions planned for Florida, California and North Carolina. A 1981
advertisement by Freemor attracted 8000 replies!
A Trailer Life ad for Freemor which ran in 1983 listed subdivided parks in Arizona,
Florida, Texas, Oregon, California, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
In a 1984 Trailer Life article by Dix Brow, he describes a visit to Sunny Lane Estates in
Arizona where the developer, Butch Smyers, explained that although the project had
been announced more than two years before, he had just gotten the last of his permits!
Such permits have proven difficult to get. In Smyers case the project was finally
permitted as a PUD, planned unit development, since there was no applicable zoning
code on the books.
Don Write in his Alternative Housing article in June of 1983 makes reference to “sun belt
rents” increasing more and more; prohibitive in some cases he says. He notes that
condo conversion of campgrounds has started and that he believes that will lead to
more and more park models, diminishing the number of available rental sites. The high
cost of development and lack of water and sewer facilities are blamed for the shortage
of new park construction.
In the same article a couple is mentioned that Don Write interviewed several years
before, 1980 or 1981, that live on their own RV lot at South Padre Island. That was
undoubtedly at the Outdoor Resorts park located there that was one of the first subdivided RV resorts from the late seventies. That developer set the standard in that
day for beautiful, well designed RV parks, where you could own your own lot.
Local government has played a major roll in shaping individual private ownership of RV
parks. In more rural areas rental parks were converted (went condo) with a minimum of
documentation, questionable surveys and little to no oversight. Many of these parks had low
quality water / sewer / electric services long before conversion and new owners were left
with major problems to resolve. Some more involved governments, worried that park
models on subdivided lots would create bargain basement housing, dumping kids in
schools without paying taxes and getting far away from recreation use. Always
concerned about taxes, many such Counties, working closely with housing developers banned all
such development and removed applicable zoning codes. The results of these early actions
can easily be seen in popular destination Counties with no privately owned RV lots
or properties of
Counties that enjoyed success with rental RV parks, were less aggressively controlled
by developers, and had a more relaxed attitude toward local taxation, tended to accept
subdivision of RV parks and individual ownership with less difficulty. In some
locations where mobile homes were mixed in old trailer parks (WWII vintage) and
allowed to deteriorate the whole “trailer mobile home thing” was seen as a drain on
public resources, undesirable and discouraged in every way. It has always been simple
to control and tax a permanent structure. Older zoning code only considered permanent
structures. Important too in many of these decisions was the fact that RVs and the RV
park developers had no seat at the government table. Attitudes were not helped by the
poor quality of early mobile home construction. The thinking of many was to simply lump
all forms of moveable housing into an undesirable category and discourage it all.
At about this same period, later seventies early eighties, the fifth wheel RV became
established as the towable of choice where more space and luxury were desired
together with good roadability . The early Kountry Air units turned heads at RV shows and the trucks that could pull such
a larger rig were finally available from Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. (More
capable diesels were a few years
away) This fueled the notion of seasonal or full time use adding to the demand for
private ownership of an RV property, especially in the sun belt. Luxury motor homes
were still in the future at this time. Conventional "travel trailers"
of such size never became popular, probably because of towing
The convergence of a number of factors established the beginning of private ownership
of RV property. RVs were moving from being just a small recreational trailer
to a larger, better quality, and more complete housing unit that you might enjoy
seasonally. Pickup trucks with increased towing capability were offered to the public. As
America prospered in the late seventies more and more people could consider “second”
homes and the tax code encouraged such purchases. Outdoor Resorts led the way in
demonstrating that a nicely landscaped, paved and well thought out RV park could be
very attractive and demand a premium price. They really changed the way many people
viewed such developments. Others copied Outdoor Resorts and were quick to cater to
this new market in an attempt to profit. The “park model” opened markets to those who
wanted nothing to do with “pickups” and RV travel, but did appreciate owning an
inexpensive “little home”. Of course, in later time the more luxurious motorhome
broadened the appeal even more moving completely away from the “truck”, and toward
luxury and convenience that rivaled the home.
Always a nation that values home ownership, the purchase of property for recreation
was a logical extension. The wealthy had always done it, historically speaking. The RV
lot provided the opportunity to end the rent payments and have equity. In the South that
was exploding with growth, this was an opportunity to secure your place in the sun belt
that would not be lost when a housing builder bought out the park you always visited.
This trend extended to boat marinas and apartments too. Individual ownership was on
Do You have Some History to Share ??
We encourage you to share your history with early RV parks in which you owned.
Of particular interest interest would be the first Outdoor Resorts
park, early parks located out of the sun belt, a park model invasion, and any
unusual developments for RVs. We will gladly add pages as necessary to provide a
more complete history. Issues of Trailer Life Magazine from the sixties and
seventies are a good source of developer advertising and sheds light on the
activities of that time, if you have collected those and don't mind sharing. Let us hear from you on
this subject. Research is difficult since building and developing an RV park is
a very local thing and may not have generated much publicity.
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