The Colorful Tale of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp

Remnants of the Carolina Moon Trailer Park sit along Orange Blossom Trail, a stretch of road that was once a travel destination in itself.

Remnants of the Carolina Moon Trailer Park sit along Orange Blossom Trail, a stretch of road that was once a travel destination in itself.

For over 80 years, the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp was located on a plot of land between Orange Blossom Trail and Rock Lake.  It has seen life as an early Central Florida tourist attraction, a residential trailer park, and a lakeside timeshare resort.  It had such a colorful history it was even the subject of a comedy theatrical production.

Orange groves were south of Rock Lake in the late 1800’s.  Postcards as early as 1906 featured a scenic palm tree-lined lakeshore.  As Orlando developed, Kentucky Avenue soon ran adjacent to the eastern shore, where in 1935 a man named Jonathan Moon purchased 10 acres on Rock Lake.  Kentucky Avenue would later be called Orange Blossom Trail, a more descriptive and appealing name to Central Florida travelers.

Aerial View of the Carolina Moon property

Aerial View of the Carolina Moon property

On his new property Mr. Moon opened Moon’s Tourist Camp making it one of a couple of tourist camps in the area.  People visited to enjoy the Central Florida sun along the beaches of the inland freshwater lake.  Entertainment during the early days of the Carolina Moon included a dance hall and roller skating.

While the tourist camps may have been popular with visitors, residents of the nearby Spring Lake Terrace neighborhood were not as welcoming.   In 1937, over 50 home owners from one of Orlando’s early prominent neighborhoods fought city hall to rid the area of the camps.  Likely in response, the city ordered the trailer camps to close or relocate.   Mr. Moon was alleged to have opened his camp without proper permits and this lead to a lengthy legal battle.  However, the trailer camp survived and remained with Moon as owner until 1945.

For the decades to come, a neon sign along Orange Blossom Trail identified the property as the “Carolina Moon Cottages.”   In 1963 when motor lodges were still a draw, the Parliament House chain built a large hotel next door.  The Carolina Moon was left to age beside a new modern facility.

An advertisement in late 1936 in the Rollins College paper "Sandspur" invited students to the Carolina Moon for roller skating.

An advertisement in late 1936 in the Rollins College paper “Sandspur” invited students to the Carolina Moon for roller skating.

However, only a few years later Walt Disney made his famous announcement (Retro Link: Walt’s Announcement) and tourists’ interest quickly shifted away from scenic Rock Lake.

By 1975, Parliament House was in decline and no longer part of a national chain.  That year it reinvented itself as gay hotel and entertainment complex.  With virtually nothing else like it in the country it brought new traffic and flavor to the area.

By this time, the Carolina Moon Trailer Park was residential.   Full Moon Saloon later opened on the northern side of the Carolina Moon.  Residents made up a cast of characters that didn’t mind the traffic of late-night bar hoppers making their way across the property.

The 80s and 90s were slightly seedier years for the Carolina Moon, the rooms of the original motel hosted a variety of tenants and merchants.  Shops like Twisted Palms sold leather wear and specialty clothing while other stores offered everything from adult video rentals to gay-themed tchotchkes.  In 1990 Boca Raton News told the story of a makeshift clinic operating in one of the rooms.  During the peak of the AIDS crisis, this rogue clinic provided experimental therapies for the disease.

The Gardens timeshare resort today

The Gardens timeshare resort today

In the 2000’s, new owners of the Parliament House removed the trailer homes to develop the property into a gay timeshare resort, The Gardens.   This unlikely end to the Carolina Moon’s story was the basis for local playwright Michael Wanzie’s, “Carolina Moon: A Campy Trailer Trash Tragedy.”  His comedy production told the story of the displaced “eclectic mix of residents at Carolina Moon, ranging from old-time southern crackers and Tupperware ladies to leather daddies and disco twinks.

Only one of several planned buildings were constructed since The Gardens’ 2005 opening.  Much of the land between it and the Parliament House is vacant.   Today, a single stretch of rooms along Orange Blossom Trail is the last remnant of the Carolina Moon.  

It’s quite unlikely in the 1930’s Mr. Moon had any idea the colorful history that Moon’s Tourist Camp would create.

Slideshow of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Orlando, A Centennial History, Eve Bacon, 1975
A Guide to Historic Orlando, Steve Rajtar, 2006
Wanzie Presents
GLBT History Museum of Central Florida
Sandspur, 12-3-1936
Boca Raton News, 1-8-1990

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Categories: Post Card Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “The Colorful Tale of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp

  1. I never knew the history of this cool old place! Great images too, I hadn’t seen most of them~ thanks for sharing!

  2. Rm

    An incredible tribute to a well known ignored piece of Orlando’s history. Great job!

  3. Paula Moon Reid

    I am Paula Moon Reid, the youngest grandchild of J.D. Moon, who, with the help of my dad and uncle, built the Carolina Moon Tourist Court on South Orange Blossom Trail. There was, indeed, a white sand Bathing Beach with a Bath House, a Roller Rink, and a Dance Hall (complete with a mirrored ball!), as well as a Service Station/Grocery all on the premises. The completion and opening of the Carolina Moon “complex” was timed to coincide with that of Highway 441, which opened up travel from Orlando to Miami.
    Originally from North Carolina, after the death of my grandmother, Cara Moon, my Winter-hating grandfather began wintering in Florida. The name, Carolina Moon, I think, was a tribute to her memory and to that of his native state.
    I have lived in Texas for over forty years, and have kept up only loosely with the fate of the Carolina Moon, since the deaths of my parents in 2005. I happened to be in Orlando recently and drove down The Trail to see if any trace of the place might still exist. How I always wanted that neon sign! I was in heavy traffic, but I thought I did see the front strip of the “Tourist Court,” with its great glass block windows. I remembered check online, and found this wonderful article, complete with photos! All I can say is I would give a great deal for one of those
    Original Postcards!

    • Sharon Bramlett

      Thank you Paula for the great history lesson on Carolina Moon. It sounds like a very fun place. I’m doing historical research in the vicinity, and am interested to know if you remember some of the other amenities there in the late 1960s and 1970 ? From the pictures posted it appears there was a small residence there, grocery, great beach, and other things to do. Do you recall if there was a drycleaner as well ? If so, was it a drop-off facility or did they do drycleaning on premises. I’m doing more research at the Historical Museum soon, as I need an appointment with them. Thank you kindly for your comments !

      • Paula Moon Reid

        Hi, Sharon!
        My knowledge comes from things my family told me, pertaining to the earliest years of the Caroline na Moon. I believe my grandfather held it for ten years.
        The dry cleaner currently occupies the building that began as a service station/grocery, with living quarters above. It was built and opened at the same time as the Carolina Moon.
        My father, Harry Moon, told me that on his sixth birthday, his aunt, Kathryn Page, presented him with fifty silver dollars. My grandfather invested them, and the with proceeds, Harry stocked the grocery.
        As far as the later history, sadly, I know very little. I The place took on a somewhat different character, but I was always happy that it was still there, and that it appeared to retain a kind of eccentric and quirky charm.
        Best of luck in your endeavors! Orlando has a rich and colorful history that deserves to be preserved. I wish you much success, and would be very interested to read any results that you might publish.

  4. Sharon Bramlett

    Thank you kindly Paula. What courageous and inventive people, your family.

    • Sharon Bramlett

      Hi Paula. Do you know if the Rose DeLuxe Cleaners at the Carolina Moon was a drop-off location for them, or if they did actual drycleaning there ?? I’m asking as the Rose DeLuxe Cleaners had several locations in Orlando at the time. Thanks again. Best regards.

  5. Thomas

    Thats astounding! I visited the PH for years and never knew the story behind this old piece of property. I remember the old trailer park. And thought who would live there! To find out the thing is freaking nearly a century old is crazy!

    • Paula Moon Reid

      When the Carolina Moon first opened, it was the embodiment of a forward-thinking concept in what was then a picturesque location. Hard to visualize that now, of course, as the place has long been overrun by the “progress” its opening helped generate. But in its day….

      • Kathy Weyant

        Paula Moon Reid My family purchased the Carolina Moon, back in the early 50s. My father managed it, and when I was growing up it was a trailer park for mainly permanent residents. There were three cottages, (homes) on the property, and I grew up in the house behind the dry cleaners. It was a very nice park, clean with lots of lovely people. I remember a big half moon that hung above the main road going to the lake and back of the property.
        Our family sold the property to the Parliament House owners in the 80’s, and I moved to Pennsylvania, so I did not see how run down it became.
        I see in a picture online, that everything has been torn down, and it is a big open field. Funny how a place you grew up in, is no longer there. Hope the new owner develop it nicely.
        I have an extra postcard of the Carolina Moon that I could send to you. Let me know if you still want one, and we can figure out a way to contact each other. (not public)

  6. Pat

    My family moved to the Carolina Moon when I was 7 in 1953 and lived there for approximately 2 years. we loved the community and had many friends there. It was a great place for kids because we could safely play pretty much anywhere on the property. My mother worked in the office for a time. Pat

    • Kathy Weyant

      Wonder if your Mother worked with, or before, Mrs. Donahue? She was the lady that worked for us for many years, at least 30 yrs. Loved her and her family! .

  7. Robert Elliot

    I remember my grandparents staying at the Carolina Moon in the early 60s, when they would pull their Airstream down from Tallahassee. They had my parents drop off my sister and me one evening for a spaghetti dinner and we thought it was the best meal ever!

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