Florida Keys Business
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Home away from home
Boyd's Campground has welcomed travelers for 50 years

Newlyweds Boyd and Elsie Hamilton were refugees from Canadian winters when they first saw Key West in 1948.

"They drove as far south as they could go and still speak English," said Danny Hamilton, one of the couple's sons who was born and raised in Key West several years later.

The vacation became permanent the following year, when the Hamiltons made Key West their home. Boyd was an electrician, and at one point drove a dumptruck for Charley Toppino.

"They built some homes and rental properties on Laird and Johnson streets," said Danny Hamilton. "Back then, you could see all the way to the water from those streets."

In 1963, the couple, who would have three sons and two daughters, bought some waterfront land on Stock Island and decided to open a campground, renting out spots for trailers, RVs, tents and campers.

Boyd and Elsie could never have imagined what that campground would look like today, 50 years later.

Multi-million dollar travel coaches are precisely lined up in rows that bisect the 13 acres that gradually became part of the ever-growing Boyd's Campground.

"Before 1974, you could still fill in land if you owned the bay bottom," said Bob Jones, who married Boyd's and Elsie's daughter Lynn after the two of them graduated from Key West High School.

Jones is now the general manager of Boyd's Campground, where he has worked for 35 years as part of the four generations of Hamiltons who welcome returning guests to their little oasis each year.

"Every fall, Boyd would pay Charley Toppino $5,000 and get $15,000 worth of fill," Jones said. "He'd fill in more areas, and then after the snowbirds arrived in the winter, he'd pay Toppino the rest of the money."

The growth continued for years, finally culminating in 13 acres of waterfront property and a campground that includes a pool, boat ramp, game room, laundry facilities, tiki garden, gift shop, bath houses and a full-time activities director.

"One woman, Janet Denton, hasn't missed a single winter here since 1968," Jones said, sitting with his brothers-in-law Danny and Henry Hamilton, who also help with the family business, although Henry is also a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy.

The campground features more than 200 RV spots that can accommodate anything from today's luxury coaches to two-man tents.

"This is their home away from home," Danny Hamilton said of the guests who return every year. "They even have reunions up north."

The original price for a lot was $1.50 per night. That has gone up a bit in 50 years, and prices now range from $60 to $120 per night - still cheaper than a hotel room, although most of the luxury coaches rival the most decadent of hotel rooms.

The Hamilton family celebrated the campground's 50th anniversary with their guests on Wednesday night, and spent Thursday receiving "thanks" and well wishes from the folks who have become their extended family.

Times have changed, and the newlyweds who arrived in the 1940s wouldn't recognize the islands that have grown up around them. But the friendly atmosphere and family traditions of Boyd's Campground are still as strong as they were 50 years ago.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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