Thirty-five years ago, on May 22, 1978, GSUSA announced it would sell the Rockwood Girl Scout National Center to developer Berger-Berman for $4.1 million. The developer planned to build 180 luxury homes on the site.
At the time, membership had fallen from 3 million to 2 million nationally, and the movement faced a $300,000 annual budget shortfall. Ultimately, the national board decided that one of the four national centers must be sacrificed. Rockwood was chosen because it duplicated many services provided by the Edith Macy National Center in New York state. “We had these two centers serving the same area and needs and we were incurring a six-figure loss on our properties,” said GSUSA spokesman Richard Knox. “The difference between them is substantial. Rockwood has 92 acres and is in the midst of suburban development. Macy has some 270 acres with 114 adjacent acres being leased to the New York Girl Scout Council for a camp. We could not maintain both.”
Local Girl Scouts disagreed. Loudly. Very loudly.
They argued that the sale violated the provisions of Carolyn Caughey’s will, which stipulated that should the Girl Scouts “abandon” the property or cease to use it for a “character building” purpose, it would revert to the Esther Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. (GSUSA paid the Esther Chapter $150,000 for its rights to the property.)
They also argued that the sale violated the Girl Scout Law’s commitment to “protect and improve the world around me” and “to use resources wisely.”
They further argued that Rockwood and Macy were not interchangeable, as “It is difficult to show girls the people and buildings of the Nation’s Capital while encamped in New York.”
But above all, they argued that the decision to sell should not have been made without consulting individual Girl Scouts.
Rockwood fans banded together as the “Rescue Rockwood Committee” to save the camp. (The name later changed to “Friends of Rockwood, Inc.”)
In October 1978, GSUSA President Gloria Scott and CEO Frances Hesselbein met with concerned local citizens at a forum in Bethesda, Maryland. A few weeks later, delegates to the National Council Session voted 907-736 to ask GSUSA to “cease negotiations and reconsider the sale of the Rockwood property.” GSUSA continued with plans for the sale.
Nine Nation’s Capital Girl Scouts filed a class-action lawsuit against GSUSA in Montgomery County, Maryland, court in January 1979 to block the sale. The Rockwood nine included seven adults (Anne Pomykala, Jean Moore, Jo Reynolds, Wilma Jean Crompton, Patricia Cornish, Charlotte Myklebust, and Dorothy Heisey) and two girls (Kendra Moore and Christina Cornish). Maryland State Attorney General Stephen Sachs soon joined the suit on behalf of the nine Scouts. The local council, Nation’s Capital, was not part of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the developer applied to the Montgomery County Council for sewer and water service for the camp. The Council deferred a decision until the lawsuit was resolved.
As legal fees mounted (over $25,000), Committee members raised funds through garage sales, letter-writing campaigns, bake sales, and selling patches and other items. Marian Corbin Aslakson, a member of Juliette Gordon Low’s original Savannah troop who had moved to Bethesda, Maryland, donated a pair of antique leaded glass windows and a dozen sterling silver goblets to be auctioned off. Actress Elizabeth Taylor, then married to Virginia Senator John Warner, donated a framed, autographed photo to be auctioned.
In May 1979, the Rescue Rockwood group marched in front of the White House to attract the attention of First Lady Rosalyn Carter, Honorary GSUSA President.
As the trial date approach, Helen Zelov (see part one) planned to travel to Maryland to testify.
Instead, an out-of-court settlement was reached in 1981, whereby 20 acres and most of the buildings went to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the rest to Berger-Berman Builders. Before the deal was final, the Montgomery County Council needed to approve the developer’s request to rezone the land for residential use. The park commission and local Girl Scouts also had to work out arrangements that would allow both Girl Scouts and the public to use the facilities.
Today, Rockwood is a popular venue for weddings and other events. Girl Scouts can camp overnight in the dormitories, but there are no cooking facilities available to them. Next door is Woodrock, the neighborhood of homes built on former Girl Scout land.