Flood Sweeps through Camp May Flather in 1949

As Camp May Flather staff prepared to welcome campers in June 1949, a huge storm caused flash flooding throughout Virginia.  Six locals died, and the Red Cross reported 2,400 people had been left homeless by the raging waters. Half of the town of Petersburg, VA, was underwater.

Just before the storm hit, on the night of June 17, staff had fanned out across the camp to set up their individual units. When the rain ended, the North River, which runs through the middle of camp, was 15 feet above its normal level. Five staff members were unaccounted for: Director Edith Clark; Assistant Director Eugenia Darby of Alabama; Faith Marr, who led a Brownie troop at the Potomac School in McLean, VA; and Grace McDade and Catherine Ducharme of Lafayette, LA.

CMF Flood

Faith Marr, Kay Ducharme, Eugenia Darby, and Grace McDade. Note the damage to the road.

The next day, a relieved Lenora Mann, director of camping for the DC Council, told reporters that a small plane had flown over the camp and seen the five gathered at the dining hall (Evening Star, June 19, 1949). The plane dropped food to the grateful women, who spent the next 48 hours at the dining hall before they were rescued by the National Guard. Even then, they had to “wade from the camp’s dining hall in the chest-deep water to the highway and then walk a mile to Stokesville” (Evening Star, June 20, 1949).

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Staff wait for a Jeep to pick up them and their luggage.

Camp May Flather sustained heavy damage. One-third of the buildings had been washed from their foundations. The crushed stone roadways were gone, leaving behind “impassible mud and boulder trails” (Washington Post, June 21, 1949). The swimming pool, 12 foot at the deep end, was completely filled with mud. The Boone unit, comprised of eight cabins, an outdoor kitchen, and a troop house, was completely destroyed, as were two new footbridges.  Early estimates put the replacement cost at $10,000.

The remains of Boone.

The remains of Boone.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Staff carry out records and equipment.

Camp was canceled for the summer. Staff salvaged what they could, loading records and equipment into handwoven pack baskets.

That fall, Lenora Mann made repeated trips to May Flather to supervise the cleanup. Julian Salomon, a camp consultant from GSUSA in New York, also came to inspect the site.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Julian Salomon found the Boone latrine in the Sherando unit. Salomon also designed Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Locals were busy repairing their own property, but the Forest Service helped her hire a cleanup crew from West Virginia. Many of the West Virginians were descended from German immigrants and spoke a German dialect. Somehow in translation they became known as the “Dutchmen,” and the proud workers confided to the Foresters that they found it hard taking orders from a woman.

The

The “Dutchmen” work crew. From left, Roy and Bud, John and his two boys.

The crew bulldozed the remains of the Boone cabins, but left the stone fireplaces from the outdoor kitchen and troop house intact. They had withstood the floodwaters and Lenora would not let them be torn down.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

The Boone troop house chimney survived the flood.

Lenora carefully documented the cleanup and donated her photos to the GSCNC Archives and History Committee.

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