Between 1938 and 1978, a half-million people visited Rockwood, the Girl Scout national camp in the nation’s capital. When members discovered it had been sold to developers, nine local Girl Scouts sued GSUSA to save their treasured gathering place.
Packed with photos and eye-witness stories, Rescue Rockwood traces the development of the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Girl Scouts of Washington DC alongside the drive to preserve Rockwood.
Amazon has both paperback and e-book/Kindle versions available.
When the United States entered World War II, Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp joined the war effort. Washington had faced a housing shortage for years. Local officials created a Defense Housing Registry that became a model for the rest of the country. Accommodations for women were especially scarce.
In June 1942 the National Housing Agency asked former National Girl Scout President Henrietta Bates Brooke for permission to include the Manor House on the Washington, DC, Registry. “There is at present a need for rooms in and near Washington to accommodate incoming war workers,” and Uncle Sam wanted this “thirteen or fourteen room house.”
It truly was a desperate request. Few rooms in the Manor House were heated, and the closest streetcar station was five miles away. Rockwood’s sole employee, Frances Hoopes, seldom had time to pick up passengers in the camp station wagon. Visiting troops usually had to hike from the streetcar stop. Local troops might pile their gear into their father’s truck and ride their bicycles to camp.
The US Navy needed quarters for its newly created WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. Officials regarded Rockwood as ideal for women posted at the new David Taylor Model Basin, part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center; the camp was just 2.4 miles away. But that plan was abandoned when officials decided not to station WAVES at the Taylor Basin.
The Girl Scouts were willing to make rooms available, but they were bound by the conditions imposed by Carolyn Caughey, when she gifted her beloved country home to the Girl Scouts in 1936. Specifically, would such use qualify as “character building”?
Nora Huffman, Mrs. Caugheys former secretary and confidant, was enthusiastic:
The local Girl Scouts, as a bit of war service, are generously sharing the comfort of the house with the enlisted service girls now located in Washington, many of whom have been Girl Scouts. Most of these girls are from distant states and feel it is a real privilege to have the hospitality and security of a Girl Scout Home for a few days rest or a week-end relaxation, at a very nominal cost.
Miss Huffman believed that Mrs. Caughey would want the military guests to observe her own beliefs about how women should conduct themselves in public. Mrs. Caughey fully supported women who entered the professional world, but drew the line at lipstick, nail polish, and smoking. She also was an ardent prohibitionist, known for the saying, “Put glasses to your eyes—not to your lips.”
The estate trustees endorsed the housing request, and soon military women enjoyed weekends at Rockwood’s Manor House, while Girl Scout troops used other facilities on site.
Rockwood Superintendent Florence Hoopes was not thrilled with the arrangements. “Hoopsie,” as the girls called her, soon learned that hosting adult women was much more complicated than hosting Girl Scouts. She repeatedly informed national staff members that some of the women did not set appropriate examples for any troops camping at the same time.
Her main complaint was the late-night activities of the adults, so she documented their comings and goings. Her weekly reports included comments such as:
January 22, 1944: Group of women return at 1 am; another member of group returns at 2 am
January 28, 1944: Group of 18 women checks in at 11 pm
Soon quiet hours were established for the visiting women. Between November 1943 and June 1944, 272 WAVES and the occasional Coast Guard SPARS enjoyed weekend “rest and relaxation” retreats at Rockwood.
Readers may remember Durrett as executive director of the District of Columbia council. She resigned that position to become an officer in the WAVES. She remained with the Navy until 1958, rising to the rank of commander.
Durrett might have created one more connection between the WAVES and the Girl Scouts. The WAVES uniform was designed by Mainbocher, who designed new Girl Scout uniforms in 1948. The two uniforms are quite similar.
Julian Salomon was a leading expert in camp development. Over his long career, Salomon worked with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the National Park Service.
In fact, Salomon wrote the book on camp development–literally.
His 1948 book, Camp Site Development, covers every possible aspect of camping facilities, from roads to sewage to waterfront. The illustrations, of actual buildings, are stunning:
Born in 1896 and educated as a landscape architect, Salomon focused on planned parks and camping facilities. He worked for the National Park Service from 1935 to 1941. He and his family lived in the Washington DC area at that time and were active with local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. His wife had her own Brownie troop.
His best-known project during this time was a wooded retreat near Thurmont, Maryland. Readers likely will recognize the site’s current name: Camp David.
During World War II, he served with the USO, planning recreational facilities for troops. (That’s military troops, not Scout troops.)
Camping with the Girl Scouts
Post-war, Salomon became a professional Girl Scout, working in the National Camping Division until retiring in 1965. His primary responsibility was to work with local camping committees, advising councils how best to acquire and develop land for permanent campsites. In this capacity, he helped the Washington Council in 1949, following a flood that devastated its Camp May Flather. He visited the camp, surveyed the wreckage, and offered advice about what to re-build and what to replace.
He photographed the damage, and a staff member snapped this marvelous photo. Salomon, seated in the washed-out remains of the Boone latrine, which had landed in the Sherando unit, nevertheless looks quite dapper in his straw hat, bowtie, and spotless white dress shirt.
His other responsibility at GSUSA was to manage the two national camping facilities in use at that time: Edith Macy in New York, and (you knew this was coming) ROCKWOOD National Girl Scout Camp, in Potomac, Maryland. Salomon created the first master plan for Rockwood in 1946. He especially enjoyed the task as he and his wife had been among the local Girl Scouts who built the first two units (The Oaks and Tall Timbers) in the late 1930s.
Rockwood, national Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC, 1936-1978. GSUSA sold it to a residential developer, but nine local Girl Scouts filed a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing that selling violated the terms set out by the woman who donated the property. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with one-third of the camp preserved as a local park and conference center. My book on the camp, Rescue Rockwood is available from Amazon.
When the Rockwood camp was sold, GSUSA largely locked the front gate and left. Thousands of dollars worth of equipment, office files and an entire commercial kitchen were abandoned. Many items, um…. well…. nobody else wanted them … wound up with the local Girl Scout council.
As I reorganized and refiled research materials recently, I found a gem that I had somehow overlooked. This is his hand drawn diagram for his 1946 master plan. Unfortunately, it had been folded for 60 years. I brightened the colors a wee bit in PhotoShop. (Note: Conduit Road is now MacArthur Boulevard.)
A Questionable Tribute to Native Americans
Salomon’s caption, Rockwood National Girl Scout RESERVATION,” is hard to miss. On the Boy side of Scouting, Salomon is also known for his “celebration” of Native American culture that permeated early Boy Scout lore. He published a 400-page Book of Indian Crafts and Indian Lore, and performed a one-man show as “White Eagle.” Salomon strongly believed that his “Indian activities” helped destroy stereotypes, but today he is often criticized for cultural appropriation. His publicity photo for his performances is cringeworthy today.
But back to the Girl Scouts …
In honor of his work at Rockwood, one of the conference rooms in the main Manor House is named for him. When the new Rockwood Manor Park was dedicated in 1987, Salomon, at age 91, attended and shared some of his Rockwood recollections. He passed away five months later.
Snow has begun to fall here in Washington, DC. It’s the first of the season and forecast to be “significant,” which in our Nation’s Capital means about two inches.
Of course, it is still 2020, which means anything could happen, such as rabid polar bears floating downward from the heavens.
This makes today the perfect time to bring out one of my favorite entries in the “what’s the worst that can happen?” file.
Once upon a time, a troop of Intermediate Girl Scouts went to Camp Potomac Woods for a cozy weekend trip. It was February (February 1958, to be precise) and bound to be cold, but the hardy girls were staying in a lodge, not tents, and they would have an oil furnace to keep everyone toasty.
The girls of Troop 163 hauled their gear and rations to the lodge Friday night, made dinner and turned in for bed, after copious cups of cocoa, of course.
Saturday morning, everyone was up early. The absolute, best thing that can happen on a camping trip was right outside the lodge. SNOW!
BEST. TRIP. EVER.!!
The girls had a blast. They had dressed for February and spent the day outside. They made snow balls and snow Scouts. After dinner, the leaders sent them off to bed, but nobody could sleep. There was SNOW outside!
Each girl had brought a cup on a string as a standard part of their mess kits. Not only could these fine implements be used for cocoa, they could be silently tossed out a window and drug back in … full of snow … for an indoor snowball fight! Little sleeping was done that night.
Before the sun was up on Sunday the girls were praying that they would be snowed in another day.
But that was going to be a problem, as they’d only brought food for a two-night stay.
Mrs. Steeger and Mrs. Smith, the leaders, conferred with the camp’s resident caretaker. After several phone calls, they learned that the road to the camp, located in Lucketts, Virginia, was impassible.
What to do?
Relax, these are GIRL SCOUTS were are talking about. A group trained to be level-headed and resourceful.
They did what anyone would do in similar circumstances.
They called the US Army.
Helicopter pilots W.C. Hampton and Raymond Bowers flew in from Ft. Belvoir, alighting in a field partly cleared by the caretaker.
The troop was too large to all fit, so the pilots made two runs, taking all of 15 minutes each.
Safe on the ground, they posed for photos with their rescuers, before heading home.
You know they had a great story to tell their friends at school.
The ongoing coronavirus crap means that thousands of spring Girl Scout camping trips have been cancelled.
Maybe this vintage postcard from a 1920 leaders’ camp will help anyone experiencing camp deprivation:
These leaders are starting their day with a round of “setting up” exercises, just like the campers in the Golden Eaglet, a 1918 promotional film from the Girl Scouts.
This postcard was never mailed. Instead, the owner used it as a souvenir of her time at camp.
For you non-cursive folks, it reads:
“The mess hall is to the left and the lake down to the right. I am the 7th one in the 2d row from the left and Rose is the 4th one in the 3d row. The 3d on in the 4th row was our bugler. We called her Tommy. She was fine at the taps trade.
Our tent isn’t shown here.”
Don’t you just love the camp uniform of middies and bloomers?
Lately I have been reading monthly reports from the directors of Rockwood, the former Girl Scout camp outside Washington DC.
The monthly reports run about five pages each and provide statistics describing the groups using the camp in a particular month.
Many of the included items are routine and rather boring–I’ve learned more than I probably need to about septic systems.
But mixed in with the monotony are some real gems. Including these:
RFK: Come see my house!
A group of Senior Girl Scouts in perfect uniform is a beautiful sight to behold and Mr. Robert Kennedy evidently thought so too. The girls were standing on the roadside in front of Mr. Kennedy’s home waiting for their stalled bus to be repaired when Mr. Kennedy drove to the main road. He stopped his car—greeted the girls and shook hands with many of them—asked where they were from and then invited them into his home for a tour. He apologized because his wife was not there and he had to go on to his work, but left them with a maid to act as a tour guide. Those girls are convinced that their uniforms helped them to have this experience. (July 1964)
An impromptu recording session
Recently a staff member began to play a tape recording made at Shadowbrook All States encampment. This recording was of the favorite songs of the campers. Gradually the Manor House Lobby and stair steps filled with girls and the girls began to sing with the record. Then they, too, made recordings. Two fathers and a bus driver joined in with the fun. One father acted as sound engineer and the other held the microphone. Forty of the sixty girls in camp attended the impromptu sing. (September 1963)
Not without our leader
A leader, as she got off the bus, said to the staff member standing nearby—“Watch those girls. They are trying to hide my wheel chair as they take it off the bus. They think that I do not know that they have it here. I did not realize that I had muscular dystrophy when we started planning this trip three years ago. When I refused to go on this long planned adventure they would have none of it and then, when I said I would stay on the bus and rest as they went sightseeing they did not want that either. I dislike holding them back and tiring them with pushing my chair, but-no one could resist them. They even have a secret kaper chart scheduling aides to help me. They don’t know that I know about that too.” What a wonderful troop of Seniors that group was! Mature, capable, dependable, and determined to keep their leader from becoming tired and frustrated. (July 1964)
Ready for the Rascal
For two days in succession a tent was raided and the contents of suitcases thrown about. We feared that neighborhood boys were up to mischief. On the third day members of the staff took turns sitting quietly in the unit doing office work. The vandal was found and identified. It was one of those attractive and annoying rascals-a raccoon. Our campers enjoy hearing about their escapades. The owners of the raided suitcases now know that we mean it when we say that food should be kept in covered containers.
This happened the third week of August. Another troop from the same city arrived the fourth week of the month and were to live in the same unit. One girl immediately asked to be placed in the tent visited by the raccoons because she had a camera with a flash attachment. (August 1963)
The Caretaker’s granddaughter came for a Brownie Holiday with her troop. They stayed at Carolyn Cottage and she immediately claimed a top bunk. This troop had few questions to ask since the granddaughter had already furnished all the necessary information. (May 1961)
Brownies on Bunk Beds, 1954
Do you have a Rockwood story? Please let me know.
I have already heard from that confident Brownie, who wanted to share her version of that weekend!
As summer camp winds down for the season, it is time to reflect on the experience. Girls’ letters home often provide insights and anecdotes about camp life.
Lois Milstead (right) attended Camp May Flather in its first summer. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital has run May Flather as its flagship camp since 1930. A temporary camp operated nearby in 1929, and Lois attended that as well.
Her letter appeared in the Washington Post on September 7, 1930.
My Camping Trip
I have just returned. from a four weeks’ stay at the Washington Camp, May Flather, situated in the mountains near Harrisonburg. Va., to which I also attended last summer. This camp is for Girl Scouts.
Although I am not yet a Girl Scout, I enjoy the ways of their life. I hope to become one in the very near future.
The whole four weeks to me were but an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute while there. I am fond of all kinds of athletics and sports and camp life naturally appeals to me. I play golf and tennis a lot at home, and although I had neither of these sports at camp, there were many interesting pastimes to fully make up for the lack of them.
I will give a brief outline of our daily routine. Revielle, breakfast (just before breakfast we have flag raising), kapers (that is little tasks from each cabin), inspection, classes (forestry, camp craft), swimming, court of honor, dinner, rest hour, classes (handcraft, nature), retreat, supper, camp fire, taps.
I took many overnight hikes and one three-day hike. These were loads of fun.
While at camp this year, I met many of the: girls with whom I was acquainted last year.
Mrs. Hoover visited the camp while I was there. Mrs. Cheatham and Mrs. Flather also came with her. They spent two days and a night with us. They were present for the formal dedication of the new camp site. Mrs. Hoover dedicated a picturesque little bridge and Mrs. Flather, for whom the camp is named, donated much toward it.
Miss Dorothy Greene, the director of our camp, has done much to the bettering of it, making the girls feel at home, and they are trying to live up to the high standards and morals which she has set for them. I had lots of fun at camp, but I was rather glad when the time came to go home, for I missed my mother and daddy.
Lois A. Milstead (age 12), Dahlgren, Va.
I don’t know if Lois ever joined the Girl Scouts. She graduated from the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1938.
Lois worked on the school newspaper, the Commercial Echoes. She married George Goodwin, a reporter, two years later and moved to Georgia.