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.

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part two

Earlier today, I wrote about First Lady Lou Henry Hoover’s visit to Camp May Flather, August 7-8, 1930.

As a special treat, here are the memories of Marguerite Hall, an original staff member at Camp May Flather, tasked with baking a cake for Mrs. Hoover’s visit.

Her math is a little off at the beginning, but keep watching and enjoy!

Mrs. Hoover Comes to Camp May Flather, part one

May Flather may have been the driving force in establishing Camp May Flather, but she had influential friends who helped as well. First among these was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Mrs. Hoover was a huge supporter of Girl Scouting. Not only was she honorary national president from 1929 to 1933, she also was the elected national president twice, 1922-1925 and 1935-1937.

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Lou Henry Hoover (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

President and Mrs. Hoover were neighbors of Camp May Flather, with Camp Rapidan, their private retreat, located nearby. When they sold Camp Rapidan in the 1940s, Mrs. Hoover donated much of the furnishings to Rockwood, the national camp outside Washington, DC.

Mrs. Hoover personally donated $100 to build a bridge over the North River, which runs through Camp May Flather. She was actively involved in the design of the bridge, commenting on sketches as they were presented to her. However, she did not want the bridge named for her, so it officially is “Shawnee Bridge.”

To the great delight of campers, volunteers, and staff, Mrs. Hoover agreed to come to camp to formally dedicate the bridge. She arrived on August 7, 1930, and spent the night in a tent.

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A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

A coveted invite to the camp dedication (Hoover Presidential Library)

She spent a busy two days at the camp, filled with activities and demonstrations:

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

Dedication schedule (Hoover Presidential Library)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

A nervous color guard prepares to post the colors for the first lady (GSCNC archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

While other campers have their cameras ready (GSCNC Archives)

Finally, the dedication begins. Mrs. Hoover cut a rope of laurel branches and marched across the new bridge.

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Many Washington Girl Scout officials attended the event. May Cheatham, second from left, was married to US Army Quartermaster Major General B.F. Cheatham, who supervised construction of the camp.

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH's former secretary) GSCNC Archives

VIPs at the dedication. From left Miss Hall (Washington Council staff); Mrs. Cheatham (DC Camp Committee); Mrs. Miller (DC Council) ; Mrs. Flather, Mrs. Hoover, Mrs. Gertrude Bowman (Hostess, Little House, LHH’s former secretary) GSCNC Archives

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Then she waves farewell to Camp May Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Which staff remembered fondly.

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Clippings from scrapbook of 1930 Camp May Flather staff (GSCNC Archives)

Ever the gracious host, Mrs. Flather promptly wrote Mrs. Hoover to thank her for the visit.

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After 85 years, the “Shawnee Bridge” still stands at Camp May Flather.

Mrs. Hoover's bridge today.

Mrs. Hoover’s bridge today.

Meet May Flather

In the late 1920s, the Girl Scouts of the District of Columbia were trying to raise $25,000 to build a camp of their own. For nearly a decade, summer camps had rotated among several borrowed sites.

After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds to purchase Fort Foote in 1927, the council’s attention turned to land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, near North River Gap, between Grindstone and Lookout Mountains.

A new fund raising campaign began, asking donors to fund a specific building.  A sleeping cabin, for example, would cost $120, a latrine $100, and an infirmary for $400.

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

Camp May Flather Fund Raising Brochure (Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.)

But the real breakthrough came in the form of a fairy godmother: Mrs. Henry H. Flather, known to her friends as “May.”

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

Mary Rebecca Mullan Flather (GSCNC Archives)

May Flather pledged $10,000 for the camp, on the condition that the council raise matching funds.  With that sizable start, additional donations rapidly followed. Edith Macy, for example, donated $600 for the director’s cottage. Mr. Julius Rosenwald donated $2,500.

May’s donation was used to build the picturesque Stone Lodge, she also secured a bank loan to complete the lodge’s roof.

Mary Rebecca Mullan was born on May 13, 1871, in San Francisco. Her father, Captain John Mullan, built the first military road in the northwestern United States. Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, was named in his honor.

May married prominent Washington banker Henry H. Flather in 1916. Two years later, the Flathers purchased and restored Tulip Hill, an 18th-century estate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (George Washington really did sleep at Tulip Hill.)  She held open houses at Tulip Hill to raise money for the Girl Scout scholarship program.

May became active in the new Girl Scout movement, becoming commissioner (president) of the Washington Council in 1926. During her two-year term, she made acquiring a permanent camp her top priority. May also loaned the council a house at 1825 M Street NW, which served as council headquarters from 1929 to 1943.

After stepping down as commissioner in May 1928, May spearheaded the efforts to provide a permanent summer camp for Washington’s Girl Scouts.

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Girls and parents usually assume that Camp May Flather was named for a flower found in the area. But let’s not forget the generous woman who made the camp possible.

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

Old camp sign (GSCNC Archives)

© 2015 Ann Robertson

Washington Girl Scouts Need a Camp!

The District of Columbia Girl Scout Council was chartered in 1917, but ten years later, in 1927,  Washington’s Girl Scouts still had no camp to call their own.

For the past six summers, resident camp had been held at several borrowed sites. The most popular was “Camp Bradley” held adjacent to Edgewood Arsenal (now Aberdeen Proving Ground) in northern Maryland.  That deal had been arranged by General Amos Fries, chief of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service, whose eldest daughter Elizabeth was in Washington Troop 8.

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

General Amos Fries (Arlington Cemetery)

Fries contacted Joseph H. Bradley, who owned some unused land adjacent to the arsenal and agreed to lend it to the Girl Scouts. Fries dispatched soldiers to set up the camp, complete with wooden boardwalks and even electricity.

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Camp Bradley staff, 1924 (GSCNC Archives)

Washington (and Baltimore) Girl Scouts enjoyed Camp Bradley for several summers, but in 1927 girls went eight miles south of Washington, to Fort Foote, a former Civil War-era garrison near Fort Washington in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The campers lived in Army tents and used existing buildings for a commissary, kitchen, and assembly hall. Washington Council director Dorothy Greene called it “a beautiful site for a camp and a natural amphitheater on a hillside has been selected for the pageant picturing the Spirit of Camping.”

The Army was considering selling the 66-acre site, which Army Quartermaster General Benjamin Cheatham had valued at $9,750. When the council was granted a license to continue using the camp in November 1927, they leapt into action, hoping for the opportunity to buy Fort Foote, if they could raise enough money.

A fund drive was organized for December 2-9. The council needed $55,000 for operating expenses, existing debt, and a resident camp. Among other activities, troops demonstrated Girl Scout skills in the windows of a dozen Washington department stores while their leaders stood on the sidewalks outside with collection cups. (See clipping WP 1927 Dec 4).

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Similar demonstration of laundry skills, November 1925, likely at the Little House (GSCNC Archives)

Matoaka clipping

Matoaka clipping

Unfortunately, they only collected about $20,000 and could not make a bid for Fort Foote.

In 1928 girls went to Camp Matoaka in St. Leonards, Maryland, on land loaned by Mrs. James Alburtus.

Resident camp moved to Rawley Springs, Virginia, in 1929.

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

Brochure for Rawley Springs camp (GSCNC Archives)

This sprawling site in the Allegheny Mountains was near Rapidan, President Herbert Hoover’s mountain getaway.

And, there was another site, not far from Rawley Springs, that might make a good permanent camp, if the Girl Scouts could raise $25,000, a tremendous amount at the onset of the Great Depression. If only they could find a benefactor…

to be continued

© 2015 Ann Robertson

Remembering Rockwood

Did you ever visit Rockwood, the GSUSA camp located in Potomac, Maryland, from 1938 to 1978?

The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Perhaps you camped at Weston Hill, took a training in the Manor House, or bunked in Carolyn Cottage when your troop toured Washington, DC? Or maybe you attended a language camp, a selection weekend for Our Chalet, or a Wider Opportunity?

I fell in love with the place when my daughter camped there as a Brownie. The more I learned about the history of Rockwood, about the amazing women who built the original estate, transformed a country home into a national camp, and filed a class-action lawsuit to prevent its sale, the more I became enchanted.

I’ve blogged about Rockwood several times, and I am now writing a book about the Rockwood story.

I’ve spent several weeks going through the files at the GSUSA National Historical Preservation Center in New York, and I have many documents and scrapbooks from Washington-area Girl Scouts.

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I know the nuts and bolts of Rockwood. I have statistics on how many troops camped there month by month. I have diagrams of the woefully insufficient septic system. I have legal papers about the acquisition and sale of the camp and the process of turning part of it over to the Montgomery County, Maryland, park system.

But that is only part of the story. I need help from former Rockwood campers. What was the experience like? What memories have stuck in your mind over the decades? Was it the friends you made from other councils? A favorite meal in the dining room? Singing and skits in Brooke Hall? The sweltering cabins in August?

Most of all, I need photos. GSUSA has some photos, mostly exterior shots of buildings. Other than a few postcards and the images in the slideshow above, I’ve seen precious little of the interior. Few images have captions, either.

I’ve setup a Facebook page, Remembering Rockwood, with some of these photos. Please take a look and see if they trigger any memories. Add your recollections to the comments. Maybe you’ll recognize faces and places.

If you have photos, color slides, scrapbooks, or other related items, please contact me. I will cover shipping costs if you let me borrow and scan them. Rockwood is a wonderful part of Girl Scout history. Please help me tell it.

Unrolling Girl Scout Camp History

People often drop off donations for the council archives at my house. Usually it’s an old uniform piece or handbook, perhaps a pocketknife or handful of badges. I also have an enviable collection of random Girl Scout socks that regularly appear on my desk at the main office.

But buried inside the latest two boxes of musty, mildewed paper was a real treasure.

Camp history scroll

Camp history scroll

This hand-drawn paper scroll offers the camp report for 1960-1961.  Think of it as an early PowerPoint. You unroll just enough paper to see the next illustration, then move to the next “slide.”

Each camp is listed separately, with attendance levels,

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program offerings,

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and property development detailed.

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The delightful illustrations are hand-drawn with marker, and most of the draft pencil marks are still visible.

I have not measured the entire scroll, but it is at least 60 feet long.

The boxes came from the family of Anne Murray, who was on the National Capital Council Camp Committee in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (National Capital was one of five councils that merged to form Nation’s Capital in 1963).

The scroll will definitely have a featured place in the new Archives & History Program Center opening this fall.

Thank you Roxanne Beatty for arranging this donation!!

Empty Mansions and Camp Connections

I just finished reading a delightful book, Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., and was surprised to find it had a Girl Scout connection.

Empty_Mansions

 

The enigmatic Huguette Clark in 1943.

The enigmatic Huguette Clark.

 

The book tells the life story of Huguette Clark, one of America’s wealthiest women, who died in 2011 at age 104.  Huguette was decidedly eccentric. She was rarely seen in public, never met face-to-face with the lawyers, accountants, and household staff that she employed for decades, and spent the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital room, despite being quite healthy. She married briefly — it lasted barely a year — and never had children of her own. Her father, copper and railroad baron W.A. Clark, was nearly 70 years old when she was born and had five children from his first marriage. However, she insisted she had a contented life, filled with painting, music, developing exquisite dollhouses for her huge antique doll collection, and sharing her wealth with a variety of charities and friends.

Huguette's childhood home had art galleries, a pipe organ, and an infirmary.

Huguette’s childhood home had art galleries, a pipe organ, and an infirmary.

She left an estate of $300 million that triggered a huge rush for treasure among her far-flung relatives, lawyers, accountants, and private nurses. Clark also left three luxury apartments (42 rooms) on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; Bellosguardo, a 22,000 square foot estate in Santa Barbara that was kept staffed and ready for a visit at 48 hours’ notice, although she hadn’t been there since the 1950s; and Le Beau Chateau, a 42-room mansion in New Canaan, CT, that she never bothered to furnish, much less visit.

Bellosguardo, the Clark summer home in California.

Bellosguardo, the Clark summer home in California.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington also became ensnared in the complicated estate. Huguette and her father both were patrons of the gallery and serious art collectors. Clark left his enormous collection to the Corcoran upon his death.  She left a portion of her estate to the Corcoran as well as the proceeds ($24 million) of the auction of Claude Monet’s Nympheas water lilies painting, which had hung in her home since 1926.

Claude Monet's Nympheas hung in Huguette's living room for decades.

Claude Monet’s Nympheas hung in Huguette’s living room for decades.

What is the Girl Scout connection?

I bought the book while I was in New York doing research at GSUSA. This was during the great blizzard of January 2015 and with all the dire warnings of lost power, I realized I had no actual book with me. If my computer lost power, I would be bored silly in my hotel room.  I left GSUSA and walked up Fifth Avenue to a Barnes and Noble, where I purchased Empty Mansions.  Little did I know that I had passed Huguette’s apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue and came near the site of her childhood home at 77th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Pretty weak Girl Scout ties so far, right?

Agreed.

But perhaps you are familiar with Huguette’s older sister, Andrée Clark? As in Camp Andrée Clark, the first national Girl Scout camp?

Andree Clark, Huguette's older sister.

Andree Clark, Huguette’s older sister, died of meningitis in 1919.

It is the very same girl. As the story goes, Andrée was a quiet and withdrawn girl who joined the Girl Scouts. She’d had a hard time adapting to New York after living in Paris for many years. When she died a tragic death just shy of age 17, her parents read her diary and discovered how much Andrée loved her troop and the friends and activities it offered. In her memory, Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Huguette donated 135 acres of land in Briarcliff Manor, NY, for a camp.

Huguette, left, watches her father, W.A. Clark present the deed for Camp Andree Clark to Jane Deeter Rippin, National Director.

Huguette, left, watches her father, W.A. Clark present the deed for Camp Andree Clark to Jane Deeter Rippin, National Director.

As for Huguette, she never joined the Girl Scouts, and the biography does not explain why. Perhaps her life would have taken a different turn had she been a Girl Scout.

For more about Huguette and photos of her homes and artwork, see the ongoing series of articles by NBC or the book’s website.

An Afternoon with Fran Randall

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Frances A. Randall, a true pioneer of Girl Scouting in Frederick County, Maryland.

Fran (r) tells Betsy Thurston (c) and I how to kill a snake on a hiking trail.

Fran (r) tells Betsy Thurston (c) and I how to kill a snake on a hiking trail (GSCNC photo).

Frannie, who just turned 90 years young, joined Frederick’s Troop 5 in 1938 and has been involved non-stop since then.

The future Mrs. Randall worked at Braddock Heights day camp in 1944.

The future Mrs. Randall worked at Braddock Heights day camp in 1944 (GSCNC archives).

I enjoyed telling her about Nation’s Capital’s plans for a Girl Scout history program center in Frederick and brought several old scrapbooks for her to look through.

In one of the scrapbooks, Fran found a newspaper she and her brother had published in 1942. Today, the Randall family publishes the Frederick News-Post.

In one of the scrapbooks, Fran found a newspaper she and her brother had published in 1942. Today, the Randall family publishes the Frederick News-Post (GSCNC archives).

We spent the afternoon swapping stories about troops, camping, council mergers,  National Center West, writing books about local history, and trips to Russia. We also compared notes about attending Girl Scout National Conventions in Houston, TX, in 1981 (Frannie) and 2011 (me).

We agreed to get together again in a few weeks with the right equipment to capture her wonderful memories and stories about Girl Scouting in Frederick County.

©2014 Ann Robertson

Princess Pat Carved from a Tree

Every camper’s favorite princess is being honored with a new statue in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Sculptor James McMahon is carving the image out of the trunk of a spruce tree.

While we know that the correct lyrics of the popular camp song are not “The Princess Pat lived in a tree.…” perhaps they can be updated to “…carved from a tree”?

James McMahon at work on his statue of Patricia of Connaught (NovaNewsNow.com)

James McMahon at work on his statue of Patricia of Connaught (NovaNewsNow.com)