Girl Scouts Bring History to Life at Riley’s Lockhouse

DEC06AR20Nestled inside a quiet bend of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal near Seneca, Maryland, Riley’s Lockhouse offers Girl Scouts a unique opportunity to learn about daily life in the 1870s and museum careers.

On weekends in the fall and spring, Girl Scouts dress in authentic period clothing and share the history of the Riley family and home to visitors of all ages. They serve as docents, demonstrating daily chores from the 1870s, including washing clothes, making butter, singing, playing games, sewing quilt squares, and making corn husk dolls.

 

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Welcome to Riley’s Lockhouse! (GSCNC Archives)

The C&O Canal was in use from 1831 to 1924, with 1871 its peak year. It ran from the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland; 185 miles. Barges navigating the canal used a series of 74 locks to adjust to the changing depth; from sea level in Georgetown to 605 feet in Cumberland. Riley’s is located at lock 24. Today, the canal’s towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, and history buffs.

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Approaching the lockhouse (Echo Reardanz)

In October 1975, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital launched the Riley’s Lockhouse History Program through a special permit from the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Searching for a special way to mark the US bicentennial, Cadette Troop 2032 of Bethesda, Maryland, devised a project to demonstrate how families lived in the 1870s.

In 2007 the Riley’s Lockhouse Program received the national Take Pride in America award from the US Department of the Interior. The program also won the 2007 George B. Hartzog, Jr., award for outstanding volunteer youth group in the local National Capital Region.

Over 40 years later, the program remains popular. Girl Scout troops still change into period costumes and give tours on Saturdays and Sundays in the spring and fall.

Leaders of troops interested in participating in the lockhouse experience need to take a half-day training course so that they can learn appropriate skills and teach them to their troop. Training classes are offered in both the fall and spring.

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Veteran C&O volunteer and Girl Scout Joan Paull trains leaders in 19th century life (Echo Reardanz)

The program is open to all Girl Scouts, not just troops registered with Nation’s Capital. Many of the photos featured here were taken by Echo Reardanz, a volunteer from the Girl Scout Council of Central Maryland who frequently brings troops to the lockhouse.

For more information about the program, contact programaa@gscnc.org.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

So That’s In Your Bag, Girl Scout

Last week I shared photos of our exhibit of pocket-sized Girl Scout memorabilia. We had photos of various Girl Scout bags and what girls and adults might have carried over the years.

As promised, here are the four main photos, with the various items labeled. Did you recognize all of them?

Enjoy!

Girl Purses 1970s Labels2

Girl purses then

Girl Purses today Labels2

Girl purses now

Leader Purse 1950s Labels2

Leader purses then

Leader Purses today Labels2

Leader purses now

 

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Girl Scout Spirit of 1776

To celebrate Independence Day, I’ll share part of my Girl Scout Bicentennial patch collection.

The Girl Scouts joined the rest of the United States to celebrate our country’s 200th birthday in 1976. Councils, troops, and cookie bakers all got into the spirit, issuing Bicentennial-themed patches. The Connecticut Trails Council even issued a very popular series of badges, “If I Were a Girl Scout in 1776.”

Enjoy!!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Daisy and Her Travel Documents

My daughter recently mentioned that visitors on her tours at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace are often surprised when Erin says, “She was about my size.”

That comparison surprised me, too.  Erin and I are only 5 feet tall, and even then we really have to stretch on our tippy toes. “Hold on,” I replied. “I think I’ve seen her height.”

Less than a minute later,  I texted her a copy of  Low’s 1919 passport application, which states her height at 5 feet, 4.5 inches.

“OK,” Erin conceded. “But that’s still pretty small.”

“You’re not going to comment on my just happening to have JGL’s passport application sitting around?”

“No, mom.” She replied. “I’ve learned to expect that.”

I had found the passport records earlier on Ancestry.com.  It is fun to see Daisy’s handwritten comments, description of her own appearance, and to read the reasons given for her travel abroad.  The passport photos are great, as well.

The documents have been bound into hardback volumes, and some text is not fully visible.

Her 1915 application gave her destinations as England, Italy, and Egypt, and she requested that the document be delivered to her parents’ home on Oglethorpe Street.

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Daisy describes herself as 5 ft, 4.5 inches tall.

1916 Photo

Passport Photo, 1915, 1916

She renewed her passport in 1916, and her brother’s statement served in place of a birth certificate.  The file also includes a letter noting that her landlord in London, Lady Coghlan, was upset to discover that Daisy had used parafin oil lamps and left at least one sink stopped up.

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By 1918 Daisy had misplaced her passport and urgently needed a new one. She included a letter from Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell explaining the reason for her travel.

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In 1919 she explained that she needed to renew her passport for six months to attend an international scouting conference. She handwrote that her travels would include Switzerland, and another letter from Lord Baden-Powell confirmed the international meeting.

 

The last passport on file was for 1923. This trip included Egypt. She also indicates that her previous passport had been canceled.

 

Unfortunately, the photo for the 1923 document is almost illegible. Likely the product of poor quality microfiche.

I always enjoy looking at original documents, especially ones with personal details such as eye color, face shape, and height.

Now I have yet another reason to look up to Daisy Low.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives

Last Saturday was the Nation’s Capital 2018 Annual Meeting, and the Archives and History Committee arranged an exhibit.

2018 Annual Meeting Patch

 

The exhibit theme was “Picture Yourself in the Girl Scout Archives,” and it had two parts. First, Committee members brought a current project to share. We are informally divided by specialty (uniforms, patch programs, books, publications, etc.) and this seemed a good way to demonstrate what the Committee does.

I brought some of our camera collection to decorate our display, and many girls were fascinated by them. We had to explain that these cameras did not have phones.

Second, we organized a photo booth with old uniforms. Last year we had a large exhibit of adult uniforms and people were literally lining up to have their picture made with the mannequins. We decided to build on that by having uniform pieces to try on.

 

Hats were easy to arrange.  We’d been advised by other history groups to be vigilant about hygiene since we didn’t want to accidentally spread germs or unwelcome critters. We lined each hat with a basket-style coffee filter that we changed after each wearing.

Uniforms were more challenging. Folks today are larger than people a few decades ago and some of our uniforms are tiny! We know that for fashion shows, we have to go for younger models.  Sometimes only a Daisy in kindergarten can fit into a vintage Brownie dress, and we have to use a fifth-grade Junior for one of the vintage teen uniforms.

But we’d gotten a fabulous idea from other historians: split uniforms. I saw them up close at the North Carolina Girl Scout Collector’s Show in March, and organizer Becky Byrnes offered some great advice.

 

Uniforms are split along the spine, hemmed, and ribbons or bias tape is sewn in to use as ties. Girls and adults slip the old uniform on over their clothing, much like a doctor slipping into a surgical gown. It doesn’t completely solve the size issue (tiny uniform + clothing = tight squeeze) but everyone seemed pleased with the results.

Our designated photographer reported snapping pictures of 74 groups, and many more visitors took selfies.

This experiment worked well and we plan to have more split uniforms available at our Program Centers.

©2018 Ann Robertson

 

A Practical Approach to Girl Scout Archives

I have a busy week coming up, first going to the North Carolina Girl Scout Collectors’ Show, then on to Savannah, Georgia, to see my daughter, who is a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

She is busy studying schedules and determining what classes to take this fall and the rest of her senior year. I continue to be amazed at the variety of courses and career paths offered at SCAD. They have areas of study that I never knew existed, like yacht design, sequential art, and luxury and fashion management. SCAD takes a very hands-on, applied approach to learning that equips students for creative careers.

I already have another trip to Savannah penciled in for October, this time for a Girl Scout history conference. The last such conference I attended was very conceptual–discussions and presentations on the changing role of museums in the 21st century.

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GS Historic Georgia partnered with SCAD to create a Preservation Patch

I have no idea what is being planned officially, but if it were me, I know what Savannah resource I would want to use wisely–SCAD. A conference planned in coordination with the school could provide tremendous hands-on learning opportunities. There are many potentially relevant programs, for example:

Accessory and Jewelry Design: Techniques for cleaning pins and metal camping equipment;  novel ideas for displays of lots of tiny objects.

CharacterDesignWrkshpAdActing and Character Development: For our living Juliette Gordon Lows.

Branded Entertainment: I don’t have any idea what this is, but how often do we hear about communicating and protecting the Girl Scout brand? Maybe we would learn!

Fashion/Fibers/Costume Design: Best techniques for preserving old fabric; how do you clean 100-year old sweat stains and rust stains?

 

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Museum Studies students craft narratives about their artifacts (SCAD).

Museum Studies: Duh.

 

Photography/Film/Sound: How to archive photos, film etc. (and could someone please convert some Beta tapes that we have?)

Preservation Design: This also seems obvious.

 

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Designing exhibit displays and props (SCAD).

Production Design: Tips on how to construct and configure exhibits and display spaces.

 

Themed Entertainment Design: to create Juliette Gordon Low World (just kidding–mostly)

Conducting a two-hour workshop on these topics would be a great experience for students, as SCAD teaches them to hone their presentation skills whenever possible. I definitely would sign up for as many as possible.

Ultimately, the conference curriculum isn’t up to me.  Maybe I’ll just browse the textbook aisle in the campus bookstore and try to learn some of these skills on my own.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Rockwood Open House

Tomorrow, January 20, 2018, Montgomery County Parks will host an open house at Rockwood Manor Park in Potomac, Maryland, from 11 am to 3 pm. Open Houses are offered several times a year for brides and other people considering the venue for an event.

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The Manor House. Photo by Mark Bowles.

Rockwood was a national Girl Scout camp from 1938 to 1978. The neighborhood was largely rural in the camp’s early years, but as new houses and neighborhoods expanded, Rockwood staff reached out to make new friends. One open house was held in 1950.

 

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Washington Post, March 17, 1950.

 

Visitors in 1950 might have found a troop preparing meals, a family camping together, or perhaps Brownies splashing in the stream.

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While some neighbors were not pleased to discover latrines near their homes (and they are long gone!), many groups near the camp considered it an asset.  Boy Scouts, church groups, and schools all used the facilities for meetings and occasional retreats.

One of the most successful Rockwood-community partnerships began in 1959, when a group of five women from the town of  Potomac asked if they could use Rockwood’s commercial kitchen to mash potatoes for the 1,000 guests expected to attend their church’s yearly community dinner.

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Staff working in Rockwood’s Kitchen, 1950s (GSUSA/NHPC)

The meetings of the “Potato Mashers Guild” became so popular that many of the ladies offered to be on “stand-by” to volunteer as needed at the camp. The ladies hosted birthday parties for Guild members at Rockwood and even picnicked one summer at Rockwood director Ida May Born’s beach house.

 

 

 

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Rockwood kitchen equipment abandoned in June 1983. Is that the potato peeler in the center? (Photo by Patricia Cornish)

 

Another strong relationship developed with Potomac Elementary School. Students would come to Rockwood for science lessons and nature walks, while Rockwood’s kitchen staff would pitch in at the school cafeteria if needed.

After weeks of sub-freezing temperatures here in Washington, DC, tomorrow is forecast to reach nearly 60º. Seems like an ideal day to visit Rockwood, located at 11001 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, Maryland 20854.

©2018 Ann Robertson