Throwback Thursday: A Day in the Life of a 1926 Camper

December 19, 2013

Campers 1926

The rising bell tolls at 7:15 and you open your eyes, eager to start another day at Rockbrook Camp for Girls. You and your cabin-mates jump out of your low cots and slip into your thick, black, woolen swim suits. You pour out of your cabin and join the other girls of the camp as, blinking sleep from their eyes, they make their way to the lake for the morning dip.

Corn 1926The water is as cold as ever, but by the time you emerge, the allure of going back to bed has left you completely. You are fully awake. You run back up the hill with your cabin-mates, while your counselors (local schoolteachers, camp-mothers, and the like) follow more slowly behind. You only have twenty minutes to put on your uniform and get ready for the day, before you are due in the Dining Hall to help set up for breakfast.

As you put on your billowy gray bloomers, and your white blouse and tie, smells from the Dining Hall begin to reach your cabin. The cooks have been up for hours already, gathering the vegetables from Mr. Carrier’s giant garden at the bottom of the hill, milking the camp cows for fresh milk, and collecting eggs from the camp chickens.

Cabin 1926Breakfast passes quickly. Quiet songs are sung at breakfast—every camper and counselor joins in, weaving together a peaceful harmony of voices. You all gather on the hill for Morning Assembly—a sea of girls in white, red, and gray, whispering amongst themselves, and trying not to catch the attention of the counselors. Mrs. Carrier leads the camp in the morning prayer, then reads out the lists of hiking and canoeing trips leaving camp today. You know that your name isn’t on any of the lists, so rather than listening, you spend your time planning out which activities you’ll do today. Horseback riding, perhaps, or maybe weaving and a bit of canoeing.

Assembly gets out a little early, so you and your cabin-mates race back to the cabin, to spruce the place up before 10 o’clock Inspection. You spend five breathless minutes shoving your sopping swimsuits under your beds, and smoothing your sheets, until the cabin looks spotless.

Garden 1926You pass inspection, thank goodness. The rest of your morning is a blur of horseback riding, tennis, and swimming. Lunch is succulent—every vegetable, fruit, and piece of meat is taken from the Rockbrook farm, so it is all as fresh and filling as you could wish.

During Rest Hour, you can’t bring yourself to rest. You are too excited for the afternoon, when you will practice for the dance pageant that you and a few other campers will perform at the end of the session. The counselors have spent the last week sewing the fairy costumes out of old pillowcases, and today is the first day you get to try them on.

Dancers 1926You’re the first person to arrive at the rehearsal in the Hillside Lodge, and you immediately begin changing into the costume. It’s a relief, really, to trade the hot, scratchy bloomers for the lighter cotton shift. Most of the girls take ballet at home, but the dance is much less formal and more fun than any of you are used to. Mainly, it is an excuse to leap and run around for a few hours in clothes much more comfortable than the camp uniform. But still, the dance is coming together, and none of you can wait for the day that you get to perform it on the lawn of Mrs. Carrier’s house.

Dinner is boisterous—the heat of the day is ebbing away and the songs are spirited and loud. Some of the younger girls get carried away and begin banging on the tables in the rhythm of the song, but Mrs. Carrier puts a stop to that quickly.

Mrs. Carrier is always a fan of fun, you know, but she does expect her girls to behave themselves. The girls look sheepish, but Mrs. Carrier begins a rousing rendition of “Rockbrook Camp Forever,” which brings the smiles right back to their faces.

The lowering of the flag after dinner is a solemn affair, as it always is. Mrs. Carrier leads the camp in the evening prayer: “Oh God, give us clean hands, clean words, clean thoughts…” When she is finished, she returns to her house for the evening, and the counselors start up a big game of freeze-tag on the hill.

At 8:30, when your eyelids are beginning to feel heavy, and your footsteps beginning to drag, you make your way to the lodge for milk and crackers. By 9:00, you are dressed in your nightgown in your cabin, holding hands in a circle with your cabin-mates, singing “Taps” softly to one another.

As you lay your head on your pillow and listen to the songs of the crickets rise and swell through the forest around you, you can’t help but realize how lucky you are. Not every girl gets to escape the fast-paced modern world, to spend a few weeks of freedom in the mountains. Not every girl gets to let go of propriety and manners, and dance like a wild thing for an entire afternoon. Not every girl gets to have a perfect day, then go to bed knowing that the next day will be even better, and the next even better than that.

Dancer Silhouette


All in the Family

November 21, 2013

Nancy Carrier's Niece at RBC

A couple of months ago, a very exciting visitor came to camp. Like many others, this visitor had spent her childhood at Rockbrook as a camper, then as a counselor—unlike many others, however, her memories of Rockbrook also extend to holidays spent in the Carrier House, playing fetch with Nancy Carrier’s Great Danes, and playing games of croquet on “Aunt Nan’s lawn.”

Nancy Lesesne is the daughter of Nancy Carrier’s brother, and therefore knew the Rockbrook founder, and her husband, intimately. It was wonderful hearing stories of the Carriers away from camp—how “Aunt Nan’s” Great Danes liked to jump through the open downstairs windows to get outside (understandably scaring to death anyone standing near those windows); how the children were forbidden to disturb “Uncle Henry” when he withdrew to his study with his newspaper to manage his stocks; how Aunt Nan would frequently take the children to see her great-grandfather PT Barnum’s circus, when it came to town.

Mrs. Lesesne was particularly amused to find out that nowadays the Carrier House is widely believed by the campers to be haunted. She said that she could not recall anything particularly supernatural happening in the house when she would stay there, but allowed that it always did look a bit spooky.

Mrs. Lesesne had not been at Rockbrook since her days as a counselor, yet still she remembered her way around perfectly. Though today there are new buildings, new landscaping, and even a new family running the camp, she said it still felt the same. More importantly, she commented that being at camp made her feel the same—that after all these years, coming to Rockbrook could still make her feel like an excited little girl coming home for the summer.

Carrier Niece in front of the Carrier House


Fall Gathering Redux

September 29, 2013

Michelle Batlle at Rockbrook

“[At the gathering] I was reminded that the Spirit of Rockbrook is ageless, timeless, and omnipresent. And while we may find ourselves having moments where we forget about it in the un-real world, it never forgets about us. It connects us all no matter what “school or name or fame” because at its core, the Rockbrook Spirit has the uncanny ability to gather and welcome hundreds of women (and the select irreplaceable male figures) with wide open arms whenever we feel like going home.”

—Michelle Batlle


Surprise for Mr. Potter

March 14, 2013
Mr. Potter, 2013

Mr. Potter, 2013

Although Rockbrook has offered pottery since the 1950′s, it really took off in the 1980′s when John and Sybil Dodson aka “Mr. and Mrs. Potter” began their work at Rockbrook.  They created a fabulous program and helped build our first pottery studio, located down in the old garage of The Rockbrook House.  For over 20 summers the Dodson’s taught legions of Rockbrook girls the art of hand building, wheel throwing and glazing.  If you were a camper during that time you probably also remember the petting zoo down at pottery!  Mr. Dodson would often bring a goat or a chicken as artistic inspiration. When we hear from former campers and staff they often talk about Mr. and Mrs. Potter as some of their favorite camp leaders.

In addition to working at Rockbrook, Mr. and Mrs. Dodson had their own pottery shop.  Mud Dabbers Pottery and Crafts was located in the Old Distillery Building on the Rockbrook property.    It did not take long for them to outgrow their original shop with all of their amazing pottery, so they moved Mud Dabbers down the street to the Old Powell Store, where it is currently located.  It is quite an amazing shop, filled with the work of over 20 artists.  It is still a destination location for many people who journey up the mountain just to visit Mud Dabbers!

So, In honor of Mr. Dodson and all of his amazing work with so many people over the years, his family and friends are organizing a memory book for him for his upcoming birthday.  If you have a memory of Mr. Potter that you would like to share for this special tribute, please write Shannon at: srood31@hotmail.com. Deadline for submissions is Memorial Day.  We love you Mr. Potter!

Rockbrook Camp Office and Mud Dabbers Pottery, 1997

Rockbrook Camp Office and Mud Dabbers Pottery, 1997


The Amazing “Jerky”

March 5, 2013
Ellen Hume Jervey (center), 1928

Ellen Hume Jervey (center), 1928

In the stories of Rockbrook, perhaps no one is more legendary than former counselor and director Ellen Hume Jervey.  Fondly known as “Jerky”, she was an institution at Rockbrook for over 40 years.  Jerky grew up in Charleston, SC (just an interesting side note, Jerky lived next door to The Verner Gallery, the art gallery of Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, another memorable Rockbrooker). She began her Rockbrook career as a counselor in the 1920′s.   After college, Jerky was the Physical Education Director at Hood College, but she continued to work at Rockbrook for the summer.  In the 1940′s Jerky became a Director at Rockbrook and continued working at camp through the 1960′s.  She lived in Charleston, SC during the school year where she taught at Ashley Hall, a private girls school.  She is referred to by many of our alumna as one of the most influential people in their lives.

One of the most shared stories about Jerky is that during WWII she was commissioned as an officer with the US Naval Reserves!  Rockbrook closed for the summers during the war and many women became involved in the war effort.  None more so than Jerky! We have searched high and low for more information about it and were thrilled to find the following article from a Charleston, SC  Newspaper.

Charleston Paper 1942Charleston News Ellen Hume JerveyThe WAVEs (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) division of the Naval Reserve consisted entirely of women.  From the very beginning, the WAVES was an official part of the Navy, and its members held the same rank and ratings as male personnel. The first commissioned female officer in the Navy was the commander of the WAVES, and she was commissioned in August, 1942.  You can see from the article that Jerky was not far behind, being commissioned in December.  We are not sure how long Jerky served, but will continue our research to find out more about her time in the Navy.  You can see just one of the reasons why she was an amazing role model and mentor to so many Rockbrook women.

Jerky, 1960's

Jerky, 1960′s

Stay tuned for more Jerky stories!  If you have any you would like to share we would love to hear from you!


The History of the Parlez-Vous Song

February 26, 2013

Singing is a huge part of camp life and one of the funniest song traditions at Rockbrook is the Parlez-Vous Song.   A Parlez-Vous is a song made up by a cabin or group of campers and then performed spontaneously in the dining hall.  After asking several Alumna if they remember singing Parlez- Vous at camp, it seems that they have been part of the Rockbrook lore since the 1930′s.  Here is an example of a Rockbrook Parlez- Vous:

We had so much fun at the camp out last night, parlez- vousParlez- Vous

We had so much fun at the camp out last night, parlez-vous

We had so much fun at the camp out last night

The S’mores and stories were out of sight

Inky Dinky parlez- vous

These spontaneous songs are often very humorous and creative and always bring a laugh and a smile to everyone as we enjoy our meals together.

So, what in the world is the history of the Parlez- Vous and how did it come to Rockbrook?

After a little digging it appears that the origins of the Parlez- Vous come from a World War I song called Mademoiselle from Armentières.  This song was adapted from a British Indian Army song called Skiboo.  It was a rhyming song, whose lyrics changed quite regularly.  During World War I it was often referred to as the Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous Song and would be adapted and sung by soldiers.  Some versions were a bit risque but we were able to find a great version.  Listen below and be sure to wait for the chorus!

Isn’t it fascinating how songs at camp are passed along from generation to generation?   If you remember any funny Parlez-Vous from your days at camp, please send them in!  We would love to hear them.


Winter Walkabout

February 18, 2013

We enjoyed a beautiful walk around camp last week and wanted to share some of the scenes we captured as we wandered around.  Camp is quiet in the winter but the beauty of the quiet cold season is remarkable.  It is hard to believe that there will be flowers blooming, frogs chirping and kids laughing at camp in just a few short months!  Enjoy these winter shots.  Can you tell where they were taken?

Can you hear the ring?


The Heart of a Wooded Mountain

February 7, 2013

Rockbrook Camp, 1932

Check out this great old photograph we found in a camp scrapbook that was recently donated to Rockbrook.  The Lakeview Lodge and Vesper Rock are the stars of the show!  Here is an earlier blog post with a great photograph of the interior of the Lakeview Lodge.

If you have not been to camp recently you will be relieved to know that it still looks very much the same as in this wonderful old photograph.  The trees are a bit taller but the feel of camp is just like this picture!  If you look really hard you may even see Mrs. Carrier in the front left of the image, walking down the road wearing white.

We love the unique perspective of this photo as it was taken from the hill where the gym currently stands. Be sure to click on the photo  to see a larger version of the image.