The Water Wheel

We have written about the Rockbrook water wheel in the past but wanted to share this new photograph that we just came across while doing some research into the history of Rockbrook at the Transylvania County library.  It is a great view of the water wheel from the perspective of the lake. We know the water wheel was in use from the founding of the camp in 1921 until Duke Power brought electrical lines to the camp in 1930.  If you stand on the dam at the lake today and look down you can still see the stone remains of the water wheel foundation.

Rockbrook Camp water wheel
The Rockbrook water wheel, date of photograph unknown

The water wheel was such an important and certainly noticeable part of the camp in those early years that there was even a song written about it!  Here is an earlier post about the water wheel song.

There is also a beautiful etching by famed Charleston artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner of the camp water wheel.  Mrs. Verner was an art instructor during the early years of camp and her daughter Elizabeth Verner Hamilton was the first camper at Rockbrook!  In this earlier blog post, you can see a photograph of Mrs. Verner teaching an art class at camp.  Maybe they were drawing the water wheel?

Elizabeth O'Neill Verner waterwheel sketch
The Rockbrook water wheel, by Elizabeth O’Neill Verner

There is local lore that the water wheel was given to another camp in the area at some point in the 1940’s but have not been able to verify the story.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could track down the old wheel?  If anyone has any information please let us know!

The Greatest Showman and his Rockbrook Connection

RBC Barnum Family

We were excited last week when the local movie theater began showing The Greatest Showman, not just because we love a good movie, but because of its connection to Rockbrook!  As some of you may remember, Nancy Clarke Carrier, the founder of Rockbrook is the great-grandaughter of the famous P.T. Barnum- The Greatest Showman himself!  Here is a wonderful old photograph of P.T. Barnum (seated on right) and to the far right is Julia Caroline Hurd, Nancy Carrier’s mother.  Such rich history! For more on their family history check out this previous post.

In keeping with the P.T. Barnum connection, we have regularly heard from campers from the early years of camp that there was circus memorabilia in the Rockbrook house.  The most frequently mentioned item was a small chair that was once owned by Tom Thumb, a star of Barnum’s circus.  Campers mention getting to see and even sit in the chair. The chair is no longer in the home but its regular mention has led us on a multi year quest to track it down!  The only clue we had was that a family member was pretty sure that the chair had been donated to a Barnum museum!

The first stop on the great chair quest was the Ringling Museum down in Florida which houses lots of Barnum and Circus memorabilia.  Sarah and Jeff were on the road hosting camp reunion parties and made a point to go by the museum to see if they could find any information about the chair.  Unfortunately they had no such chair in their collection but it was a good start!

Next up was to contact The Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT. We spoke with the curator of the museum who said they did have a few Tom Thumb chairs in their collection but none of them had any history associated with the Carrier Family.  They did have one in the collection with no background information so our next challenge was to find a photo of the Barnum Rockbrook Chair. If we could just find a picture we may be able to make a match!

P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb chair at Rockbrook House, Brevard North Carolina
Carrier great grand children and the Tom Thumb Chair, circa 1970

We spent several months looking through the archives to no avail when out of the blue a set of photographs was donated to Rockbrook by Phillip Tucker who is a great grandson of Nancy Carrier. While flipping through the pictures we were THRILLED to see this photo:

We were ecstatic to find the photo and sent it promptly to the Barnum Museum for their inspection and were so happy to get the following reply:

Restored Tom Thumb Chair
Tom Thumb Dining Chair. Photo provided courtesy of The Barnum Museum. Anyone wishing to use the image must receive permission in writing from The Barnum Museum. ([email protected])

“…But it seems very likely that with the background story you stated previously, this chair came to the museum from Nancy Carrier’s grandson. Of course, the chair, being part of a dining room set, is not entirely unique, though possibly only one of two still in existence, that we know of. So it does seem likely that going back many years, the Clarke-Carrier chair was donated to The Barnum.” – Adrienne Saint-Pierre, Curator

So, while we can’t say with total certainty that this is THE chair, it sure seems likely that we have found the Rockbrook Tom Thumb Chair!  Here it is in all it’s fully restored glory.  Next time you take a trip to Bridgeport, CT, be sure to go by the museum and pay it a visit!

For more on Tom Thumb and The Greatest Showman check out this neat article by the Hollywood Reporter that compares the real people to the characters in the movie!

Blast from the Past: “A Life Highlight”

Director of Rockbrook, Sarah Carter, handed me a letter yesterday, while we were winding down from the Jedi Training Academy event and such an incredible Mini Session Opening Day.

At this point, I was still smiley and filthy from both parts of the day, covered in shaving cream, paint, and mud and with “I am your father” written across my forehead. I was in the office and about to settle in for the night, not expecting such a magical surprise to unfold. But I could tell the letter was special by the way Sarah looked at me when she said, “Read this.”

historic girls camp uniforms

The letter was written by a 90-something year old Rockbrook girl, and it reads: “When my children were old enough to be interested in my own childhood during the Depression, my favorite story was the 8 weeks at Rockbrook Camp in 1938. I was in the 8th grade that year and my mother told me I had a choice: 1) The 10 day trip to Washington D.C. in the spring, or 2) Rockbrook for 8 weeks. Sports has always been my greatest interest in life — The decision was easy.”

She really must have been an incredible athlete! For part of the letter, she describes the awards she remembers receiving, still thrilled after all this time: The awards were given “at the last evening campfire where the owner gave the awards and we all cried our eyes out. I still have my 3 ribbons! Red and blue in Tennis and yellow in Diving!” Although we no longer give out awards on the last night of camp, it seems that not much has changed in terms of how emotional the last campfire, Spirit Fire, can be!

vintage girls camp costume

What truly stuck me was the line, “Rockbrook was a life highlight.” I keep saying it to myself today, getting a little teary-eyed and trying to wrap my head around it… I have a million questions for her about what those 8 weeks were like for her and what kind of impact Rockbrook had on her.

She closes her letter by informing us that her daughter had heard someone mention Rockbrook in Maine last week, which compelled her to write the letter. We’ll continue to ponder who this mystery person in Maine could’ve been and are thrilled to write back to our 1938 Rockbrook girl shortly!

***In honor of this special “blast from the past” history edition blog-post, I’ve included some vintage pictures that I recently found that belonged to the founder of Rockbrook, Nancy Carrier.

log cabin postcard NC
historic summer camp lodge

The First Rockbrook Application

Continuing our series of archival photos and history documents, today we have this; it’s an original application to attend Rockbrook from 1921, its very first year. That summer, girls attended for one long session that lasted 8 weeks between July 6th and August 31st. This application shows that Elizabeth Fisher from Hackensack, NJ was one of 35 girls who traveled to Brevard to be the very first Rockbrook campers. So neat!

Completed application form to attend Rockbrook Camp

Early Weavings at Rockbrook

Continuing our series of photos pulled from our camp history and archives, here is another from the 1930s showing the inside of the Curosty activity cabin. This cabin briefly served as Rockbrook’s office, but soon became, as you can see, where the girls at camp learned to weave. Working with wide floor looms and smaller tabletop looms, campers made —as they continue to make today— wonderful, colorful fabrics. The photo shows many great examples of these early weavings. Take a look at this post to see a few modern photos as well.

1930s image inside of crafts camp log cabin

On the Porch at Camp

Here we have another great find, on this Thursday, from our archives of early camp scenes. Again we think this photo dates from the 1930s. It shows several girls enjoying their free time on the porch of the Lakeview Lodge, one of the three stone meeting lodges dating from the earliest days of Rockbrook Camp. This lodge, like the others at camp, was built in the early 1920s using rock quarried from the mountain just above Rockbrook. It’s extraordinarily well preserved today and is still a hub of activity throughout every camp day. It would be so easy to find this exact scene any summer at camp!

1930s Camp Stone Lodge overlooking Rockbrook Lake

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

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 1926

The 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 1926

Breakfast 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 1926

You 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 1926

You’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

The Amazing “Jerky”

Ellen Hume Jervey (center), 1928
Ellen Hume Jervey (center), 1928

In the stories and history 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 1942
Charleston News Ellen Hume Jervey

The 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!