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!

Surprise for Mr. Potter

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: [email protected] 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”

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!

The History of the Parlez-Vous Song

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:

Parlez-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, 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 be part of Rockbrook’s history?

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

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?

Red Rocking Chairs
Camp Bell
Can you hear the ring?

The Heart of a Wooded Mountain

Camp lake 1932 from hill
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!  They are central to camp life and seem to always show up in photographs of the girls doing evening program.

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 of our North Carolina home 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.

The Rockbrook Songbook

singing songs at night
Singing along at Spirit Fire, 2012

Singing is a HUGE part of life at Rockbrook and is something that every camp generation can share.  We hear fabulous stories from our alumnae of camp songs being sung at weddings, college events, in the middle of a restaurant, or even when you run into a friend at the grocery store.  The songs are in a way a history of camp. What is it about those fun camp songs that sticks with you forever?

Because singing is such a big part of camp life at Rockbrook, we are in the process of updating our famous camp songbook.  Over the years some songs drifted out of popularity, while new ones “came into fashion”.  Songs like “Liberty” and “When the Moon Plays Peek A Boo” were very popular in the 60’s while songs like “The Coconut Song” and “Yogi Bear” are a few current hits.  With our new songbook we hope to include ALL of the camp songs from the Rockbrook repertoire.  That is where you come in!  We do not have a songbook from the 20’s-40’s.  If anyone has an old songbook or can send us any information about the songs from the early years of Rockbrook we would SO appreciate your help.

camp songbook
The Rockbrook Songbook, 1970

Now that camp songs are running through your mind, visit this page to hear some recordings of some popular Rockbrook songs!