What Makes a Camp Friendship

Maggie and Friends

Ten years ago, on the first night of my CA year, I went to bed with a full heart and so much joy. I remember thinking to myself, “I have twenty more days with these friends.” I hadn’t seen my cabin-mates in a year and I wanted to savor every day we had together. There was something about this group of girls that was different than my friends from home. Although I didn’t know the exact difference, I knew it was meaningful and would last a lifetime.

The topic of camp friendships was sparked in a recent conversation and I still was unable to describe how camp friendships were different from friendships at home. I decided to ask Rockbrook girls of all ages the question, “Why are camp friends so special?” Some answers are similar, others are different, but all encompass the spirit of Rockbrook and the friendships that are formed in the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain.” Here are few of the answers, and while they may not point to some single essence of camp friendship, they are insightful.

camp teen friends

One of the youngest campers I asked observed that camp friends are special because “they are with you so much,” you see them “only once a year,” and because you are “living with them” you are just so “comfortable around them.”

Several Middlers, girls about 11 and 12 years old, echoed that observation that camp friends are “stronger.” Camp friends are “the best friends I’ve ever had,” because you are “away from each other all year. You will “have them forever” because you can “be yourself with them.”

The oldest campers described their camp friends as a “sisterhood I will cherish forever,” a closeness like “family” even though they’re from all over. At camp, they said “it’s easier to connect with people” simply because you are “away from friends from home.”

camp swimming buddies

Several counselors attributed the special character of their camp friendships to unplugging from technology and social media while at camp. Camp life provides “more opportunities to talk face to face,” and no “social pressures to be or act the coolest, have the most friends/followers, and you just get to be yourself.”

I also asked Rockbrook alumnae, now grown women who attended camp as children, about their camp friendships. One put it this way— “Camp friends have a better understanding of who you are which makes them more loyal, easier to talk to, and easier to be around.” And another— “Camp friends are like no others… we meet at a place where we can completely be ourselves. No pressure to look beautiful, be cool, or dress like a super model. A friend at camp is someone who is genuine and real.” At camp, you are “friends because you like/love the real person for who they are and the amazing memories you make and share.”

Camp Friends girls

One alumna described it beautifully:

“Too often, in the ‘real world’ people let first impressions rule the day. Beauty, wealth, fashion, youth, and social standing open doors, while a lack of these can close them. At camp, you are only responsible for how you treat others. Your kindness, positivity and openness draws people to you and friendship results. Friendships based on this solid foundation of authenticity are friendships that last a lifetime.

I have RBC friends that I met as a small child, and those that I met at reunions. Some are decades older. Some are decades younger. They live all over the world. We have been incredibly silly together, laughed our heads off together, and cried together as life has gone through its inevitable struggles. I am never alone. As the song says, ‘Look always to it when you’re in trouble… The spirit of Rockbrook…’  Camp is unconditional acceptance and true friendship sharing wonderful experiences from which you both grow as people. It’s a lifelong gift, and I am indescribably grateful for it.”

—Maggie Cameron

best camp friends

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. (info@barnum-museum.org)

“…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

A Magic in the Distance

One of our most prized artifacts from the Rockbrook Camp archives is a copy of the camp catalog produced in 1938. Described as “A Book of Announcements” for Rockbrook Camp “Mr. And Mrs. Henry N. Carrier, Directors,” the catalog is 32 pages of photos and written descriptions of Rockbrook’s history, philosophy, activities, staff and facilities. For example, the “Statement Concerning Rockbrook” includes:

The camp’s program possesses true educational value, enlivening health and happiness. Everything is conducive to the growth and enriched conceptions of sportsmanship, camaraderie and friendship. Of these things it is impossible to write; they must be experienced. Inspired by Rockbrook’s standards, girls develop those inner resources upon which character is built.

This wonderful photo of the mountain view seen from the Hillside Lodge Porch comes from the catalog. Even though the trees have grown higher today, there is still “a magic in the distance where the sky line meets the sky.”

The mountain view from the hillside lodge porch

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