A Camp History
Transcript – Camp History and Founders
I’ll tell you the honest truth. Rockbrook really hasn’t changed a lot.
In the morning, they’d say “the British are coming, the British are coming.” They rode all up and down all the hills on horses.
I remember if you came to a meal late, you had to go and apologize to the head table.
Sometimes, four or five nights a week, I was out in the woods somewhere with Rockbrook girls.
I had people like Fannie Belle and Jerky and Ms. Carrier believing in me, and nobody ever said it, it was just, you felt it. Being at camp and being in their presence, made me aware of possibilities that I might not ever have figured out for myself.
The joy of camp to me, I watched young girls who maybe struggled during the school year. It was just such a wonderful thing to see how they gained confidence over the summer to make mistakes, take risks.
The chance for a child to come into their own, be their own person.
It’s really the secret of the whole thing I think, is that we create this community where you’re really just a part of it and accepted right from the get-go. There’s something magical about it. Even when they’re women that have moved around the world, they think back to this little haven that is the heart of a wooded mountain at Rockbrook.
Nancy Carrier, who was the great granddaughter of P.T. Barnum, she used to come here with her parents. So she came up here for the summers and then later on inherited the Barnum assets. So in 1921, she started Rockbrook Camp.
Rockbrook’s first day was July 6, 1921. The first year there were five cabins, and a lodge and a small swimming pool and one tennis court, I think. No dining hall, so this was the dining hall. The campers came down here three times a day for their meals. I think the two oldest buildings are Curosty and Goodwill. And those were homesteads that were found up near Williamson Creek. And they were disassembled and brought to Rockbrook in the early 20s.
When the camp first started, they did most of the traveling with horse drawn vehicles. They had a few model-T and model-A type things that had been converted, but they used horse-drawn vehicles too. Electricity was here from day one. If you look right below the lake there’s the remnants of the waterwheel and the waterwheel generated electricity that could run a light in the cabin. They generated their own power.
But there was a desire for girls to learn how to take risks and hold their own. There was a desire for them to appreciate the nature in their surroundings. And the desire for them to learn how to work together.
Mrs. Carrier was a real trailblazer. She was a suffragette and she helped to found the Brevard Music Center. She brought the hospital to Brevard.
Henry, he was such an opposite. You know, he grew produce for the camp. He raised pigs, he was a practical joker. And so he sort of was her foil, I think. But she was clearly the one wore the pants.
He had a great big garden and a lot of corn and tomatoes and produce came out of the garden right into the camp kitchen. So we had fabulous food.
We had strong leadership and she had a woman who was program director and was here for many, many years. And was just a highly revered woman by the name of Ellen Jervey.
Jerky was, like the old Lieutenant commander in the Navy. She ran it very systematically and was very organized. And Maxine was the heart and people would go and talk to her and Jerky was loving and kind, but she was, will keep everything going.
Jerky believed in me. And Ms. Carrier believed in me. They valued who I was and what I could contribute. And you rise to that sort of belief.
We had a hostess for many years who I think she probably worked pretty close to age 80. Her last name was Kaufman, and everybody called her Coffee. Helen Cary was a cabin counselor up into her ’70s.
I do remember vividly Phyllis Shaw. Rosie Slacks, we were Raz and Flas. Janet and Charlotte, it was Jarlotte we called them. Perry Mace. Elsa and Jo and Vickie Caldwell Best. Keith driving the dreamboat truck, a truck with sides and benches. And you just sat on the benches.
But oh, they loved to sing about the dreamboat coming around the bend or something like that. ♪ My low, my Keith, my lover, goodbye, goodbye. ♪ ♪ My dreamboat, goodbye. ♪
Camp has advanced accordingly with technology, and transportation abilities and that kind of thing. So we were able to do a few more things that we couldn’t do in terms of traveling out of camp.
In one hike they dropped us off on Rich Mountain and we were supposed to hike back to camp, but we bypassed camp and ended up way down the road. And they had to come find us.
We were camping at Horsepasture River, and some strangers came in an old pickup truck and got out of the truck, obviously drinking had a bottle with them. There were two counselors and the rest were kids. And I said, go in the tent and stay in the tent. So I confronted these people and they were kept moving toward me, and they got just a few feet and then suddenly turned white. I was watching their faces and turned and ran to the truck, got in and tore out of the woods. I turned around and behind me were all the kids and the counselors standing there in a line with an axe, a hatchet, three knives, a bunch of firewood. And you know and I said I’m here as your protector. And they said, you’re one of us.
Camp had this huge old probably World War II army type tent. We went back right up above Whitewater Falls. We pitched this big old army tent. We had food tins and so we built a little rock fortress. Well a big rain came along, trenches had overflowed. And just as I got up there the whole tent went pfff! I said, Paige, there’s no way we can drive out of here tonight. So I want you to go find a key to the Whitewater Baptist Church, because that is where we’re going to spend the night. So he went off and he came back with a key to the church. They were sleeping on the pews and all the floor at every which way. And we didn’t bother to tell the kids until the next day that there was a graveyard back there.
It was a July camp trip, camping trip with Middlers. And as soon as we got there, we heard from the ranger. By the way, there were two or three bears that were eating picnic stuff here. So be aware, there are bears here. And for dessert at night, they had watermelon. And so those little girls, every two minutes another one had to get up and go to the latrine. And I had to sit up all night watching for those bears. So I asked Jerky if I could have a veto right on all menus, after that.
We started climbing over here in ’72, ’73. And I had taught climbing in the army. So it was not done that much in camp. So we had to have a special meeting with the insurance people. I had to take them and the directors on a climb and it worked out okay.
One summer, first full day of camp and got every single Middler up to Castle Rock that day. We were up there and kids were sitting there just as nicely. And there was a little bush over here to the side. And one of the girls said, “Felis can I have this nice snakeskin?” I looked over there and I said, well, that nice snakeskin has a live copperhead inside. And so sit here and we’ll start on this end. And one by one, you just jumped back across and lineup and we’ll just leave. And the snake will be fine. So that’s what we did.
My parents bought Rockbrook from the Carriers, and I think it was 1962.
Very soon after that, Ellen Jervey retired. And so, it had different leadership for several years.
Bill and Jack Stevenson took over. And then Heath and Elizabeth Whittle took over. And then in 1975, my father asked me if I would be interested in doing it. And well, it was really a stunning surprise to me to even think about it. I had a three-year old and a 10-year-old and a seven, eight year old, but I decided to try.
One person who really helped to stabilize the camp and keep it going forward was Teed. Teed did an amazing job. First of all, she had three children. She ran the camp from her home in Atlanta. And then, you know, was here in the summer.
During my tenure, tennis was the rage. So we really worked on those courts. And those down at the bottom of camp. Horseback riding was always a big sport.
She would always have good staff and she was really good with the staff. They did what they were supposed to but they also had a good time. Played what they called pranks on each other.
You know they spider web pranked my little cabin going up the stairs. I came up one time and they had a baby pool sitting on my bed filled with water. They took my underwear and put it up on the flagpole. And of course the one they love to do was to raid the cold big refrigerator in the dining room. So the cooks would come down and the desserts were all gone.
That was good, healthy time at the camp. And that was, to me, the thing that stabilized it most, was that leadership.
I always look back on those days of my tenure as a very special time. And I got to play myself. I’ve had pies thrown at me, I’ve been dunked in water things. So I’ve had it all.
There would be the whisper around camp. That we’re gonna do a pajama parade tonight. It’s like one whole line will come out. And we would all get out of bed at a prearranged time. And we would run out of our cabins. And they’re like screaming pajama parade. And they run down the hill. We would sing at the top of our lungs out on the hill. When Teed would finally step out onto the balcony and be like, goodnight girls.
And Sunday mornings, I mean it wasn’t a parade. It was a mad stampede to breakfast in our pajamas because that’s when we had applesauce, bacon and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
We had a shaving cream fight, which was one of the highlights of the summer. And after the shaving cream fight, they’d all come up and go skinny dipping.
Jug Band is when all the counselors would just come in costume like dress, like hillbillies and they would have that black on their teeth. Yeah, and we would make up these crazy instruments out of like piece of bark or whatever. Pots and pans. And we would sing silly songs. You know the spoons. Yeah with spoons and pots and pans. It takes a special person to be part of a Jug Band. It does because you are totally humiliating yourself.
Just the fun of seeing them giggle and do ridiculous things, silly and dress up in costumes and then do something sweet when somebody is being left out. Seeing how they learn to care about the others. I tried very hard to be a good role model because I thought that was something that they’d don’t all normally receive.
I actually came over here in 1968. I was doing canoeing at Camp Carolina, and we lost the canoe instructor over here. So I came over here to do canoeing 1981, Mr. McConnell asked me if I’d be interested in buying Camp Carolina. So we worked out that I could buy Camp Carolina, and then in 1984, the opportunity to buy Rockbrook.
The thing with Jerry was that he always had this ability to seem like he could just appear somewhere. Like he seemed to be everywhere. He was like the eyes and ears of camp, you know, the times when you were like being sneaky and doing something and you’re out, you know, and suddenly I got my nickname was “Downtown Marie Brown” from Jerry. And I just remember being out in the dark at some point somewhere I shouldn’t have been. And he appeared out of nowhere, “Downtown!”
I feel very strongly that one of the good things about camp is it’s a great opportunity for children to be under the leadership of good role models and girls need to have women role models. So that’s what we had. And I did not attempt to in any way influence any of that.
He would take us on these incredible adventures into the woods. So like, that was where I feel like for me, he was really pivotal and really feeling this sense of empowerment in facing the unknown in general. But also in nature, we would go on these night hikes or on bushwhacking hikes, where we would be gone these hours, hours, and hours into the woods. Like we’re not sure if we’re gonna get where we’re going, but there was something or even if he wasn’t, he knew or if he didn’t either way, there was something about that magic of not knowing.
Sometime in the late 80s, we completely kept cars out of camp. But there were no cars in camp and built an access road behind the camp. I very much respected the way things were done and I also respected the leadership. So I was just kind of in the background as a support person.
Oh, has anybody talked about cabin squatting? Back in the day, campers did not sign up for activities. You were just given a list of the activities you could choose from on your line. If you were lazy like I was with some of my friends. we just decided, we just wanted to hang out in the cabin. Sometimes someone might like walk up and down and make sure that nobody is gonna come in. So you kinda had to hide out. Having fun at this place after lights out. One camper would say “this is cabin number, two calling number two.” And then number two says, “this is cabin number two, calling number three.” Then it’s like, it can go up and down. So like for an hour.
I do remember going on the Kilroy’s cabin hike. Yeah, I’m sure. I was the redhead. You were the redhead.
There was an old ravine right before you turn right at a spring and went up to Kilroy’s cabin. And down in that ravine was an old car and there was a glove on the steering wheel. Of course we’d always go down there to see it and bring the glove back to camp and put it on the step at night. And the next morning it would be gone. And the next time you went back down into that ravine, it would be hanging on the steering wheel. There was sort of a love story in Kilroy’s situation.
Kilroy was in love with a red-headed nurse. I think he was jealous of some other lover. And so he was trying to sabotage him coming up the mountain. And as he was going down into the rain, it was Cynthia! And then what it turns out when he looked down the car. The person in the car was, it was his lover, the redhead. The person he loved. But the thing that is so spooky is there is a ravine and there is a car.
We built one of the first ropes course systems. Remnants of it is still exist at the junior outpost. And then we built a fancier one down below that in the open field. And then in ’92, we built the Alpine tower. And the reason I remember all that, is that was when Jeff Carter first came here. It was one of the first jobs he helped build the ropes course.
I was teaching high school in Athens, Georgia. I took a trip up here with some students. One of the students was a camper at Camp Carolina. We stopped by and saw Jerry and he said, if you ever need a job in the summer, let me know. Thinking I would be over at Camp Carolina. And then when I talked to Jerry a little bit more, he said, actually, I’m gonna send you to Rockbrook.
I started here in 1985 as a CIT, just thought I would be here for one summer. And return for many, many summers in a row, as a counselor, head counselor and just ended up working full time. And I always think that that is why girls returned to camp is their relationships with people.
It was very different from my regular life in grad school, that you’re around people all the time and you’re outside all the time and you’re active all the time. So it’s really a nice change from what ordinary life is like.
We had our wedding here at Rockbrook at the hillside lodge, and it was a lovely, very special place to have our wedding. It was a weekend. Yeah. We had a whole weekend and we had the reception in the dining hall, square dancing later. We came back on as directors in 2006, we were doing the day-to-day work along with Jerry kinda learning the ropes. And we had a three-year-old and one on the way. So we were very busy.
We were both in our own careers and we had already kind of decided some things. We had moved to the area already to do the Castle Rock Institute. He was looking around for someone to start to take over, I think, just to help him run it. And at a higher level. He just kept bringing it up to us. He said, you know, you guys would be good at running this camp. Why don’t you give it a try?
What I learned from Rockbrook was how to appreciate nature and everything I had around me.
Rockbrook has taught me to be the best version of myself that I can be. I think just like letting, you know, that light inside of you shine.
What I’ve learned from Rockbrook is how to truly be myself.
For kids, especially young girls when they’re growing up, there’s a lot of expectations for them to be a certain way. Whether it’s to look a certain way or speak a certain way or act a certain way. When they finally realize that at camp it’s okay to be silly, that it’s okay to not necessarily have your hair brushed. And it’s okay to have mud on your shirt and people can still like you and care about you and appreciate who you are. That’s very freeing for them. And consequently, they feel really good. And that allows them to be more creative and to try things they might not otherwise try.
Mrs. Carrier’s vision about what girls need and about growing up that whole idea of culture. Learning about other people, other ways, but learning about yourself.
It’s like that image from Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself.” Where the poetic speaker is standing on a knoll. And he says my left arm around your waist, my right hand pointing to the public road. Not I, not anyone else, can travel that for you. You have to travel it for yourself. So I think you could look at Fannie Bell and Jerky and the Carriers as that poetic speaker pointing me. You know, the proverbial, Robert Frost, two roads diverge type of situation. But you have the confidence in whatever choice you make to continue. And when you get knocked down, you have the knowledge that you can arise and keep going. And I attribute all of that type of awareness to my Rockbrook experience.