The Green River summer camps
By Missy Schenck
Summer fun at Green River Preserve Summer Camp. Images by Jane Izard.
The 2021 summer is upon us, and unlike the many negative impacts of the 2020 pandemic summer, choices are available again for family vacations and summer camps. Now more than ever, children have a deeper need for the benefits of camp. We live in an increasingly isolated world, and the evidence of suffering in children from a lack of time with family and friends is significant. Camps give children time away from technology and opportunities to participate in healthy experiences for growth, relationships and critical development in their lives. The good news is that summer camps have spent this past year creating well-suited programs within CDC restrictions and necessary safety precautions to support children and help them grow.
The history of summer camps in Western North Carolina runs deep and wide. Unbeknownst to many, it is the largest concentration of summer camps in the United States with around 70 camps spanning four counties. The Green River Community in Henderson County is the seat of some of the oldest and newest camps in the area with a history of 11 summer camps — some with a family legacy spanning as many as five generations: Camps Greystone, Falling Creek, Mondamin, Green Cove, Arrowhead, Glen Arden, Flintlock, Green River Preserve, Talisman’s, Sky Valley and Windy Wood.
Camps Arrowhead (1919/1937) and Glen Arden (1951)
Joseph Oscar Bell, Sr., the founding father of the mill village of Tuxedo, N.C., is also considered one of the innovators of the Western North Carolina camp community. Born in Due West, South Carolina, J. O. Bell came to the Green River Community from Edenton, N.C., with his wife, Lillias Durham Bell. in 1907 to build a textile plant alongside the Green River in Tuxedo.
A few miles down into the Green River Valley, Mr. Bell constructed a company pavilion in 1919 for employee recreation and camping. It was located near a waterfall on land one of his sons, J. O., Jr., and his wife, Mary, later developed into Camp Arrowhead, a traditional boys’ camp founded in 1937, with Glen Arden, a sister camp to Arrowhead, being founded in 1951. This recreation building and a group of log cabins remain and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The Bell family sold the two camps in 1996: Glen Arden to long time Glen Arden camper and counselor Casey Thurman, and Arrowhead to Steve Reynolds. Erin and Garrett Graham purchased Glen Arden in 2016, and Allie and Max King along with Tommy Carroll bought Arrowhead in 2019.
Camps Mondamin (1922) and Green Cove (1945)
Frank Durham Bell, the second son of Joseph O. Bell, Sr., built Camp Mondamin for Boys on the shores of Lake Summit in Tuxedo, N.C. Frank, known to all as “Chief,” became a legendary pioneer in the camping industry. Mondamin opened its doors in June of 1922 with 31 campers and a simple dining hall. The fee for an eight-week session was $150. For 100 years the Bell family has operated summer camps with a philosophy that “young people need roots as well as wings, and neither is much good without the other.”
Camp Green Cove, Mondamin’s sister camp, started in 1945 at Camp Rockbrook in Brevard under the direction of Pat Bell, Chief’s daughter. In 1949, Green Cove moved to its present location on Lake Summit and in 1952, Chief’s wife, Calla Bell, became the director. Their children, Frank Durham Bell, Jr. and Nancy Bell, took over the leadership of the camps in the 70s and operated them for decades. Now Chief and Calla’s grandchildren, Andrew Bell and Calla Bell Williamson, are the respective directors of Mondamin and Green Cove.
In 1958, Chief’s daughter Jane and her husband, Sumner Williams, founded Camp High Rocks for boys on family land in Cedar Mountain just over the Transylvania County line. Jane’s daughter, Townsend, and her husband, Hank Birdsong, now own High Rocks.
Camp Greystone (1920)
Founded in 1920 by Dr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Sevier, Camp Greystone, a Christian summer camp for girls, is based on a philosophy that “girls are worth more than what the world tells them.” Located on the shores of Lake Summit in Tuxedo, N.C., Greystone is the oldest summer camp in Green River Township, celebrating 100 years in 2020. Dr. Sevier, the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, developed a passion for the potential of youth and dreamed of one day creating a very special girls’ camp. It continues to operate today under the leadership of the fourth generation of his family.
Greystone’s website states that, “In 1945, Dr. Sevier passed away, and his daughter, Virginia, became director and continued the quality Christian camp tradition with the loving support of her husband, Joe Hanna (a South Carolina businessman). She carefully guided Greystone through the 50s and 60s, and in 1968 Virginia passed the Greystone mantle on to her own daughter, Libby Hanna Miller. Libby and her husband, Jim (who later became known as JimDaddy), brought Greystone into the 21st century with extensive facility renovations and program modifications. Today, Greystone is run by Jim “Jimboy” Miller, fourth generation of Dr. Sevier’s family, and his wife, Margaret.”
Falling Creek Camp (1969)
Falling Creek Camp, a traditional summer camp for boys founded on Christian values, and the brother camp of Camp Greystone, was established in 1969 by Jim Miller. Jim purchased the land in 1968 and opened for the first season the following summer with 110 boys for one seven-week session. After three years of building a firm foundation, Jim had growing obligations at Camp Greystone and sold Falling Creek to Yorke Pharr.
Falling Creek was purchased in 1989 by Chuck and Jean McCrady. They codirected the camp with Donnie Bain for 16 years. In 2005, Yates Pharr (no relation to Yorke), a 12-year FCC camper and counselor, and his wife, Marisa, purchased the camp. Yates considered it a dream come true to return to Falling Creek with Marisa and their daughters.
The Elks Camp for Boys — Talisman (1945)
The Elks Camp for Boys opened in 1945 on the North Carolina-South Carolina state line in Tuxedo, N.C. The Elks Club provided a summer camp experience for boys throughout the Southeast to attend through scholarship programs. In 1980 the camp was purchased by the Talisman Programs and offers summer camps for young people who have learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.
Camp Windy Wood (1957-1986)
Camp Windy Wood was founded in 1957 by Joanne and Bill Waggoner as a traditional boys’ and girls’ camp operating half of the summer for boys and the other half for girls. Located on Lake Summit in Tuxedo, N.C., the camp closed in 1986. The property consisting of about 60 acres continues to be owned by the Waggoner family and is currently for sale.
Sky Valley Pioneer Camp for Boys (1948-1974)
Sky Valley Pioneer Camp was founded in 1948 by James Young Perry, Jr., an Episcopal minister, and his wife, Llewellyn LaBruce Perry of Charleston, S.C. “Enter a boy, leave a man” was the camp motto. Under his leadership, Perry developed an eight-week program for 40 campers that combined “rough and ready” pioneer living with the values that go into the making of Christian manhood. Campers slept in United States Army surplus tents built up on platforms, and bathed in the ice cold lake. The main activities included hiking and making improvements to camp buildings. An annual hiking cup was awarded at the end of camp to the camper who had accumulated the most miles. This usually totaled around 300 miles in eight weeks. In 1965 Jim Perry died, and leadership of the camp passed on to his son, James “Bo” Perry III, who ran the camp until 1974. Later the camp was leased to the Eckerd Foundation, which provided support for children with troubled backgrounds; it is now leased by Trails Momentum.
Flintlock Camps (1965-1987)
Bill Ross was a Western North Carolina camp legend who helped start and run three summer camps in the Green River Valley: Sky Valley Pioneer Camp, Flintlock Camps and Green River Preserve. While in the military he would spend his leave working at Kanuga, where he met his wife, Bootie Pinckney, of Charleston. In 1953, he graduated from the University of Virginia and began a career in education at Porter Military Academy and the Gaud School in Charleston, S.C. Later he served as head of the middle school at Porter-Gaud School. In 1966, Bill and his family moved to Spartanburg, S.C., where he served as head of the middle and lower schools at Spartanburg Day School until his retirement in 1991. During their early summers, Bill and Bootie worked at Sky Valley Pioneer Camp and were instrumental in the building of it.
In 1965, Bill and Bootie opened Flintlock Camps for Boys and Girls located in the Green River Valley on land owned by the Rice family of Charleston, S.C. Many of the traditions of Sky Valley Pioneer Camp were carried over to Flintlock, including the main activities of hiking and building camp facilities. The camp is adjacent to land owned by Laurie and Alex Schenck; the Schenck family gave Ross permission to use their 3400 acres of land for camper hiking.
When the Schencks’ son, Sandy, was 15 years old, he spent a summer at Flintlock as a camp aid. Bill Ross told Sandy he wasn’t worth the $10 a week he was paying him because he ate so much! While hiking all over his family’s land that summer, Sandy began to imagine a summer camp there. It was a dream he held onto for many years.
Around 1987, the Rice family decided to cancel the lease on the Flintlock site, and Bill and Bootie were forced to close the camp. Little did Bill know that his once-upon-a-time Flintlock camp aid, Sandy, was contemplating leaving his job to start a summer camp on his family land and that Flintlock would live on in this new camp.
Green River Preserve Summer Camp (1988)
My husband, Sandy Schenck, and I both fell in love with summer camps when we were teenagers and dreamed of one day owning our own camp. In 1987, Sandy left a career in the business world to fulfill his lifelong ambition of sharing the magic of the Green River Valley with children through an innovative natural science summer camp. As the newest summer camp in the valley, it would need to be a camp unlike any other. In 1953, Sandy’s parents, Laurie and Alex Schenck, purchased 3,400 acres, now called the Green River Preserve, as a place to spend weekends and summers fishing, hiking and exploring. It was the perfect setting for his camp vision and a place, as our mission states, “to inspire environmental stewards through a joyful connection to nature.”
Sky Valley Pioneer Camp and Flintlock Camps were adjacent to the Schenck family land and had both closed. Sandy immediately engaged their former directors, Bill Ross and Bo Perry, to help with the building of the initial camp facilities and programs. Their wisdom and knowledge were worth their weight in gold. Hiking, the main activity of these previous camps, was melded into the creation of Green River Preserve’s schedule and continues to be the hallmark of our camp program today.
When Sandy and I married, Green River Preserve was nine years old. Timing was perfect for growing our programs that now include environmental education options for schools and high school expedition and backpacking trips. Several years ago, we passed the torch to the next generation, and daughter Anne Izard Mead and her husband, Stephen, now serve as the camp directors. In 2017, daughter Catherine Schenck, joined the team as director of SEE, the school of environmental education.
For generations, summer camps have been a tradition in the lives of thousands of children. There are many, many good reasons to go to camp — mostly, it is one of the best investments in youth development parents can make today. Packing a camp trunk is an annual spring ritual in our house and a sure sign that it is almost summer. Lists are made, old camp T-shirts and uniforms washed and various knickknacks collected. This will be my 60th summer to pack my camp trunk and one I eagerly look forward to after a camperless 2020. Everyone in my family finds that going away to camp continues to be the best summer adventure there is. It is a tradition that will happily carry on for generations to come.
Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina, with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp.