Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Camp Ouachita Girl Scout Camp Historic District
Camp Ouachita Girl Scout Camp Historic District

CAMP OUACHITA GIRL SCOUT CAMP HISTORIC DISTRICT, LAKE SYLVIA, PERRY COUNTY

SUMMARY

Several overlapping national trends combined to set the scene for Girl Scout Camp Ouachita's construction in the late 1930s. Primary among these were the recreation movement, increased recreational use of National Forests, and the utilization of rustic architecture in park and forest settings-all embraced and popularized during the 1930s by New Deal programs. Camp Ouachita embodies these trends so completely and successfully that it has national significance under Criteria A and C as an outstanding organization camp, architect-designed and built in a National Forest by a New Deal program for a nonprofit youth organization that was a leader in the organized camping field.

ELABORATION

During the early years of the 20th century, a national movement touting the benefits of recreation-including summer or organized camping-encouraged youth organizations to provide camping facilities for their members. At the same time, recreational use of National Forests increased as automobiles made the Forests more accessible to the general public, and rustic architecture was established as the standard for construction projects in National Forests, as well as National, state, and municipal parks. Finally, the advent during the 1930s of the New Deal and its work programs made possible a vast array of projects, including construction of a number of rustic "organization camps" in both forests and parks.

Recreation, organized camping, and the Girl Scouts
During the 19th century, outdoor recreation grew in importance as the United States became increasingly urbanized and industrialized and Americans found themselves with greater amounts of leisure time. By the latter years of the century, prosperous city residents were flocking to the seaside and to rustic mountain resorts, and, in the Northeast, the first summer camps for young people began operation. Camp Chocorua in New Hampshire, founded in 1881, is recognized as one of the country's earliest organized summer camps. The YMCA's first organized summer camp opened in 1885.

Organized camping flourished in the first decades of the 20th century. Over 100 for-profit camps were established between 1900 and 1910, in addition to numerous camps operated by youth organizations like the YMCA and Boy Scouts. New organizations- especially Camp Fire Girls, founded in 1910, and Girl Scouts, founded in 1912- followed suit, and by the early 1930s, approximately one million children annually participated in more then 7,000 organized camps in the United States.

Camping flourished because its benefits were considered so numerous and important. Outdoor recreation advocates claimed that recreation was "a basic human need" and "a necessity of civilized life." Specifically with regard to camping, benefits such as "enrichment of the inner life," "understanding of basic natural phenomena," and "developing social skills" were emphasized. The Girl Scouts put it this way: "The basic objectives of Girl Scout camping are identical with those of the [camping] movement, the development of the girl along physical, emotional, mental, moral, and social lines, to the end that there may result not only a personally enriched individual, but also an intelligently participating citizen in a democratic social order."
Among youth organizations in the early 20th century, the YMCA was the leader in organized camping, operating over 1,200 camps by 1936. However, despite a much later start, the Girl Scouts rapidly were catching up. The first Girl Scout camp was established in New York state in
1922 (thirty-seven years after the YMCA's first camp). Just six years later, there were 390 Girl Scout camps; in 1931 there were 482 ; and in 1935 the number had grown to 984. (By comparison, in 1935 the Boy Scouts had 600 camps, and the Camp Fire Girls had 113.)

In addition to being numerous, or perhaps because they were numerous, Girl Scout camps helped develop and popularize standards for organized camping. The National Camp Advisory Service of the Girl Scouts drew up a set of minimum physical standards which, although aimed at Girl Scout camps, were considered applicable to other camps as well. These standards covered issues such as camp size, soil conditions, water supply, and sanitation. The Girl Scouts' commitment "to an outdoor program featuring tramping and trailing, outdoor cookery, overnight hikes, nature lore, folklore and legend, folk dancing, simple dramatics, photography, and handicraft" played a role in moving organized camping away from an earlier emphasis on athletics. Also, the Girl Scouts adopted the "unit plan" of camp layout, helping to end the practice of patterning organized summer camps after military installations with straight lines of tents or cabins arranged in a quadrangle.

A 1937 Girl Scout information sheet explained: "Girl Scout camps have found the unit plan, wherein a large camp group is sub-divided for the purposes of activities and living, to be the most effective medium in developing the individual girl." Others who made a study of organized camping came to similar conclusions. In the 1920s, L. H. Weir, field secretary of the Playground and Recreation Association of America, called camp layout "city planning in miniature," indicating that the physical arrangement of camps affected the physical and emotional health of campers. In a 1932 article for Landscape Architecture, Dr. R. Alice Drought contrasted the unit plan with straight rows of tents or cabins, calling the latter "stultifying rather than imaginative." At a 1936 national conference on organized camping (held at the Girl Scouts' training facility in New York), a National Park Service "Recreational Specialist in Camping," Julian Harris Salomon, described the unit plan as the ideal arrangement for the organization camps being constructed under Park Service supervision in Recreational Demonstration Areas. The unit plan of camp layout also was presented as the National Park Service standard in Part III of Albert Good's 1938 Park and Recreation Structures, a widely-distributed handbook of rustic architecture for parks.

Recreational use of National Forests
At the same time that organized camping was growing and defining its standards, the recreational use of National Forests was rapidly increasing, due in large part to the mobility provided by automobiles. Since the first Federal forest reserves-renamed National Forests in 1907-were created in the 1890s, Americans had hiked, picnicked, and camped in "their" Forests. However, the use of Forests for recreational purposes initially was limited by the Forests' remote locations. In addition, recreation was not among the original purposes of the Forests, which were created for timber production, grazing, and watershed protection-the conservation of natural resources through professional management. Automobile transportation, however, allowed more and more Americans to escape to the Forests for wilderness getaways, forcing the Forest Service to add recreation to the list of major purposes of National Forests.

Recreational uses of forest reserves actually were acknowledged in forest regulations as early as 1902, when "it was stated that permits could be secured for the building and maintenance of sanitariums and hotels at mineral and other springs, and that land could be leased there for a fee for certain periods of time." Provision for private recreational facilities in National Forests was strengthened in 1915, when Congress passed the Term Occupancy Act, enabling the Forest Service to "allow private use and development of public forest lands for terms of up to 30 years by persons or organizations wishing to erect summer camps, hotels, or other resorts."

Private development in National Forests, or development by entities other than the Forest Service, brought interesting results. During the 1910s in the Angeles National Forest, for instance, the City of Los Angeles built three municipal summer camps that were available only to residents of the city. Thousands of private summer homes were built in Forests, along with hundreds of camping and resort facilities of various types.

A 1918 study of recreational uses in National Forests determined that the Forests had attracted some three million "recreational visitors" in 1917, a number that was only expected to increase. The study, therefore, urged the Forest Service to recognize recreation "as a permanent and universal factor in Forest administration" and to begin assuming responsibility for constructing and maintaining necessary recreational facilities (as opposed to just allowing such facilities to be developed privately). Doing so, the study said, would require the Forest Service to "employ men suitably trained and experienced in recreation, landscape engineering, and related subjects."

In 1919 the Forest Service did hire a young man named Arthur Carhart as its first "landscape engineer" (i.e., landscape architect), but his tenure was short-lived. He resigned in 1922, largely out of frustration with the lack of funding for recreational development. It was 1935 before the Forest Service again employed a trained landscape architect, but recreational use of National Forests remained an important issue, if only because of the National Park Service's creation in 1916. The public's "enjoyment" of National Parks- or, in other words, the public's use of the Parks for recreation-was a primary mission of the National Park Service from the outset. In order to keep National Forests from being turned into National Parks (something that did happen in several instances), the Forest Service had to ensure the public's "enjoyment" of the Forests. Recreational use of Forests expanded, though the Forest Service continued to lag behind in providing public recreational facilities.

Rustic architecture
With recreational development on public lands, whether Forests or Parks, came the need for buildings that would meet the requirements of visitors without detracting from the scenic qualities that drew those visitors to National Forests and Parks in the first place. A form of architecture that came to be called "rustic" was the response to this need, until modernism took over after World War II.

Rustic architecture is well- documented. During the 1930s the National Park Service published volumes of examples of appropriate park buildings: Park Structures and Facilities in 1935 and the three-part Park and Recreation Structures in 1938. In more recent years, National Park Service staff members have produced several studies of rustic architecture. Much less has been written about rustic architecture in National Forests, but the Forests played by virtually the same rules as the Parks. In July of 1933, Landscape Architecture published "regulations governing architectural structures in the Forests," which included such dicta as:

"The building should be adapted to its site; it should 'fit the ground.'"
"Building materials should be suitable to the forest and, as far as practicable, native to the
locality."
"Foundations should be low and inconspicuous."
"Decoration should be extremely simple; in most cases it should be altogether lacking."
"In general, simplicity is the keynote of good design."

The CCC and the WPA
The primary reason that the National Park Service and, to a lesser extent, the Forest Service felt the need in the 1930s to set out guidelines for appropriate buildings in Parks and Forests was the arrival of the New Deal. New Deal programs-especially the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration-made possible the construction of a vast array of facilities on public lands. The CCC and WPA went to work in National Forests and National Parks, building every conceivable type of facility, from roads and dams to latrines to cabins and lodges. Guidance from the National Park Service and the Forest Service was needed to ensure that all of this construction fit properly into its wilderness settings.

In her book The Public Landscape of the New Deal, Phobe Cutler says about the CCC and WPA:

. . . the country marshalled two great armies [to combat the effects of the Depression]. The first of the two-the Civilian Conservation Corps-was truly a peacetime army. Its recruits, single men ranging from 17 to 28, dressed in Army garb, lived in barracks, ate in mess halls, rose at six, and closed the day with a "retreat flag ceremony." This routine lasted throughout the nine- year life of the CCC, from 1933 to 1942. . . .
The second army was much vaster and greater in its effect. A sprawling, brawling operation that from 1935 to 1943 employed some eight million people, the Works Progress Administration engaged in projects as diverse as sewing, drama, play supervision and road construction. With large budgets, little overview, and great ambitions, it was a flawed but gallant combatant. Unlike the Public Works Administration, with which it is often confused, the WPA not only financed eventually up to 80 percent of the cost of its projects, but hired, fired, secured materials, and supervised.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was President Franklin Roosevelt's brainchild, and it became reality less than a month after he took office in March 1933. By July 1 of that year, the agency was fully operational: 274,375 young men were "enrolled and in camp." In 1935, enrollment peaked at 500,000 men in over 2,600 camps. The CCC was a joint operation of the Department of Labor, the War Department, and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. Men were selected for enrollment by the Department of Labor; they were enrolled, fed, clothed, housed, and transported by the Army (which also was in charge of the men during non- work hours); and, as the so- called "technical agencies," the Departments of Agriculture and Interior selected work projects and supervised the work, much of which initially had to do with conservation of natural resources. Many CCC camps were located in National Forests; others were in National Parks and on other types of federal lands, in state forests and parks, and in privately- owned forests.

The Works Progress Administration arrived on the scene about two years after the CCC. It was created by executive order in May 1935, under authority provided the President by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. The WPA originally had two major purposes: (1) to operate a nationwide program of "small useful projects" that would employ needy, employable workers, and (2) to coordinate the activities of the "Works Program," which was to be comprised of over forty Federal agencies, all operating projects to put the unemployed to work. In practice, however, most agencies were unable to provide emergency employment, so the WPA itself provided the necessary work projects -resulting in the "sprawling, brawling operation" described by Phoebe Cutler.

Because of the youth and inexperience of CCC enrollees, their work initially was confined to projects that did not require much skill, such as planting trees and creating trails. It soon became obvious, though, that with proper supervision, CCC workers could do much more. Among the most significant of the CCC's many accomplishments was construction of recreational facilities, especially in state parks and Recreational Demonstration Areas (see below), but also in National Parks, municipal parks, National Forests, and on other types of publicly-owned lands.

Recreational facilities also were among the myriad projects of the WPA, but the WPA's contributions to recreation typically were more urban in character. After just two and a half years of existence, the WPA had built or expanded literally thousands of auditoriums and stadiums, athletic fields, swimming pools, bathhouses, playgrounds, golf courses, amphitheaters, and bandshells. As an example, the facility now known as Quigley Stadium, Little Rock Central High School's football stadium, was a WPA recreation project.

Organization camps
Organized camping received a boost during the Depression thanks to a type of recreational development that was unique to the New Deal: Recreational Demonstration Areas or RDAs. RDAs usually-but not always-were built by CCC workers. Beginning in 1934 with $25 million made available through the Federal Surplus Relief Administration (later transferred to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration or FERA), lands deemed no longer suitable for agricultural use were purchased by the Federal government for park and recreational development. For most of its history, the RDA program was controlled by the National Park Service, which was responsible for planning RDA projects. Although there were variations, the typical RDA was "the large park of 5,000 to 20,000 acres devoted specifically-but not exclusively-to the accommodation of group camp organizations." Most RDAs eventually became state parks.

The organization camps that were part of RDAs were built "to provide organized facilities to a large number of people at the lowest possible cost." Through the camps, "many boys, girls and adults, particularly those in the low income groups" would "have a much needed opportunity to use public lands for recreational purposes- an opportunity which otherwise might not be available to them." The camps were laid out using the unit plan that had gained acceptance among recreation advocates and youth organizations (and had been adopted by the National Park Service), and a number of such camps were built in RDAs. Of the forty-six projects known as RDAs, thirty-four of them had organization camps. Two RDAs containing organization camps- Mendocino Woodlands in California and St. Croix in Minnesota-now are National Historic Landmarks.

National Forests also had what were called organization camps, but the Forest Service evidently applied this term much more broadly. Forest Outings, a 1940 book on the recreational use of National Forests, lumped together camps established by municipalities, social nonprofit organizations, restricted membership clubs, sporting clubs, and for-profit businesses, calling all of them organization camps. Moreover, the organization camps described in Forest Outings were privately built and operated, in keeping with the Forest Service's decades-old practice of allowing private recreational development in National Forests. Federally-built and operated organization camps, akin to those in RDAs, were just beginning to appear in National Forests when Forest Outings was written. Eventually, fifty-four such camps were built for the Forest Service by the CCC and the WPA.

Of the privately-built organization camps described in Forest Outings, the majority were constructed by nonprofit organizations. "Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, 4-H Clubs, and the Salvation Army all have camps" in National Forests, according to the book. Consequently, when the Little Rock Girl Scout Council selected a site for a new camp in the Ouachita National Forest in 1936, it was following the lead of many other nonprofits.

Camp Ouachita
While it was not alone in being a camp for a nonprofit organization in a National Forest, Camp Ouachita was outstanding in several respects. First of all, it was a Girl Scout camp, and the Girl Scouts were experts when it came to organized camping. The Girl Scouts did not merely follow standards; they set standards. Given adequate resources, a Girl Scout camp could be expected to be a top-notch facility. Camp Ouachita was, thanks to the resources made available by the New Deal.

Although Camp Ouachita was located in a National Forest, it measured up to the highest National Park Service standards for recreational development- and it was the Park Service, rather than the Forest Service, that actively promulgated guidelines for organization camps and rustic architecture during the 1930s.

Camp Ouachita embodied all of the characteristics that were championed by the National Park Service for organization camps. Julian Harris Salomon, the NPS Recreational Specialist in Camping, would have approved of Camp Ouachita's unit plan layout, which consisted of an administrative and basic services area- the "Great Hall," caretaker's residence, director's cabin and shower house, well house, ice house, and infirmary-and four units for campers, each with six cabins, a troop (or unit) house, and a shower house. Camp Ouachita's layout conforms very closely to the ideal described by Salomon in his May 1936 presentation to a national conference on organized camping, as well as to the 96-person camp scenario described and illustrated in Part III of Albert Good's Park and Recreation Structures.

Since construction of Camp Ouachita began late in 1936, Good's book- published in 1938-would not have influenced the camp's design. However, Salomon's conference presentation could have been taken to heart by Camp Ouachita's planners, particularly since the conference where Salomon spoke was held at Camp Edith Macy, the Girl Scouts' training center in Briarcliff Manor, New York. According to a circa 1939 information sheet on Camp Ouachita, however, "plans for the general outlay of camp and plans for the buildings were secured from the National Girl Scout office and adapted to the local conditions." If so, the Girl Scouts were at least abreast of, if not ahead of, the National Park Service in knowing the "right" way to design an organization camp.

In addition to having the ideal organization camp layout, Camp Ouachita is comprised of very high- quality rustic buildings. The design of the buildings was the work of a prominent Little Rock architectural firm, Thompson, Sanders and Ginocchio. (More than one hundred buildings designed by Charles L. Thompson and his various associates were listed in the National Register in 1982 as the Charles L. Thompson Thematic Group.) Just as the camp's layout embodies the standards advanced by organized camping experts, the camp's buildings embody the guidelines established for rustic architecture in park and forest settings. All of the original Camp Ouachita buildings, a total of thirty-seven structures, were constructed of fieldstone gathered near the construction site and of native cypress. As designed, the buildings featured battered fieldstone walls; broadly-pitched, gabled roofs covered with hand-split cypress shingles; and exposed hewn-log framework.

The Great Hall-also known as Ogden Hall, in honor of Sue Worthen Ogden, the Little Rock Girl Scout official who spearheaded Camp Ouachita's creation-is the architectural centerpiece of the camp, and it would be at home in many state, or even national, parks. Designed to function as the hub of camp life, the Great Hall was built to accommodate the full camp population (about 100) for meals and to serve as a recreation room. The Great Hall's main room is a generous thirty-eight feet by seventy feet in size, with massive stone fireplaces at each end. A wing contains the kitchen and serving area, office, and storage spaces; and a screened porch runs the length of one side of the building. The Great Hall stands today largely unchanged and in good condition.

The rest of Camp Ouachita's original buildings are much smaller than the Great Hall but just as well-designed and crafted. As described in the National Register nomination for the Camp Ouachita Girl Scout Camp Historic District, they are little-altered but in varying states of repair. (And, contrary to what the nomination says, all of the original buildings were architect-designed, with Frank Ginocchio of Thompson, Sanders, and Ginocchio serving as project architect.)
The excellent craftsmanship that went into creating Camp Ouachita's rustic buildings was provided by the Works Progress Administration. Camp Ouachita first was approved as a WPA project in August of 1936, the architectural drawings were completed in September, and work officially began on October 22, 1936. Eventually, two more WPA "Work Projects" for Camp Ouachita were approved, and a total of more than $64,000 in WPA funding went into the camp by the time it was completed in 1940. Together with the Little Rock Girl Scout Council's contribution, nearly $75,000 was spent on Camp Ouachita, a budget that allowed for high-quality construction using readily available native materials.

As was the case with many projects undertaken during the Depression by New Deal programs, Camp Ouachita could not have been built without the WPA's assistance, along with the cooperation of the Forest Service and the CCC. The WPA "Project Proposal" for Camp Ouachita flatly states: "Could not be constructed without Federal aid." And, while it was not unusual during the New Deal era for two or more Federal agencies to cooperate on a project, the degree to which the Forest Service, CCC, and WPA worked together to create Camp Ouachita is an excellent example of such cooperation. Furthermore, in this instance, the cooperation resulted in an outstanding recreational facility.

The Forest Service approved the site for the camp, comprising thirty acres along a creek; issued the necessary "Term" and "Special Use" permits to the Girl Scouts; reviewed and approved plans for the camp; and made arrangements for CCC workers to dam the creek to create a recreational lake. Even though use of the lake would be shared by the Girl Scouts and the general public, the lake was crucial to Camp Ouachita, which might not have been built without it. In 1936, CCC workers cleared the lake bed and built a concrete arch dam thirty- five feet in height and designed to impound a lake covering twenty-two acres. (In 1941, CCC workers also built a rock retaining wall and rock steps at Camp Ouachita as erosion control measures.) The WPA, of course, provided all of the necessary labor-unskilled, "intermediate," skilled, and superintendence -for constructing Camp Ouachita's buildings, along with some materials and equipment. (Materials, however, primarily were the sponsor's responsibility.)

The WPA's involvement in Camp Ouachita was not absolutely unique (there is a Boy Scout camp in a National Forest in Utah that was built partially by the WPA ), but it was unusual in at least two ways. First, the WPA more typically undertook the construction of urban recreational facilities, while park and forest projects were the CCC's bailiwick. Second, federal law required that government entities sponsor WPA projects, so nonprofit organizations like the Little Rock Girl Scout Council technically did not qualify. In all likelihood, this requirement prevented the WPA from undertaking many projects directly for nonprofits. However, Sue Ogden resourcefully recruited Perry County (the county in which Camp Ouachita is located) to serve, in name only, as the project sponsor.

Placed within the framework of several overlapping national trends that arose during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Camp Ouachita has national significance under Criteria A and C because it is an outstanding organization camp of the 1930s, reflecting in overall layout and in the design of its buildings the highest organized camping standards, and because it represents a significant instance of cooperation among Federal programs during the New Deal era to advance the cause of recreation.

SIGNIFICANCE

Rationale

The Camp Ouachita Girl Scout Camp Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 3, 1992, as part of the multiple property listing Facilities Constructed by the CCC in Arkansas, 1933-42. At the time, it was believed that Camp Ouachita, which is located in the Ouachita National Forest in Perry County, Arkansas, had been constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) between 1936 and 1938 and that only one of its buildings, the Great Hall, was architect-designed. The Camp Ouachita Historic District was listed in the National Register under Criteria A and C, with local significance in three areas-Architecture, Entertainment/Recreation, and Social History-and a 1937-1940 period of significance.

Subsequent research revealed that all of Camp Ouachita's original buildings were designed by Thompson, Sanders, and Ginocchio, a Little Rock architectural firm, and that the camp was constructed between 1936 and 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), with Perry County serving as the official project sponsor (to comply with federal law) while the Little Rock Girl Scout Council carried out all of the sponsor's duties. Working for the U. S. Forest Service, the CCC built the dam that created Lake Sylvia, a recreational lake adjacent to Camp Ouachita intended for use by both the Girl Scouts and the general public. Additional research also revealed that Camp Ouachita is an outstanding example of an organization camp, in both its layout and architect- designed "rustic" buildings, and that its construction by the WPA in a National Forest for a nonprofit youth organization is a significant instance of federal programs cooperating with a nonprofit to advance the cause of recreation-specifically in this case, organized camping-during the Depression.

As a result of the new information about Camp Ouachita that has come to light, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program seeks to increase the Camp Ouachita Girl Scout Camp Historic District's level of significance from local to national; to add one area of significance, Politics/Government; and to change the period of significance to 1936- 1940.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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