|Manor House -- "Girl Scout Plantation" (aka Camp Low Country) -- near Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1972 -- photo taken, developed and printed at camp by 11 year-old Cathy Johnson (aka -- today -- Cathy Miller)|
Friday evening, I said my heartfelt goodbyes to the summer camp of my childhood -- a home-away-from-home for one or two very short weeks each summer. I have known for the last three years that "Camp Low Country" -- we always called it the "Girl Scout Plantation" -- was being sold by the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina . I was stunned back then when the news first broke of the decision to sell. With the downturn in the economy, a dropping enrollment and the need to maintain its financial reserves, our local council could no longer afford to maintain the property as needed and continue to fulfill their core mission of "building girls of courage, confidence and character who will make the world a better place." And it is thus, with great difficulty and heavy hearts that they decided to part with this magnificent property along with 3 others. Yet, after 3 years of marketing, the plantation did not sell for the asking price. Hence this past week, I read in this Post and Courier article the Girl Scout Council's announcement to sell the property at absolute auction on July 26, 2013. In just a few days, the Girl Scout Plantation will exist nowhere else but in our memories. Again, a pervasive sadness reasserted its place in my heart. I felt a significant sense of loss, not just for myself, but also for the Girl Scouts who would never experience this camp. After all, an absolute auction is indeed the final deal. I also read, thankfully, that the camp would be open one more time to former campers and volunteers on July 12! The event, dubbed "Linger at Camp Low Country," was my last opportunity to see the place that played such a significant role in my childhood, in my appreciation of nature, and in my growing up. By visiting the Girl Scout Plantation one more time I would reconnect to those memories of my scouting experiences there and their significance in who I became -- a tree-hugging, conservationist, nature lover -- check; a decent photographer -- check; a confident, independent thinker -- check; and yet another, a compassionate person appreciative of individual differences and culture -- check! Yes, this place helped to shape me!
|Cathy Johnson -- after 1st Class Girl Scout ceremony -- Charleston, SC -- April 1975 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
Memories of the Girl Scout Plantation
I could go on and on again about all those life lessons gained at this camp. Some might say that those are the character-forming experiences that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts deliver through all of their camps and activities. I will agree with them that such is probably true. But for me and many hundreds of other Lowcountry women and girls, these life-molding seasons happened HERE, at this place -- the Girl Scout Plantation, where we were nurtured by our troop leaders during weekend camp-outs, by our counselors during summer camp, as well as by each other, and last but not least, by the beautiful, natural and romantic setting of THIS site. Granted, most of the site's buildings are not all that old. The only truly old structure, dating back to the 18th century when the Richmond Plantation was originally established by rice grower John Harleston, is the walled graveyard where he and other family members are buried. The original plantation house had burned in the late 19th century. In its place, an old English Tudor revival style manor house and surrounding guest houses were built circa 1927 by then owner New York financier George Ellis. This beautiful old European-style architecture was unlike anything we young girls had seen before! Certainly, these historic-appearing buildings were enough to inspire the romantic notions of young campers frightening ourselves silly with ghost stories in our night-time visits to the Manor House. The spooky night sounds -- the wind in the trees, the owls calling, the night critters rustling by -- as well as those hunting trophies "watching us" from the walls, they all only enhanced our fright of the imagined ghosts. Finally, the natural beauty of this Lowcountry forest and river landscape evoked a sense of serenity and of belonging to the land in one's very soul. Myself, I was already a "Pluff Mud" child of nature, living on the coast on a saltwater marsh estuary. Yet, I must say that my life in THIS place deepened in a unique way my connection to and appreciation of the nature of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
The memories of what I learned here have flooded back to me in the last few days. In addition to the life lessons previously mentioned, at THIS place, I also learned some very valuable skills. First of all, I learned to swim, at a rather late age -- 11 years old. This was a bit embarrassing for me as a child who lived on a saltwater creek with brothers who swam like fish. I had received instruction over several years from my parents and from instructors at the YMCA in all the strokes and kicks, but I could not swim for fear of sinking. It was an instructor at the Girl Scout Plantation that taught me a very basic lesson about floating on my belly. Psychologically, I was changed from that point forward and I could now SWIM! I then took 2nd place in a race for beginners at the end of the camp!
I also learned to ride a horse on a Shetland pony named Nancy. In my beginner's group, no one wanted old Nancy because no one wanted a pony. Frankly, she could be a bit cantankerous. I imagined she was tired of having to submit to inexperienced riders who really did not know what they were doing. I made it my mission to develop a relationship with her and to attempt to learn from her as well as from my riding instructor. At the end-of-camp competition, my class was the last to compete. Night was falling and the horses were weary. With other riders, Nancy's ears were laid back and she was behaving more and more stubbornly. She did indeed look tired of it all. Finally, my group was called to mount. I spoke gently to my horse to reassure her that she would soon be done with her day. I was careful with all of my movements. She had taught me how she liked to be reined and prodded. Her ears went forward; she picked up her step; she was comfortable with me and it showed. We took 1st Place! It was my very First Place prize in anything!
Other lessons included identifying poisonous plants and insects and poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. I also learned how to make a camp fire, cook over it and how to put one out, etc. Additionally, I received my very first lessons in basic photography with a 35 millimeter film camera. There were no automatic features on those cameras back in those days. The intro photo to this blog post resulted from those lessons! I used a light meter to determine the appropriate shutter speed and aperture, framed my shot, took the picture, developed and printed the photo in the darkroom in the basement of the manor house to the envy of most of my fellow campers. No one but the photography group was allowed into the basement of the manor house! Thus began my initiation into serious photography!
So here I go in my nature blog, indulging in this not-so-much-about-nature post, to remember and honor this Girl Scout Camp for what we scouts learned there throughout its 50 year history. For those of you who are wondering where are the photos, look below. Unfortunately, very few photos exist from my time at camp. I did not take a camera to camp initially. Eventually, I took pictures at one of my later riding lessons. My mother had taken a few slides at an Open House visit in 1970 (when I was 9 years old!). This past Thursday evening before attending the "Linger at Camp Low Country" event, I pulled out all of the slides & photos I could find from my and my mother's collections and then Carl and I scanned them for loading into my tablet so that I could take them with me to share on Friday.
Photos from many years ago:
|Gates and Oak Alley -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Back of Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Open House Picnic -- Front lawn of Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Harleston Family Graveyard od the Richmond Plantation -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|My father, Jay Johnson, with others (?) in the Harleston Family Graveyard of the Richmond Plantation -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|View from the side lawn of the Cooper River -- Harleston Family Graveyard od the Richmond Plantation -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Lagoon with the Canoe dock -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Lagoon -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1974|
|The 'original' riding stable (which burned in 1972?) Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- Summer 1970 -- Photo by Grace Johnson|
|Riding lesson -- Missy and Rusty -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- 1973|
|Riding lesson -- Renee and Chico -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- October 1974|
That's it. Those are all the photos worth showing from my and my mother's collections. Realizing the paucity in this photo representation of this fabulous place, I became more convinced than before that I truly needed to attend this last Open House -- to photograph ALL of this property -- the wonderful vistas, the tent sites, the manor house, the gardens, the barn, the pasture, the dock, the guest houses, etc. In order to help me preserve memories, I did indeed need to linger at Camp Low Country one more time -- with my camera.
Friday's weather forecast called for 80% chance of rain and my car was STILL in the shop. No matter, I was determined not to miss this opportunity. I had rain gear and I would drive the loaner car down Three-Mile Road (the dirt/gravel road leading to camp) if necessary. As it turns out, I was able to pick up my nicely cleaned, freshly waxed Kia from the dealership in time to drive to camp. It was nice that they washed and waxed my car. They were trying to make amends for not having repaired it correctly the first time. It was indeed bright and shiny .... until I drove it down Three-Mile Road. Oh well! C'est la vie! The wax job will still last awhile if I hose off some of the dirt.
Thankfully, by late afternoon, the rain had stopped and there were small breaks in the clouds by the time I arrived. I was going to have what my French friend calls "sad light" for my photographs. So be it -- perhaps a little sad light is suitable for a bittersweet event! On the other hand, the bright green grass due to the significant rain events seems to have helped brighten many of these photos! I only had a couple of hours to make the circuit to photograph all my favorite spots. Thus, I confess that I intentionally missed the closing campfire in my efforts to capture all of it. However, along my path, I did meet other former campers of different generations and we shared memories of camp as we knew it. I showed my old photos (above) recorded to the tablet as well as some of the photos (below) just taken. We laughed about some camp experiences and emotions that never change -- no matter when you were a camper. I felt truly bad for the youngest among them -- the girls who began their camp-outs here -- and now who camp at Sandy Ridge outside of Bennettsville, SC. They confessed that though Sandy Ridge was a nice camp, it simply could not compare to THIS place. At the same time, I am glad for them that they had been lucky enough to have camped at the Girl Scout Plantation even for a short time. Cherish those happy memories, girls!
Photos from this former scout's last visit:
So for all of the the Lowcountry Girl Scouts -- present and former -- as well as for my readers who appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of our natural Lowcountry landscapes, here's my collection of photos of Richmond Plantation, the soon-to-be former Girl Scout Plantation, from Friday's "Linger at Camp Low Country."
First, I visited the barn (built to replace the stable that had burned): The horses are gone, of course, but oh my, you can still smell their warm, sweet scent!
|The Barn -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Then, I passed on taking a picture of the Avenue of Live Oaks. It was going to be too difficult to photoshop out the Port-a-Potty placed halfway down the drive. Sigh! Instead I focused on the walled formal garden alongside as I moved down the drive.
|The walled formal garden -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Part of the garden wall where a fountain had once been attached -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Garden pond -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Garden gate -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Next, across from the walled garden, I photographed the carriage house.
|Carriage House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Weather vane and Dovecote on the Carriage House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Don't you know that as young girls, we just loved the gargoyle-like faces on these buildings?!
Next, I turned from photographing the Carriage House, to view the back entrance to the Manor House framed by the majestic oaks. How sweet to watch a former scout (she is under the tree on the right) sitting to reflect on her camp experiences as she admired again the beautiful Tudor-revival architecture! I wonder what memories she was reliving in that moment of contemplation?
|Back entrance to the Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Another view of the back entrance to the Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
I have always loved the picturesque portico on the side wing!
|Back view and side wing to Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Side wing to Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Slate roof and Iron "gargoyle" like mask of the side wing -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
The small guest house across from the side wing served an infirmary when I camped here. In more recent years, it was called the Brownie Bungalow -- a place for some of our youngest scouts.
|Guest house -- Infirmary -- Brownie Bungalow -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
After this, I moved around to the front side of the Manor House facing the Cooper River.
|The front lawn of the Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|The front of the Manor House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
From here, I descended the bluff to the dock overlooking the East Branch of the Cooper River.
|Dike leading to the dock on the East Branch of the Cooper River -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Dock overlooking the East Branch of the Cooper River -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|River view from the dock -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Sadly, I was not initiated into birding during my childhood. But Friday, I certainly was tuned into the birdsong here even though birding was not my mission. Throughout the late afternoon, I heard and/or saw the usual suspects: Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, American Crows, Laughing Gulls, Carolina Chickadees and Northern Mockingbirds. I also heard Summer Tanagers, White-Eyed Vireos and a pair of Barred Owls. I managed to flush a couple of Great Blue Herons, a Little Blue Heron and some Yellow-Crowned Night Herons. But only one bird gave me a good photo op. I was delighted to find this Least Tern preening and relaxing on the dock.
|Least Tern -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Least Tern -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Junior Olympic-sized swimming pool -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Right next to the pool, is the "Dog House" (the kennel? for the previous owner) -- rather nice digs for the pups! It never looked much like a kennel to me. I believe that it may have been used as lodging for some of the camp employees when I camped there. Later, it apparently became the camp infirmary.
|The Dog House / The Infirmary -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Before continuing beyond this house to the campsites, I turned back to look at the cemetery.
|Plantation cemetery -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Plantation cemetery -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC --July 12, 2013|
Beyond the Dog House, I followed the road to the lagoon where we had our first canoeing lessons. How much it has changed!
|Lagoon -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Then I continued past it searching for the nearly hidden path to my favorite tent campsite, Live Oak.
|Live Oak campsite -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|The typical tent with cots framed for mosquito netting -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|Live Oak Shelter with latrine in the background -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
|The Live Oak Latrine -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
My husband wondered why I chose to include this photo. Hey, important memories were formed in ALL parts of the camp. This could be a site of great and long meditations. Ah, latrine duty, that was a favorite -- NOT! Interestingly though, if you like spiders, this was a Grand-daddy long legs haven! In addition, we always watched our step on the way to this latrine. The Big Mama Cottonmouth produced a lot of babies close to this latrine one summer. We never forgot that.
The campsites have changed some since my camping days. When I asked some girls which camp was there favorite, they answered with "Lakeview." That name was new to me. When I asked why, they said it was their favorite because of the cabins! Cabins! Wow! Apparently, shortly after Hurricane Hugo, the camp constructed the Lakeview cabins site! I am sorry to say that I did not take pictures of it. I became a bit turned around in the campground areas trying to figure out which camp was which. It did not matter though as I had found my favorite, "Live Oak(!)" and I had no problems relocating the dining hall either!
|Dining Hall -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
On the way to the dining hall, I passed along the other side of the lagoon with a much more picturesque view.
|View of the lagoon on road to the Dining Hall -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
With less than an hour of visiting time left, I made a bee-line along the power line right-of-way back to the Manor House. I found a young couple to help me take a picture of myself behind the manor house! Thank you!
|Cathy Miller (the former Cathy Johnson) returns to the Girl Scout Plantation one last time -- 43 years after her first visit -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
I decided that I had enough time to visit the other side of the property and so I trekked behind the Carriage House where I found the Doll House -- which had been moved from its previous location many years ago apparently.
|The Doll House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC -- July 12, 2013|
Peeking through the window, I saw evidence of some major renovation work as the council works to prepare the property for sale.
|Peeking through the window inside the Doll House to see the restoration efforts -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
A quick walk from there brought me to the Log Cabin, which I believe also housed summer camp staff once upon a time.
|Log Cabin -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
|Log Cabin -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
From the Log Cabin, I made my way to the Stono Pavillon, where the final campfire was held. I met some more former scouts who reminded me to visit the Boat House down the hill.
|The Boat House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
As I entered this dark abode, I speculated on many bats might be roosting in the eaves! I thought of using my flashlight but, if they were there, I did not want to disturb them. So I refrained. And yes, this former Girl Scout did take her flashlight to camp this time, too!
|Boat House -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
After the boat house, I walked back up the hill towards the pasture. I had just about completed my full circuit back towards the barn -- and just in time as visitation was to close at 8 pm.
|A final look at the barn -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
|Barn and pasture at sunset -- Girl Scout Plantation -- Cordesville, SC July 12, 2013|
Thus, these are my last photos from camp -- taken to help preserve memories of childhood. What a marvelous moment -- lingering at Camp Low Country. As I completed this circumnavigation around the property, my previous sadness had permuted somewhat into a more positive emotion of wistful gratefulness and joy. I thoroughly relished this time to reconnect with a precious part of my past -- to relive memories made here at this beautiful site where I did some major growing up! This was both a time of homecoming and a time to say good-by. I was delighted to meet former and present Girl Scouts of different generations who all felt as I did about this place. It is for myself and for all of them -- for those who came and for those who could not -- that I took these pictures and wrote this post. It is indeed hard to let go of the tangible -- this camp. But it is the intangible -- our beautiful memories, love of nature, our values, our life skills, and character-forming life lessons all gained here -- that lives on in all of us. We will always have that!
Now, what happens next to the tangible -- this piece of land? Its future holds promise in that the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina placed a conservation easement on the property in 2006 through the Lowcountry Open Land Trust to "preserve and protect the conservation values in perpetuity." I found this information about the easement in the detailed inventory of the property on the website of Carolina Auction Team, Inc., the company hired to prepare the property and to take it to auction:
The primary restrictions and limitations in the Conservation Easement are -- no subdivision of the property is allowed, no structure may be more than 35 ft. tall, residential structures are limited to four (4) main houses, four (4) secondary houses and related outbuildings, the existing dock may be maintained or replaced as necessary, no additional dock, boatlift or super structures will be built, the existing boat house and boat ramp may be maintained or replaced, all existing structures can be maintained or replaced to their present size, no towers shall be on the property, forest cannot be clear cut, the existing dikes and rice fields may continue in use, no industrial uses are permitted on the property...
With a conservation easement such as this, we can rest reassured that this fabulously beautiful, natural environment will not be developed, destroyed, sub-divided or otherwise marred in the future. Not only that, it is surrounded on three sides by the state-owned Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area. The property offers great opportunities in its existing structures for another organization to offer a camp or other such meeting (hopefully educational in nature) site. We know that the wildlife habitat is protected with an easement such as this. Finally, we can hope that the future owners will benefit from this land as we did, by being immersed in an undisturbed natural setting and by connecting to nature.
So now I say good-bye to my childhood home-away-from-home, ever so thankful for the values this place imbued in me and more confident in its future to be the same kind of place for others.