Camp Yonahnoka, part II

We have really enjoyed reading the comments and emails we’ve received in response to my last post about Linville’s Camp Yonahnoka. Most of the campers we’ve heard from attended in later years than are represented in the Morton collection (his images date primarily from the 1940s and early 1950s, with a few into the early ’60s). One of our commenters even mentioned that his grandmother, Mrs. Juanita Forbes, worked at the camp for many years. I do believe this is her on the left below, in 1956. Does anyone know the other two ladies?

I finally took a look at the camp brochures we have here in the North Carolina Collection, and they are fascinating! From these I learned that the camp was started in 1925 and (at least as of 1954) was operated continuously by the same directors, Mr. and Mrs. Charles V. Tompkins of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. Anyone know how long it lasted?

Yonahnoka offered an amazing variety of activities, from photography, sports (including swimming, golf, tennis, archery, and riflery), “Indian craft,” horseback riding and horse shows, art, music and dramatics. According to the brochure,

The object of Camp Yonahnoka is to make the summer one of happiness and wholesome development for each camper. Good character and self-reliance are the keys to a useful and happy life… Camp activities are planned to encourage each boy to express himself and to discover hidden talents. This calls for a varied program. Music is just as important as baseball. Instruction in sports is stressed rather than competition. Work contributed to the welfare of the whole group is just as rewarding as play.

It should be noted that Yonahnoka was by no means a camp for low-income or underprivileged boys. A camp application form included in the 1952 brochure lists registration plan fees from $430 to $480, which, according to one inflation calculator, equals about $3700 in 2007 dollars. Ouch.

To take an academic view, it seems there would be a lot to explore here about how summer camps like Yonahoka reflected larger societal views of nature, class, race, gender, child development, and all that good stuff during this pivotal period in U.S. history. But I see that only a few scholars have seriously addressed the topic (see Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp by Leslie Paris, and A Manufactured Wilderness by Abigail Van Slyck). Just one example of the huge research potential of the Morton photographs!

35 thoughts on “Camp Yonahnoka, part II”

  1. It is indeed my grandmother Mrs. Forbes on the left, she worked 34 seasons for Mr. Tompkins. The dining room photo captures the atmosphere perfectly, screened in with rustic beams and furniture, you can almost smell the bacon! The lady in the middle is the Camp Nurse,(whose name escapes me), and the Riding Mistress on the right is Ms. Ellie Keith, who also taught at St. Anne’s school in Charlottesville, Va. I worked there in ’71, I believe the final season was around ’74.
    Thank you to everyone who is working on such a worthwhile project, and for preserving these wonderful memories.

    1. I taught riding with Ms Keith, we call her “Kllie Wood”. That was probably 1958. Mr Tompkins was a great camp director and took an interest in track at the camp,did some instructing.

  2. Mrs Forbes and Miss Keith are already identified. The lady in the center is Mrs Martha W. Thornley, RN. I don’t know how many years she was there, but she was in her third season in 1954.
    Indeed the costs were not cheap, but assistant counselors made a whole $200 for the summer (plus room and board, of course!

  3. Was that a record for identifying a “who am I” post or what?
    I ran across this web site and found a Will Ravenel comment that said Hugh Morton took pictures of all the campers and made up a yearbook that was given to each camper at Christmas. If any of these yearbooks survived, they would be a great source for identifying campers and staff.

  4. Over the years Hugh occasionally saw some of his former campers. They always seemed to have taken photography from him, or riflery. (He was an outstanding marksman, and for the two years before he went into the service he was on the State of North Carolina Rifle Team that competed in the National Matches at Camp Perry ) He always called an old camper “One of my little boys” when he referred to him. Someone out there has the old camp catalogues. My sons had all the ones for the years they were campers. Hugh took the pictures for the catalogues so that our sons could go free of charge.I always felt he had undertaken a terrible lot of work, requiring night after night in the darkroom in addition to the time involved in taking all the pictures.

  5. I sat at Elie Mae Keith’s table in the camp dining room in 1966, the summer I was a counselor at Yonahnoka. We had little in common – I was definitely not an equestrian – and she was not especially enamored with my laid-back attitude. She, on the other hand, was as forceful a presence as I’ve ever known.
    The photo of the three of them was probably taken for the camp’s annual catalogue. Mr. Morton would take a photo of three individuals at a time standing before the huge green hedge outside the dining hall; he would then edit them down to individual photos.
    I adored Mrs. Forbes – what an incredible cook! Her homemade ice cream, dished out only on rare occasions, was 1st Prize for the camp’s song contests, skit contests, and bunkhouse inspection. e.g., if Bunkhouse 6, which housed the youngest campers, should win a contest, the campers and counselors would all get a private “ice cream supper”, which meant that you met at an appointed time at the dining room and Mrs. Forbes would serve everyone her amazing ice cream.
    And her stewed apples – I’ve never had them better anywhere else. And her spoonbread. And her grits.
    I’d sometimes pick a quart or two of blackberries from the campus many bushes and hand them over to her; she’d transform them into cobbler and feed the whole camp.
    I’d love to have a copy of that final catalogue from the summer of 1966. Working for Mr. T was a great experience.

  6. Just to correct my last paragraph: I meant MY last summer at Camp Y. Searches on ebay have gotten me nothing.

  7. The top photo captures the activities offered at Camp Y. Those tennis courts were clay, with calcium chloride tilled in, and rolled with the oldest roller I have ever seen. Starting the engine was art in itself, taught by the grounds master, Earl Sturgill. The building overlooking the courts was the Pavillion, which housed the basketball court, meeting room, darkroom and camp commisary. The bunkhouses were above the Pavillion, and below them was a small “golf course”, suitable for the younger campers. Just to the right of this photo lies Lake Kawana, beyond that, one of the oldest golf links in NC, the old Linville Course designed by Donald Ross. There were facilities for baseball, track and field, swimming,diving,canoing, archery and marksmanship. This was really a well managed operation that was staffed with professional educators from the finest schools in the south. As a result, many counslers returned year after year. It must also be noted that many parents of the campers had summer homes at Linville Resort, where everyone escaped the summer swelter of the flatlands.
    There were trips to Grandfather Mountain, Tweetsie Railroad, and dances at the “girls’camp” near Blowing Rock, Camp Yonalossee. It was truly a wonderful place to spend the summer and enjoy the very best that the mountains had to offer! Great people, and great memories captured by Mr. Morton for us to enjoy.

  8. The woman on the far right is Lily Mae? something…..the riding mistress, at least in the summers of 1965 and 1966.
    I sincerely believe that Charles Tompkins and Camp Yonahnoka may have been one of the truly great stories of Southern youth. I wish there was more written about it.

  9. The sad sack on far right in the dining hall picture is me. Unfortunitly I cannot identify anyone else, nor the date. I was a camper in the early to mid 1950’s and a counselor in 1957. These were the happiest and most successful days of my youth.

  10. I attended summer camp at Yonahnoka from 1961 thru 1965. I still remember the Yonahnoka bear patches we got awarded every summer if we got all our merit points. And…of course, how can I forget: Wahtanga, and his brother Falling Rocks, the lost Cherokee indians. I also seem to remember that Hugh had a son that was attending Yonahnoka at the same time as myself. Mr Thompkins, as I recall, taught mathematics at Episcopal High in Virginia. Mind you now, I am having to really stretch my memory recalling all this. And…yes, I do recall Ms Ellie Mae Keith, as well as that one very obstreperous horse that no one was allowed to ride, or even enter its stable. I remember her stable hand, an old black man named Joe? Oh, yes, and the horse for beginners…the old horse named Webster. The fresh water spring near the riding ring. Yonahnoka was a beautiful place back in those days – a half a century ago. And the rifle range? Yes, I still remember the rifle range – in those days kids could actually shoot real 22 caliber rifles at summer camp and receive real NRA awards for marksmanship. The world was different back then. The thing I enjoyed best each summer was the annual singing contest, where all the bunkhouses got to compete in singing. Camp Yonahnoka was my first real exposure to proto-rock and southeastern bluegrass folk music, for example, the beautiful “Ballad of Julleann” popularized by the New Christy Minstrels. The things that could be said about life at Yonahnoka could fill several books. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to reminisce.

  11. I remember Watunga well. For the first few years I attended Yonahnoka – 1959-61 – Jay Dickerson, the head counselor, would portray Watunga. At an outdoor site near the stables where we’d be entertained with stories or whatever by various campers and counselors by the light of a huge bonfire, someone would announce that Watunga was present to speak to us. Jay would walk in from the back, wrapped in a blanket and smoking a cigar, and deliver a humorous account of recent camp activities in dialect. “Watunga, he discover many camp braves not taking riding lessons. Watunga smell-um stables on way to campfire. Watunga understand and forgive camp braves who prefer canoes to horses.” Something like that.
    I have to say that Jay was one of the most offensive human beings I’ve ever encountered. I was in his bunkhouse in 1961 when he punished a boy named Charlie Wigley for being disobedient by whipping him across the backside with an army belt in the barber shop that stood over the showers, which were a stone’s throw from our bunkhouse. The beating occurred during the “rest period” which followed lunch. My bunkmates and I could hear Charlie screaming. He eventually returned to the bunkhouse and walked into our bunk room, shivering. He removed his pants to take a shower, and we could all see the deep cuts into the flesh on his butt that the metal part of Jay’s belt had made. Charlie was bleeding. He put on a towel without saying a word and left to take a shower.
    Mr. T fired Jay the summer of 1964 0r 1965; a counselor who had been there that summer told me about it in 1966 – apparently Jay was having an affair with the mother of a camper, and a private detective hired by the boy’s father took pictures of them shacked up in Linville at a motel and showed the pics to Mr. Tompkins. Mr. T fired Jay and replaced him as head counselor with Jim Seidule.

  12. In my day – early to mid 50s – Jay Corson was Watunga. By coinincidence Jay was later a partner at a northern Virginia law firm where I also practiced. Sadly he has since died. In any event, when I was a counselor in 1957 I became Watunga’s Messenger, being too respectful of Corsom to assume the title itself. As messenger I would gather gossip about campers and counselors and tell all at campfire, hiding to keep my idemtity “secret”. At one point I had the temerity to ssk Mr. T,who was a formidible presence, if he would make an appearence as Watunga. He summarily refused, and I quickly left his office. Mrs. T as I remember was a gentle,loving and approchable person, a good counterpoint to her husband.

  13. Again I am inundated by a flood of childhood memories from Camp Yonahnoka: Jay Dickerson, no less! What a character so totally iconic of the old South! Sorry to hear of his passing. Speaking of Jay, I do have one very eidetic memory. My first year at Camp Yonahnoka as a – what were we youngest called? – bear cubs, or something like that, I was only eight years old. In those days people took the train when they traveled. My parents placed me on the train in Tampa, Florida to Ashville, North Carolina, where Mr T had arranged transportation by bus to Linville. As I recall, the train from Tampa stopped in Atlanta, and I transferred to another train that went to Asheville. At this transfer many other campers and counselors transferred to the train going to Asheville. One of the counselors who transferred and sat right across the isle from me was Jay Dickerson. I have a most distinct memory of an incident involving Jay during that train ride. Another camper came over to talk to someone in isle opposite from where Jay was sitting. The camper bent over at the waist to talk to the person sitting in the aisle seat opposite of Jay. This, of course, meant that Jay was looking right at the rear end of the camper talking to another camper sitting across the aisle from Jay. I distinctly remember Jay swatting the rear end of the camper with his newspaper and saying with his Virginia accent “boy, don’t you know better than to stick your ass in someone else’s face”. The swatted camper straightened up with the most dumbfounded look on his face. What a memory! Jay Dickerson – RIP.

  14. I was a camper at Yonahnoka in 1938 and 1939. I remember Mr. C.V. Thompkins, who was a Chemistry professor at Episcopal High School. “Junie” Morton taught me about photography when I was there. This is the first I’ve read or heard about the place in 71 years. Thanks for posting it.

  15. (A post script to my previous post} I got my Mortons confused: Junie was Hugh’s kid brother. I also remember a senior councellor, Mr. Latham, and others- Jess Couch, Bill Marborough, Dick Williams, Jerry Wilsey, Ely Bradfield, Al Seaman, Moose Johnson, Don Jordan and fellow camper from Pensacola, Jack McCormack, and other campers like Billy Collins, Warner Wood, and John Cocke. Are these names familiar with anyone else?

  16. I remember my parents taking my three brothers, Tupper, Bill and Tommy up to camp, and me to Yonahlossee. Those were the days. I was so sadden to learn that Yonahnoka was no more. Growing up, I’ll never forget my brothers telling me their word was their bond…Mr. T. was responsible…What a wonderful person he was, and will be remembered for many years to come..

  17. Howe Brown’s comments above about his law partner Jay Corson brought back many memories.
    My dad had been Head of the English Department at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va.; Jim Seidule, Jim Taylor, and many other EHS faculty – all colleagues of my father and my family’s neighbors on the EHS campus – had at one time or another worked for Mr. T at Camp Yonahnoka.
    Jay had been one of my dad’s students; and as my mom’s lawyer, he was a frequent and welcome visitor to our Alexandria home after my dad’s death in 1968.
    I told Jay sometime in 1968 that Mr. T had frequently spoken of him to the campers every summer in one of his frequent camp vespers sermons. It was the same tale every time, one which I believe to be true:
    Jay had played Varsity football in the early 1950s at EHS; he’d been captain of the team in 1952. On a fourth down pass play during a close game one Saturday afternoon, a referee called a penalty against an opposing player for interfering with Corson and thereby preventing him from successfully receiving a pass. Jay approached the official and told him, no, there was no penalty, the defensive player had never touched him. The official reversed his decision and the ball was turned over to the opposing team.
    Mr. T regarded this courageous act as the quintessence of honorable behavior. Among the many honors Jay received at the 1953 Commencement, Jay received the Baldwin Trophy for sportsmanship.
    After I’d told Jay this story he smiled and quietly remarked that he remembered Mr. T well and that he’d enjoyed his summers at Yonahnoka. His humility was genuine; I’ll never forget that moment.
    Our whole family was saddened to learn of his death. He and my mom remained close friends to the end.

  18. A reply to Thomas Pace’s request in the post above:
    Mr. Latham was a Physics teacher at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. His family and mine were very close for years – Mr. Latham, in fact, was one of my two godfathers in the Episcopal Church.
    Jesse Couch was the father of Collins Couch, who’d been a camper with me at Yonahnoka and was a year or two ahead of me at EHS; Collins later left EHS without graduating. I met Mr. Couch once at camp in 1966, when he introduced himself and told me that he’d been one of my dad’s students in the 1940s.
    There was a Gerry Willsey who was at camp while I was there in 1959; he was 3 years older than me and graduated from EHS in 1964.

  19. I have an old Yonahnoka catalogue from the 50s AND a camp jacket with two of the bear emblems given out at the end of camp sewn on. I’ll happily mail you my treasures for scans of me from the summer of 1966 catalogue, when I was a counselor.

  20. Ok, memories of Camp Yonahnoka: in reality? in truth? Somewhat of a mixed bag.
    Mostly all good, with a little touch of grey in the silver lining. Although I never had any issues with the staff or counselors or Mr T, I occasionally had issues with other campers, whom, I believe in retrospect were genuinely offensive people. During my first year, one psycho kid continually threatened to drown me in Lake Kawana (and also threatened me once on Grandfather Mt). During my last year I had the misfortune to be in the same bunkhouse room with a very fowl mouthed, rebellious hoodlum kid who never ceased taking every opportunity to intimidate and lower everyone around him to the gutter level. I think this kid was once actually disciplined for this by Mr Seidule.
    As I mentioned, on the whole the staff and counselors were kind, considerate and gentlemanly – except for the one counselor who told me in a stigmatizing way that I was “different than everyone else”, without explaining exactly how I was different. Of course, I now have a pretty good idea what he meant, and I’ll keep that thought to myself. Just to set the record straight, I do not hold any grudges regarding this “kid stuff”. I hope and pray that these fellow campers are happy and doing well in their lives.
    By far my favorite activity at Camp Yonahnoka were the singing competitions between the bunkhouses. In my mind, life at Camp Yonahnoka reached its greatest heights in the musical activities and singing contests. The competitions really did open me up a great deal to the world of folk music and rock’n roll. However I think the emphasis on quality made me seek out and follow what I thought to be better quality in world of rock music. Thus, for example, over the years, I followed groups like the Moody Blues, the Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd, all of whom I felt showed better musical and lyrical taste in their songs and stage performances.
    Mr T’s “word is your bond” honor code also provided me a solid foundation for the schools I later attended after my Yonahnoka days: the McCallie School, Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), and the Georgia Institute of Technology. On the whole I will always be grateful for my Camp Yonahnoka experience, and I express my sincerest thanks to campers, staff and counselors still with us, and also to those who have passed on.
    – Jeff

  21. This past weekend, for the first time in several years, my wife, Merrie, and I spent the weekend at the Esseola Lodge. The visit brought back many fond memories of the two summers that I spent in Linville when I was in medical school at Bowman Gray in Winston and I was the golf counselor and camp doctor in the summer of 1954 and 1955. While I was there I got a chance to talk with John Blackburn the manager of the lodge and he filled me in on what had happened to some of the people I knew at the camp. He told me that Bob LInks who was head counselor when I was there had died several years ago. Bob had moved back to Linville after being I think he said Cone Mills for a number of years. As many of you know the camp grounds are now owned by the lodge and all of the old buildings have been torn down. They have built a new building where the Pavillion used to be that is used for wedding and special events. There was a wedding there this past weekend. Despite the changes that have taken place over the years it still is a magical place. WWH .

  22. I attended Camp Yonahnoka in the early 1970’s and then was a camp counselor in its last summer, which I think was 1974.
    At 56 years of age I can still sing from memory the Camp Yonahnoka song (“The mountains of North Carolina, uprear their heads and tower high . . . “) AND the first verse of the hymn “Call of Christ” which was glued into the front of every Episcopal Hymnal handed out for Wednesday night vespers and hymn singing. (“He who is my neighbor, and needs a cheering word . . . .”) I remember Ms. Forbes who ran the kitchen, and the horse riding instructor who got her white horse to prance diagonally forward. I fondly remember Camp Director Jim Seidule (Seidule: “It’s a great day for the race!” Dull camper: “Gee Mr. Seidule, what race is that?” Seidule: “Why, the HUMAN race, of course! [chuckle, chuckle, chuckle]” Hot farina for breakfast – “Birdseed”. Those round ceramic bowling ball water pitchers on the dining room tables. Mr. T’s “Your word is your bond.” Catching ring-neck snakes in the sawdust piles near the stables. The leeches in Lake Kawana. Movie nights with penny candy. The Snake Man. Grandfather Mountain hikes. And pranks –constant boyhood pranks between campers and between campers and counselors. Most harmless, many hilarious. It was a great camp. I am sorry it closed.

  23. I went to Camp Yonahnoka in 1965 for 3 weeks,went again in 1966 for 3 weeks,I liked it so much that I ask Mr. T to call my parents and tell them I wanted to stay there the full 9 weeks.My parents could not belive it,they told Mr. T ok.I played baseball,I was ok,.played golf,I was pretty good,did track and field,nobody could beat me,not even the counselors.I was ready to go HS,My parents chose Blue Ridge HS in Charllottesville,Va.There were two counselors that were teachers at Blue Ridge.Mr. T and Jim Seidule were teachers at Episcopal HS in Aleexandria,Va.They wanted me to change my mind and go to Episcopal HS .I went to Blue Ridge HS because it was closer to home.I miss Camp Yonahnoka.

  24. My Fellow campers,
    I went to Camp Yonahnoka in 1965 and 1966 and I enjoyed it greatly! As I type this I have the green 1966 Camp Yonahnoka brochure in front of me that I have kept for all these years. At that time I lived in Houston, Texas, but for many years since I have lived and worked in Encinitas and La Jolla, California. Just to let you know, I graduated from San Diego State University in 1979, and since then I worked for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service dolphin program from 1974-1978, and then I worked for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission dolphin program from 1978-2012. Now I’m married to my wife Carla, and now I’m retired and I surf and snowboard a lot. Sound good?
    Best Regards to all !

  25. I thoroughly enjoyed the reminiscences and was glad to see someone remembered the “bird seed” breakfast preparation. It was prepared much like oatmeal and there was a couseler who looked like one of the tenured stars on “Hollywood Squares” who would always loudly lament, “not birdseed again.” I recall hitting that lake water for the swimming test early in the summer. Most campers would rise from the immersion involuntarily gasping from the cold water. I believe I attended in ’69 or ’70 for the full nine weeks. I can mostly recall Ms. Keith, the riding couselor who would bring her horses from Charlottesville every year for many, many years. Haven’t jumped a horse since, but the vivid memory of that head and neck rising to my face will always remain. And a small, tough little horse named “Bingo” that put on the brakes and sent me through the jump solo. As I recall, she had a beautiful assistant named Mary. Ah, well, I believe if I look hard enough I might find my yearbook. If it is important, let me know.

    1. I went to CY from ‘68 until it’s last year ‘74 or 5. I remember a Bingo very well. I was already quite an accomplished rider when I went to CY and was frequently given Bingo to ride. He and I had an “understanding”. He was stubborn little beast but I managed to get him to see things my way. Except once, when I rode him in a Linville Horse Show – I don’t remember the particulars of why we were there from the camp but we were. Bingo and I were splendid together on the first half of the course clearing the jumps easily and (dare I say?) gracefully. Upon turning toward home the little brute took the bit between his teeth and just took off flat out down the course for the exit and out galloping full bore between the parked cars and scattering spectators left and right. I stayed on him miraculously, and he finally relinquished the bit and settled down. He gave me the ride if my young life!
      I loved him though and we had many many more rides together after that.

      One of so many wonderful memories from those golden days!

  26. Thanks for the memories. I attended camp in 1948 and 1949. Three things I remember distinctly – the nights that spoon bread was served – it was heavenly, how extremely cold the lake was – I could barely swim 50 feet, and all of the chestnut trees which had died but which had not fallen over yet – how sad.
    Also, I insisted that my end of the bunkhouse be called “Rebel Inn;” I was ten years old at the time. Also, I had a boxing match with Hanes Lasater (?); it ended in a draw as did my boxing career.

  27. I was at Yonahnoka in 1962 and 1963. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I have many fond memories, except for one. We went on a hike at Grandfather mountain, and the lunch ladies packed sack lunches for us, each containing two prunes. I had never really had prunes before, and loved them. None of the other boys liked them, and gave theirs to me. I ate them ALL! Imagine a long hike … about ten miles … someone had doctored a sign on the trail, and we got lost … with a stomach FULL of prunes! I thought I was going to die before we made it back to the bathroom at the bunk line!!!! I found a great article on Mr. T at the Episcopal School, shown here for reference:

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