Camp Jocassee–Lever-Karst–home movies
This week the feature video on MIRC’s DVR is a home movie from the Lever-Karst Collection, featuring a camp that now lies underneath a body of water in the Northwest corner of South Carolina. Camp Jocassee for Girls was located in Jocassee Valley on the banks of the Whitewater River from 1921 until 1970, when the Jocassee Valley was flooded. The camp was moved to Lake Keowee in 1971, but it ceased operation after the 1976 season. This film is one of the few remaining known films of the camp, a place of many memories for some South Carolinians.
This blog was written by Debbie Fletcher, whose family owned Camp Jocassee, and who spent many summers at her family’s homestead, Attakulla Lodge, in Jocassee Valley. The lodge was a big part of the Jocassee Valley community, where for half a century it operated as a bed-and-breakfast and haven for visitors to the area, including families of girls staying at the camp. The lodge was named after Cherokee Chief Attakullakulla
(“Little Carpenter”). He was the father of the famed Princess Jocassee (“Place Of The Lost One”), who, legend has it, drowned herself upon learning of her lover’s death.
Debbie tells us about the story of the camp:
I’ve spilled many words – and tears – about Jocassee, the quaint, unspoiled mountain valley that was sacrificed in 1971 to satisfy the growing demands for electric power. Every time I write something about Jocassee, I think to myself, “That’s it. There’s nothing left for me to say.” And then I am graced with another opportunity reminding me that my childhood summer home is not as far away as I might think. I never expected to see again the Jocassee and Whitewater River signs, then round the bend in the road to follow my childhood path across the river at the camp. This film kindles such warm memories of carefree days spent at Jocassee, as it does for hundreds of young ladies – now grown women – who attended the camp. They reminisce about horseback riding, leaches in the lake, vespers, baths in freezing water every morning in the river, loving kitchen duty just because of access to hot water, talent nights, picking berries on hikes,
mail call, and shaving their legs in the river! Clearly, Jocassee was a special place that worked its way into the hearts of many young women. These old home movies transport us back to a place that no longer exists, and we are grateful.
Lake Jocassee – known as South Carolina’s Crown Jewel – was full pond by 1973. Beneath its deep, cold waters which reach depths of well over 350 feet lie beautiful childhood memories that sometimes surface as if the water has been parted. It was the most perfect day in August, 2010, when she welcomed us back. This time something was different. I was not alone in my memories.
A highly skilled team of deep divers once again toiled to load the boat with a myriad of scuba gear: tanks, dry suits, sophisticated wrist-mounted computers – so much gear that you might think they were going to the Moon. I guess in a way they were. I would imagine that 318 feet of water is as alien to the human body as going into space. Our destination on this summer morning was Camp Jocassee for Girls, a magical place that had delighted young girls from all over the country. A steel bridge crossed the Whitewater River, marking the entrance into the valley. Nestled at the foot of the bridge, the camp’s stone pillars and white picket gates had greeted happy girls since 1922. The main house at the future girls camp was built by my Great-Grandfather, W. M. Brown, as the home in which he and his bride would start their family. As the children grew older, they built a Walhalla home which later became the Davenport Funeral Home. It still stands on Main Street and has gone through several metamorphoses over the years. Their Jocassee property remained in the family, and the house was later named the Whitewater Inn, a lovely seasonal hotel prior to becoming Camp Jocassee for Girls.
One of my earliest Jocassee memories was listening for the sound of the horses coming down the dirt road from the girls camp. Every late afternoon, a group of girls would ride past Attakulla Lodge, my family homestead which has also been located in 300 feet of water and regularly greets daring divers who come to visit. I was so enamored with the idea of horseback riding. I’d scamper to the bank that overlooked the road and expectantly wave at them. They always waved back. Little did I know that decades later, I would be swimming in water 300 feet above the girls camp with one of the horsewomen I had waved at many times before. Her name is Anna Simon, a retired reporter with The Greenville News. Anna and I connected through a picture she provided for the book Keowee. I wrote a random letter to her at the newspaper, and the connection began.
Anna had joined us on the boat the previous day as we dove on Attakulla Lodge, but her heart was full of anticipation as she thought of the girls camp dive the next day. Anna spent five summers at the camp, and those memories are still as precious to her as the day they were made. As we waited for the divers’ return from the camp, she reminisced about the best summers of her life – summers spent at Camp Jocassee.
Anna expressed in a simple paragraph what would take me pages to say: “The most amazing thing that impresses me is that Jocassee still weaves its spell . . . little girl campers and grown men divers, it doesn’t matter. Jocassee is still a magical place. It warms my heart to know how much Jocassee means to so many of us . . .grown women now, with little girl Jocassee hearts still filled with the wonder. We are so blessed. We ARE so blessed.”
Anna still rides horses. I still just watch.
You can watch the film here: http://mirc.sc.edu/fedora/repository/usc%3A2935
It is a part of the Lever-Karst Collection, which you can explore here: http://mirc.sc.edu/fedora/repository/usc-test%3A172