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"A Place in the Woods"
Camping is a much loved activity and a cornerstone of the Girl Scout experience. In 1945, after many years of successful day camps, the Negro Divisional Board and the Inter-racial Committee of the Duval County Girl Scouts, realized that the African American Girl Scouts needed a permanent established camp of their own.
Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. L.E. Terrell of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, a fundraising campaign began, with a goal of $15,000.
Members of the fund-raising committee included Mrs. Marie Broome, Mrs. M.L. Carter, Mrs. Beulah Matthews, Rev. Foster, Rev. Dr. Terrell, Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. M. Aveilhe, Mrs. E.M. Brown, Mrs. Lessie Crowd, Mrs. Martha Lee, Mrs. Elizabeth Meuse, Mrs. Hattie Wiley, Mrs. Mary George, Mrs. Marjorie Singleton, and Mrs. A. Fleming.
The property search proved challenging. A tract of land at Peter’s Creek near Camp Chowenwaw was purchased by the Negro Divisional Board, but had insurmountable access problems, so an alternative location was found in St. John’s County near Bayard.
Miss Laura Vitray of the Girl Scout National Publications Division describes this property: “The site is entirely surrounded by forest holdings of the Nocatee-Manatee Crate Company; the purchase of the land was largely due to the efforts of Mrs. Fred McConnell of this company, a former commissioner of the Duval County Girl Scouts. It is typical hammock land of the southern coastal region, and abounds in hickory, tall pine, magnolia and palm trees. Bordering the land on the north is Deep Creek which is definitely tidal and which empties a mile east into the Tolamato River, a part of the Inter-Coastal Waterway.”
The community rallied behind the Girl Scouts and gave generously to fund the new camp. Virtually every church, school and social club contributed. The purchase of a 72 acre property was completed July 23, 1948 at the cost of $3,500, and in October of that year, the deed to their new camp was received by the Girl Scouts.
Camp Chanyata – “A Place in the Woods” was dedicated in 1952. Mr. Joseph Ripley had donated the concrete blocks . Rev. Dr. Terrell, Mr. Earl Johnson, Mr. V.C. Johnson, owner of Dinsmore Dairy; Mr. Calhoun Geiger, owner of a sawmill and farm, Mr. Alfred Geiger, the Greenleaf and Satterwhite families, to name a few, contributed the labor. Mr. E.A. “Bossman” Downing directed the group.
Miss Ditray’s narrative describes the work: “A total of 12 workdays were held from March 29-October 4. During that time the land was cleared, a long 12’ bulldozed barrier which completely blocked the woods from the cleared area was hauled off for fill or burned, dead trees were cut, sawed and hauled into place as Council Ring seats, and the area for building was marked off and carefully cleared. It was decided to construct a lodge in 4 steps: 1. The building of a 24’ x 32’ main room with concrete floor and slat siding with shutters and screens. 2. The addition of a fireplace, 3. The addition of a 10’ x 32’ porch. 4. The addition of an ell including a kitchen, a staff room, and washroom or storage space.” The total cost? $587. All of this was done by volunteer labor. A contractor had built a wash house and a storage building, and had dug an artisan well.
The first construction phase included a main lodge, but it was not completely equipped until 1954. The January 21, 1954 Board minutes describe the main lodge as large enough to accommodate 24 girls and 6-8 adults.The main room included a slump-brick fireplace, dining facilities, a kitchen, and staff room. Fire-lanes were plowed around the campsite and the waterfront graded for more accessibility.
In the April 17, 1952 board minutes Mrs. Sulzbacher suggested that “permission be granted to build a friendship fireplace at the camp with all Girl Scouts in the city contributing five cents each to pay for the cost, subject to the approval of the individual troops.”
Again, Miss Ditray’s narrative: “Last spring an opportunity was given for all individuals and groups to participate in a Friendship Fireplace Fund, pointing up the Girl Scout Law [A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every Girl Scout]. Figurative bricks were sold at 5[cents] a brick. Contributions were many and varied. A large number of white troops in addition to the Negro troops responded. A sum of about $200.00 was raised-with some trickling in constantly.
Camp Chanyata served the Girl Scouts well, but in a letter to the St. John’s County Sheriff dated May 7, 1952, Mrs. Eloise Derbyshire noted the camp had been vandalized several times, losing equipment, two toilets, and a wash basin. Her letter states that the latest incident was in April 1952. Other records show Chanyata was vandalized in 1953, again in 1954.
In 1966, Camp Chanyata was re-built and re-dedicated “This Place in the Woods.” Wrestler Eddie Graham contributed a wrestling-match winnings to the re-building. As Girl Scouting expanded in Northeast Florida and Camps Chowenwaw and Kateri were in full use, Camp Chanyata was used mainly for primitive camping. The property was eventually sold in 1980.