Way Back When...

(Note: I was given this documentation without the author's name.  If you know who wrote it please let me know so I can credit it to the right person.)

Early History of Camp Bert Adams

From the beginning, council leaders recognized the need for a council-sponsored summer camp.  As early as June, 1916 the idea of a summer camp was discussed, but the entrance of the United States into World War I put these plans on hold for the duration.  After the war, Mr. Roland Shine directed Camp Friendly for two years.  Camp Friendly did not have a permanent location, rather it moved among several locations which were temporarily loaned to the council each summer.

Though successful as a summer event, Camp Friendly still did not meet the need for a permanent  camp to serve as a center of Scouting activity.

When Camp Friendly had to be canceled in 1922 for lack of third-party assistance, the weakness of a temporary camp became evident.  Mr. Jameson called on the Executive Board to rectify the situation to prevent further retardation of Scouting in the council.  The search for a camping committee, under the direction of Mr. "Dick" Darby, inspected a number of possible locations.

The property which Mr. Darby selected was in Cobb County near the town of Vinings, 11 miles from Atlanta.  Once the domain of the Cherokees, the area was settled in the late 1830's by Hardy Pace, who established a ferry, gristmill, and cotton plantation.  Vinings' Mountain, which lay between the town and the proposed camp site, was where General Sherman got his first  view of the fortifications around Atlanta in 1864.

By the turn of the century, Vinings, with its mineral springs, hilly terrain, and sylvan settings, was a popular retreat for Atlantans who wished to escape from the bustle of the city.  A camp near Vinings seemed to be the perfect choice, and Mr. L.L. McDonald, of the National Camping Division, concurred.  The National Office approved the site.

The 84-Acre property was pieced together through the efforts of Mr. Albert Adams and the Adams-Cates Realty Company.  Various members of the Board underwrote the $3,000 purchase price.

Progress on the camp proceeded slowly at first.  By the summer of 1925 only the dam had been built, at a cost of $11,000.  Mr. Darby reported a couple of months later that the dam was not holding water satisfactorily.  This problem was eventually solved, allowing a 1.3-acre lake to form.  The lake was named for Mr. Darby in recognition of this efforts.

The camp was built on the pay-as-you-go plan, and construction was sporadic.  To get at least some use out of the property, it was opened up to the troops for weekend camping in the fall of 1925.  The original opening date of June, 1926, came and went with the camp still unready.

Mr. Law, chairman of the Council Executive Board, proposed a plan to raise the $75,000 needed to complete the construction and equip the camp through public subscription.  With Mr. Mell Wilkinson heading the effort, the campaign went forward in February 1927.

(click on the image for a larger view)

The news of  "Bert" Adams' death in December of 1926 greatly saddened his many friends.  Throughout his time as president, the council had worked towards completing the camp.  It has been his great desire to see it finished before he "passed out of the picture."  As a tribute to his efforts over the years, Mr. Law proposed that the new camp be named the "Bert Adams Boy Scout Camp" as a memorial to the man who had done so much for the council.  The motion was carried unanimously.  The Rotary Club of Atlanta, of which Mr. Adams and Mr. Law were past-presidents, gave its unstinted support of the proposal, and contributed generously in the February Campaign.

The fund-raising efforts were successful, and on April 3, 1927, Life Scout  Albert S. Adams, Jr. turned the first shovel-full of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the 60 x 100 foot dining hall, the main structure in camp.

At one point it appeared as if all the hard work of the fund-raising campaign would be wasted when a fire broke out on the reservation, threatening the lumber stacks.  The sharp eyes and quick actions of the scouts of Troop 1, Vinings, under Scoutmaster R.H. Scott, saved the day, however.  The Scouts were able to contain the fire before it did too much damage, and the building materials were spared from the flames.

Finally, on Friday, June 11, 1927, the Bert Adams Boy Scout Camp was officially dedicated with appropriate ceremonies.  A newspaper announcement invited the general public to attend and inspect the camp.  Among the special guests present were Mr. Lewis H. Beck, Governor Clifford Walker, Atlanta Mayor I.N. Ragsdale, and Chief Scout Executive James E. West.  In his address, Dr. West indicated that Atlanta was one of only a few councils at that time to own any camping facilities.

Two days later, 106 Scouts streamed into the camp for its first week of operations.

Map of the main area of Camp Bert Adams   c. 1930

(click on image for larger view)

Camp Cabin Names

Antelope         Bear            Coyote            Dolphin         Eagle

Fox                  Gopher        Hawk              Ibis                Jackal

While Mr. Darby was responsible for the physical development of the camp, the man given the job of shaping the program was Mr. W.A. Dobson.  Mr. Dobson, as the Scout Executive in West Point, Georgia, guided the development and operation of a camp in that council.  "Dobbie," as he was called, became the Field Executive for the Atlanta Council in May, 1926.

Camp Operation and activities were a little different in the early days of Camp Bert Adams from what Scouts would be familiar with today.  In many ways it was the same as Camp Friendly, except things were not as makeshift.

Scouts arrived at camp individually and were assigned to a hut.  Each hut held 16 Scouts, and a staff member was assigned to look after each hut.  The huts were named after animals, the first hut beginning with the letter "a," down to the letter "i."  In order they were: antelope, bear, coyote, dolphin, eagle, fox, gopher, hawk and ibis.  Each boy decided which badges he would work on and went from class to class.  Any boy not constructively engaged in an activity might be assigned a badge to take or  given some other task to keep him out of trouble.

           W.A. Dobson at Camp Bert Adams.  Note poles with animal images leaning on building

Each morning started with the sound of the bugle.  The bugler had a large megaphone hanging between two trees, and he would put the bugle up to the megaphone and blow "Reveille."  He would blow first toward the huts, and then he would rotate the megaphone and blow in different directions so it could be heard all over camp.  The bugle calls were a very important part of camp life.  The called the Scouts to every activity, to meals, Flag ceremonies, and sent them to bed at night.

The camp store was a popular place for the campers to go after the mid-day meal, especially since this was the only time of the day that it was open.  The store was open for one hour, and Scouts were limited to 15 cents for their purchases.  When classes resumed for the afternoon, the store closed so that the staff member could attend to his other duties.

The camp paper, known as the Totem Pole, was very popular among the Scouts.  Each issue was reproduced on  hectograph in the evening and distributed at breakfast.  After reading each issue, Scouts often sent them home for their parents to read.

To encourage Scouts to participate on the various activities, the camp used a "Coup Belt Honor" system.  In this system, Scouts could earn "coup" for  performing certain tasks.  The Scout's belt was stamped with the appropriate symbol and colored in.


                                                                     Camp Bert Adams

                                                                Coup Belt Honor System

                                                Used in the late 1920's and early 1930's


A TENT to each member of the patrol winning cabin inspection.  Color - Brown

A SUN to the patrol leader of the patrol winning cabin inspection.  Color - Yellow

A CAMPFIRE to each member of the patrol having best campfire program.  Color red flame, black Sticks.

A CRESCENT MOON to each Scout taking part in campfire program.  Color - Yellow

A KETTLE to each member of patrol having highest percentage in K.P. inspection.  Color - Black.

A RED WATER DOG to all beginners swimming 50 feet.

A WHITE WATER DOG to all scouts swimming 100 yards.

A BLUE WATER DOG to all scouts fulfilling swimming requirements of merit badges in Swimming or Life Saving.

A LIFE PRESERVER to each scout selected as life guard.  Must hold merit badge in Life Saving.  Color - White buoy, Red bands.

AN ARROW HEAD for each merit badge earned while in camp.  Color - White

ONE WIGWAM to each scout completing Second Class requirements.  Color - Yellow with Red figures.

TWO WIGWAMS to each Scout completing First Class requirements. Color - Yellow with Red figures.

A PINE TREE to members of patrol passing most tests while in camp. Color - Green

A BUFFALO HORN to each Scout bringing musical instrument to camp and furnishing music at programs.  Color - Yellow, Black bell, Red mouth.

A FOOT PRINT - to each Scout going on supervised overnight hike from camp.  Color - White, Black nails.

AN AXE to each Scout taking part in approved building project.  Color - Black head, Red Handle.

A SWASTIKA to each Scout selected as special instructor.  Color - Yellow.

A GOAT to each Scout doing mess hall duty as directed by steward.  Color - Red face, White horns, White eyes.

A SHARK to each Scout completing three articles of handicraft.  Color - White.

THREE RED STRIPES to each Scout serving as orderly.

Other coups for special work as designated by the Camp Director.



The cabins also competed against one another in terms of cleanliness, promptness at meals and flag ceremonies, participation at campfires, number of coups earned among the members, etc.  The cabin with the most number of points at the end of the week got to paint it's totem on the side of the dining hall.  This tradition continued for many years.

At the end of each week, the staff chose who they felt was the best all-around camper for that week, and awarded him the title of Honor Camper for the week.  In the fall, all the weekly Honor Campers for that season were take on a special trip panned just for them.  Sometimes the promised trip materialized, and sometimes it did not.

The ultimate emblem of achievement was the camp patch.  The requirements for this felt badge were lengthy.  In addition to earning a minimum of 15 coups, a scout had to also do the following:

Advance a rank or earn three merit badges

Make a bird house and put it up

Identify 10 trees, 6 constellations, 12 knots, and poison ivy

Attend Sunday religious services

Demonstrate loyalty an obedience

Write home twice a week

Do a good turn daily

Keep quarters clean, and

Take part in the campfire program

With such a lengthy requirement, it is no wonder that only 23 Scouts, out of the 953 who attended the first year, earned the emblem.  After a couple of years, the requirements were reduced to earning the 15 coups.

The activities offered by the camp were quite varied.  In addition to swimming, Scoutcraft, nature, and handicrafts, there were classes in radio, rope spinning, (made popular you Will Rogers), Indian costume making and beadwork (taught by a real Indian!"), and model airplane building.  With over 20 different activities being offered, it was hard to be bored.

Added to these day-time activities were the evening events.  There were "rope hikes" (where all hikers were linked by a long rope and lead cross country), stargazing atop Vinings Mountain, ghost stories, night games, and the occasional "scam" put on by the staff.  There were also numerous campfires.  The closing campfire program often featured a minstrel show put on by the staff.  Mr. George Dorsey, with his burnt-cork makeup and silly antics, was a perennial favorite.

When Mr. Jameson resigned as the Scout Executive after the first season, Mr. Dobson Took over the position.  To fill the position of Field Executive, and to serve as the Camp Director, the council hired a young man by the name of Mr. Ed Dodd.

Mr. Dodd was an experienced camp leader, having served for six summers with National Scout Commissioner Dan Beard at the Silver Bay camp in New York.  Like Mr. Beard, Mr. Dodd was an artist and skilled outdoorsman.  He remained with the Atlanta Council from 1928 to 1931.

During his time as Camp Director at Bert Adams, he invited his good friend and mentor, Mr. Dan Beard, to visit the camp.  Mr. Dodd also continued to draw his nationally-syndicated cartoon, "Back Home Again."  He sometimes used Scouts at the camp as models for his drawings.

The camp experienced a few upgrades in facilities at this time.  By 1929, silt and pollution in the stream from Smyrna had contaminated the lake to such an extent that it was declared unsuitable for swimming, so an Olympic-size swimming pool was built.  Swimming was done without suits (a common practice anyway) to make the pool easier to keep clean.  The pool was located in a ravine near the headwaters of the lake so that it was out of view from the main part of the camp, and visiting mothers were not allowed near the pool area.  Any time a female visitor appeared, a staff member would run down to the cabins and waterfront calling "L. I. C." (Ladies In Camp), warning all those who were not decent to get so immediately.

        Yes, some of these boys are in the "buff."
(click on image for larger view)

Camp facilities were improved further in 1930 with the addition of a health lodge.  This building was made possible through the contribution of Mr. William C. Wardlaw.

During his time at the camp, Mr. Dodd experimented with broadening the program to appeal to more boys.  To give 11-year olds a taste of Scouting before they could become Scouts (12 years old was the minimum age),  "Camp Kit Carson" was initiated.  In this program, one week was set aside at the end of the regular season for non-Scouts.  They followed the regular program, except they could not earn merit badges or pass ranks.

For 1931, the camp introduced two special programs for older Scouts.  The Pioneer Camp was removed from the main part of the camp.  Here the boys slept in tepees, planned their own menus, did their own cooking, and had some special activities.  They also attended activities in the main part of the camp.  A special program for Sea Scouts was also initiated under the direction of Skipper Warren Barlar.

For the regular campers, the opportunity for an overnight trip away from the main part of the camp was given.  Mr. C.H. Westin led these expeditions, two huts at a time, to remote parts of the camp, where they got a sample of what the Pioneer program was like.

Although Ed Dodd was a popular figure among the campers, he and Mr. Dobson often clashed.  When the opportunity to become Scout Executive in Spartanburg, South Carolina was presented, Mr. Dodd took the position.  After he left, Mr. Dobson resumed the role of Camp Director during the summers.

The prevailing idea in Scout camping at the time was that Scouts attended summer camp as individuals, where they lived with other boys from all over the area.  By the mid-1930's this philosophy was beginning to change.  The B.S.A. began to realize that the troop leaders could add much to the camp program.  Camp Bert Adams followed the new trend of troop camping in 1934.  Selected weeks were set aside for troop to come under their own leadership.  The troops conducted their own programs, using the resources of the camp and the staff.

The transition from mass camping to troop camping had a lot of opposition.  Many campers and leaders felt that the best part of summer camp was being with new people form other parts of the city.  The troop camped together nine or ten months out of the year, they reasoned, and summer camp should be an opportunity to get away from the troop for a while.  It was a point of view, however, that did not win out in the end.

In 1936, Mr. Dobson took a promotion to Regional Scout Executive.  In his place, Mr. C.H. Weston took over at the Camp Director, a role he performed very well until he left Atlanta after the 1937 season.

Mr. Westin introduced a new honor recognition to the camp in 1937 called the Order of the Arrow.  He had heard of this honor camper society at a training conference and brought the idea back with him.  He knew nothing about the procedure for establishing a lodge, or of ceremonies.  The staff simply selected the boys whom they thought most worthy and Mr. Westin told those chosen, "Congratulations, you are now in the Order of the Arrow."  It was not until 1938 that a recognized induction was held and a charter issued to the local lodge.

The year 1937 also saw the expansion of Camp Bert Adams by 59 acres.  This tract of land was the gift of Mr. William C Wardlaw as a memorial to his youngest son, Platt, who had died in 1923 at the age of fourteen.  A three-ton granite monument was dedicated during the regular camping season the following year on the new property.

With the extra acreage provided by the Wardlaw Reservation, the camp room to grow as it moved into the next decade.  The camp became less centralized in the 1940's as troop sites were developed.  Each site had an adirondack  to serve as the site headquarters, and campers stayed in tents.  The old cabins were converted to other uses or abandoned completely.  A new building, the Treasure Oak Lodge, was built across from the dining hall to serve as a meeting room for various events.

Treasure Oak Lodge became the stage for "Honey Almand's Sweetheart Hour," a weekly sing-along held as entertainment after the campfire program.  The name, given by Camp Director Pat Patterson, derived from the name of the staff member in charge of leading it, Arnold "Honey" Almand (after the candy bar), and the traditional opening number the group sang, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

Thought the Wardlaw addition helped ease crowding at the camp for a while, the continued growth of Scouting in the council would again make space an issue within a few years.