Robert Harvey Remembers Camp Daniel Boone as it was in the 1940s

Letter from Robert Harvey of Kingsport, Tennessee about his memories of visiting Camp Daniel Boone in Jessamine County, Kentucky as a youngster.

By now I’m afraid the memories of my days at the camp have largely faded away and there’s not much left to pass on.  In fact, I can’t remember for certain if the old trestle over Marble Creek was there in the early forties or not.  However, the RNI&B’s river bridge at Valley View was there for at least my first year at the camp, but the next year it fell victim to the drive to reclaim steel for the war effort.  (Although that drive was patriotic and well-intentioned, I bitterly resented its excesses, particularly in the disposition of the excellent historical exhibit of old-time railway appliances the CNO&TP had at the Lexington station.)

To back up a bit, my mother was in summer school at UK for three summers, and she parked me in camp at Daniel Boone.  I was there in 1940, 1941 and 1942, I believe.  For my first two years, Alton Parker May was the director;  the third year it was someone else because A. P. had been transferred to Mississippi.  That was a blow to me because I had gotten to know him and his family — Mrs. May, Ruth, Billy and Jimmy — well, being a summer-long camper.  There were other staff members that I came to know for the same reason, and those that I now remember are Walter Leet, Charles (Beeler) Anderson and Robert M. Spragens.  Walt and Beeler were from Lexington and Bob was from Lebanon.  Around nine years ago, shortly after I began using the Internet I searched out Bob Spragens’ name and wrote him a letter — but it got to his house around a week too late.  I know Walt Leet has also died, but maybe Beeler is still alive;  his father was the manager of the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington in the early forties.

The chief cook was William (Bill) Greene, with helpers Charlie and Buddy.  Bill was a kindly man and he didn’t mind my hanging around in the kitchen when I had free time.  Charlie was an enthusiastic pianist.  During the opening-night exercises Charlie would be coaxed to come in to the assembly room to play something.  Also, he and Bill, and maybe Buddy, too, would sing a song to the campers, welcoming them to the session.

The only campers I can recall were Jack Lawson, from the Cincinnati or Newport area and grandson of a Mr. Ewald, an important manufacturer; Bill Crutcher of Richmond;  Grandison H. M. Reynolds III, also known as Sonny, who was from the eastern part of the state, possibly Pike County;  a small and pugnacious brawler whose first name was Arthur but who was widely known as Splo-head, possibly from around East Bernstadt;  and “Bunky” Wilkie, home town unknown.  Mrs. May’s brother, Richard Lotspeich, was there for one term, possibly as a counsellor;  he later was a professor of mathematics at a couple of colleges.

Even as a chld I was much impressed by the towering cliffs along the river.  One of the camp activities was a walk up Marble Creek along the cliff on the right side that involved negotiating “fingergrip,” a short section where the trail seemed to play out altogether and you had to reach ahead to get a hold on the other side of the narrow spot.  Another standard outing was a boat ride down the river a short distance to a cave on the right side of the river, most likely the one you mentioned.  Although the river was navigable I don’t remember seeing much, if any, traffic.  The boats we used at the camp, by the way, were standard rowboats, but having lived all my life in southern West Virginia, they were unfamiliar to me;  I was accustomed to seeing long and narrow flat-bottomed boats that were propelled either by a paddle or a pole.

At the time, I was a budding railroad enthusiast and a walk along the old abandoned right of way of the RNI&B above the camp was a treat to me, since I had at least a vague idea that a railroad had been there in earlier flimflamposter.jpgtimes.  In later years, I read what I could on the history of the “Riney-B” and it made me wish I’d been more observant when I was there on the scene.  Probably there’s nothing new I can tell you about this, but some years ago my wife and I saw the movie, “The Flim-Flam Man.,” and as a railfan, I was highly pleased with it from the very first scene, which showed a moving freight train — the con artist was being bodily thrown from it.  A little later in the film they had con man, George C. Scott, and his apprentice crossing the river on an ancient ferry.  I told my wife it looked just like the one I had known at Valley View twenty-five or thirty years earlier.  Then there was a new camera angle that showed the old piers of the RNI&B bridge and there was no doubt from then on that at least some of the picture had been filmed in Bluegrass Kentucky.

As I remember it now, no unpleasant incidents of any kind at all happened during the three years I was in the camp — no drownings, no lost campers, no ugly fights, no thievery.  It must have been a serene place.  The one unpleasant event that I do remember, though happened in a softball game:  Buddy, the kitchen helper and a powerful young fellow, was at bat and he swatted a hard one right to the pitcher, who didn’t get his glove down fast enough.  He crumpled and lay there for a while.  We boys all sympathized, knowing how painful a hard blow to that spot can be.

Raised in West Virginia, with brief residences in Virgina, I’m now in Kingsport in East Tennessee and likely will stay here.  My first wife and I often visited sites along the CNO&TP some years ago — a great railroad for train-watchers — staying several times at Pleasant Hill and enjoying every minute of it.

Cordially,

Robert Harvey

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Published in: on November 17, 2007 at 4:53 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The pix shared by Harvey are much appreciated. Having spent several week-long camps with scouts and church groups during the 1950’s, I was delighted to find someone had pictures of what still was present when I was there. I wish there were more, but don’t know where to look.

  2. I am the son of Grandison H.M Reynolds III (Sonny) and he was from Pike County. I did me well to see you remembered being there with him.

    R,
    David Reynolds


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