As I sit here flipping through old photos of the family — and recent ones — I am in awe that Camp Alleghany for Girls has been around for 100 years now. And I am humbled to think that my family has been a part of this wonderful gift to girls for around 60 of those years.
I try to picture my grandfather S. Cooper Dawson Jr., “Papa” as I called him, coming to Alleghany and sizing it up and making the momentous decision in 1963 to buy the camp and run it as its director.
He already had experience in the hospitality and vacation business given his own dad owned and ran the Penn-Daw Motor-Hotel and Dining Room. Papa ran it for a time, too.
He also had experience working as business manager at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, so I’m sure he was excited about an opportunity to expand his hospitality and education empire!
But what I bet he didn’t imagine, was that almost 60 years later his great grandchildren would be running around camp, the fourth generation of Dawson descendants to enjoy the natural wonders and pristine retreat that ‘Ghany offers.
I know he was proud of the work my dad, Sam Dawson, did, in running camp for his years as Associate Director and then Director. And I can just see Papa’s eyes twinkling now in seeing camp move into its second century with his granddaughter, me, at the helm. He taught me so much, and was so filled with love — his spirit guides my work even today!
The Whispering Voices of the Past
Think about that. The ancestors.
Whether they’re the ancestors of our people or the ancestors of our old pines, of our ever-flowing river, and the old owls hooting each year as the billion-year-old stars glow over head — all of these ancestors tie us to the land, to place, to continuity, and belonging. We are stewards who are at once grateful and so in awe of all who came before us.
This Thanksgiving, during a time in America when everything is changing so fast that we hardly catch up when we’re hit with something new in technology or society or culture, it’s nice to remember that some things never change.
Things like a heavenly sky that’s shockingly blue at noon, soothingly orange and pink at sundown, and cradling us in starshine and moonglow in the deep of night.
It’s like that at ‘Ghany.
Things like grassy hills to trudge up even when our bodies are bone tired, facing the climb no matter the heat or the rain or the early morning chill, with a nice warm and comforting and healthy meal awaiting us in the familiar rustic setting of our open air Dining Hall above.
Things like an old Barge, pole powered, forcing the flow of traffic in and out of camp to s-l-o-w down to ‘Ghany time, leaving that racing fast world far behind for a few brief weeks each summer.
Things like a crackling campfire, 100s of girls gathered around, the moment hushed until a song begins, and we unite with all those girls all those years before who sat in the same place, singing the same songs — bonded, united, contented by time and spirit and friendship and belonging.
I will forever be grateful that I was basically raised at camp during the summers of my childhood. I treasure that my own kids and nieces and nephew enjoy the same.
I am thankful for every girl who has ever come to us, whether the girls of old sepia toned pictures wearing much more prim clothes than today but having every bit as much fun, or the girls of my own years as a camper, my comrades and pals and BFFs, or the girls who come to us today who need camp just as much as camp was ever needed for its natural reset and deeply nourishing retreat.
100 More Years
Where will we all be 100 years from now? Will we be remembered? Will the spirit of our voices whisper through the breeze of Alleghany’s natural canopy of trees? Will our souls reflect from the soaring and majestic mountains surrounding camp, the ancestors of a future time?
I think so.
I’m thankful that I can imagine camp enduring for the girls a century from now, in 2122, still taking “country roads” to “come home.”
I’m thankful we’ve been here for a century and that we’re nearly unchanged within the heart and soul of what we offer girls each summer. I’m thankful for this place. I’m thankful for the ancestors. I’m thankful for the next generation.
I’m truly, truly thankful.
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls