10. DOLLY COPP IN THE 1940S

The result of so much physical upgrading in the thirties was that by 1940 the Campground had attained the basic layout we see today. Some changes were still to come, but not during the decade of the forties.

Looking ahead to development after this decade, in the fifties the main entrance from Route 16 would be relocated to the north, the gate house was relocated, and camp sites were rehabilitated and reduced in number.

Then in the sixties as the gate house was again relocated, electricity and flush toilets were installed, and the Big Meadow was expanded. Basic Campground development was finally complete.

Yet if you were transported back to 1940 the basic layout was similar enough to today that you could find your way around.

Administrative “Instructions for the Operation of Dolly Copp Forest Camp” from 1940 have been preserved; “Parking Areas- Replace barriers and install new ones where necessary, such barriers to consist of boulders buried to make difficult to remove, or plantations, rather than logs.”

Dolly Copp campers with CCC boys in 1941.
Cheri Stepanian, in several period photographs,
at left center (and still camping in 2010!)

We see from this that the wooden guard rails, so abundant in thirties photos, were now to be replaced with large boulders. These attractive stones remain in place today throughout Dolly Copp.

But the demands of World War Two soon burst upon the relaxed Dolly Copp scene. National histories of camping document the difficulty of operating most camps during the war years.

Reasons were the absence of male staff, gasoline rationing discouraging leisure travel, and a lack of recreational equipment due to war production.

Such factors must have reduced activities at Dolly Copp as well during the 1942-1945 war period. According to the 1980 short unsigned history “World War II effectively stopped pleasure driving for 5 or 6 years and the Campground slumbered during those years. The Picnic Area was utilized by local citizens but for all practical purposes the Campground was closed.”

According to the Forest Supervisor “we did virtually nothing except have some of the lookouts and fireguards do what they could to keep the place reasonably picked up.”

Actual evidence of closing is an undated USFS press release announcing that “White Mountain National Forest Camping and Picnicking Areas will not open for the usual summer season, Supervisor Graham announced today.

He explained that this move had been made necessary by the President’s order restricting travel by all Government vehicles to an absolute minimum in an effort to help relieve the acute gasoline shortage in the Eastern states.”

The “Dolly Copp Recreation Area near Gorham, N.H.” is then listed, along with fifteen other WMNF camping and picnicking facilities.

Other evidence of lean times is in a Forest Service memo dated 6/8/1944, noting that the Administration Building “is to be kept closed again this year.... Apparently from all indications we are going to have more use of Dolly Copp this year than for the past year or so.”

Ranger Smitty at Old Administration
Building (today's Visitors Center) in 1942.

There is also a 1947 memo looking back on limitations during the recent war: “Mr. Graham stated that he doubted if it would be possible to provide the personal supervision at Dolly Copp which we have been accustomed to provide in the past, with the exception of the war years.”

But on the other hand there is documentation that the Appalachian Mountain Club conducted its annual “August Camp” in Dolly Copp during the summer of 1943.

According to Emily and Stuart Smith, camping at Dolly Copp during the war years was more than minimal. And the facility was definitely open for use. Both from long time camper families, they met here in 1943. They also remember most of the regular camping families as “tight knit” back then.

While the Campground was officially closed, as it could not be gated as a state highway to Randolph ran thru it, perhaps persons would set up and make do without the usual USFS services.

Post card of 1943 Dolly Copp scene.

 

 

This timeless message is on a Dolly Copp postcard with a tenting scene, postmarked Randolph, NH and dated August 30, 1945: “We pass thru this camping ground coming up. You might like to try it sometime. The people seem to have such jolly times.”

In August of 1945 this post card was sent back to campers at
Dolly Copp from friends who had just left. See face of post card.
Source: Scott McClory Dolly Copp Collection.

But soon the war was over and the Campground could gear up again. A Campers Association officer reported in 1946 that “Dolly has gone back to almost a wild stage with overgrown foliage during these past years of war.”

Commenting upon the completed 1946 summer season, Forest Supervisor Graham noted that the “problem has been rendered unusually difficult in that for the first time in fourteen years we have had to do it with plain hard cash rather than through the instrument of the CCC, conscientious objectors, and other free help.”

Research on national camping trends identifies a period of growth in the number of camps after World War II. Reasons included pent up demand for recreation, the advent of the baby boom generation, and camping now accepted by more of the general public as a summer vacation.

In support of that conclusion, AMC literature reports a great increase in use of White Mountains recreation facilities right after the War.And nationally there was a big postwar increase in mountain climbing.

As part of Dolly Copp’s allure is its immediate proximity to this sport, located as it is between two high ranges and a scenic area above timberline, by the late forties trail enthusiasts were making ever greater use of the Campground. Watching groups of hikers entering and leaving the Campground remains a spectator (couch potato) sport today.

In New Hampshire there are a total of 48 mountains rising over 4000 feet. For perspective on Dolly Copp’s strategic location as a base camp, consider that when these are ranked from 1 to 48, ten of the top twenty are within ten miles of the Campground.

I remember Dorothy Brown in 1962 would always recommend to Dolly Copp newcomers that they warm up by climbing Pine Mountain first, next the Imp, and only then attempt a major peak such as Mount Washington.

Excerpt from Esso New England road map for 1941.

There is evidence of a budget crisis in 1947 in this USFS staff memo:

Since the users of Dolly Copp Forest Camp have an organization, would you be in favor of contacting the officers to explain the problems confronting us and to determine if they would be willing to employ someone to dispose of their garbage and sewage?

Campground sanitation in the forties was still provided by the “outhouse” system, that is, a small wooden shed with a bench seat placed over a hole in the ground.

This system contrasts dramatically with the comparative luxury of the modern sanitation that arrived in the mid-sixties.

But this upgrade was being envisioned even in the forties, as documented by a 1946 Forest Service memo;

I then went on to discuss the sanitation problem on the Dolly Copp area, and our thoughts with respect to changing the present system of chemical toilets to a centralized disposal system of the flush type that would empty into a septic tank or series of septic tanks, which would be located below the camp ground.

But in 1946 that amenity was still 20 years away.

Speaking of the late forties, Betsy Kent of Jackson notes that on occasion the Campground was overcrowded and unruly. “Some nights there were as many as 1800-2000 campers, many coming down from Berlin.”

Dolly Copp campers were still organized as a group after the War. Their concerns in that era are reflected in this 1949 list of suggestions to the Forest Service, including a hint of growing usage:

Although the rules specifically state that trailers shall be placed in the Swimming Pool Area and the Big Meadow, for the past few seasons they have been placed all over the camp ground and in many instances on excellent tenting camp sites....The rule should be enforced 100%.

Enforcement of the unattended tent situation: It is a known fact that many campers believe that once they set their tent up early in the season on a very desirable camp site, that they can usurp that site for the remainder of the season and leave their tent for a week at a time and return only on week ends.

Oftentimes they do not return for a month or more. This situation is getting to be quite a problem and will continue to worsen if it isn't remedied as it is evident that our population will be greater from now on.

During the season of 1948 we appointed a committee to assemble some tables. We are willing and ready to assemble tables if they can be cut and bored ready for assembling. More tables are needed badly.

Dolly Copp campers in 1949
graced the cover of Troubadour Magazine.

Comment on the above photo by Margery Cummings Towne was received in January of 2011:

"Hi there, I have a copy of the Troubador Magazine also. I am sitting in the middle with blonde hair, next to me to your left is Bill Robinson and the older couple sitting on each side is his parents. I don't know who the little girl is.

National Geographic took this picture originally and I don't know how it got in the Troubador. We are sitting at Imp View Lane with the Imp in the background. I have always treasured this picture."

After the War the Campers Association was held in high enough regard for Forest Service officials to attend its annual winter meetings in Boston. A Forest Service report from 1947 states

“We met with the officers of the Dolly Copp Campers Association at the Statler Hotel in Boston.... It was learned that there are now about 100 registered members of the Association. Prior to the war the Association had an active membership of about 1000.”

Annual winter meetings of the Campers Association in Boston would continue until 1957.

According to the short unsigned history about 1947 the Association largely governed the Campground. The Association was guaranteed use of the Administration Building (today's Visitors Center), registered new arrivals, and policed the area. But as we shall see, the Association and its influence would not survive the fifties.