11. DOLLY COPP IN THE 1950S
At mid-century there was a significant change to traffic flow within, and overall access to, the Campground. The entrance up until then had been at the south end.
It would now be relocated three quarters of a mile to the north. There is evidence that the origins of the change may be traced back to as early as 1934.
In that year USFS staff had solicited advice from UNH Forestry Department staffers. Their answer on this issue reveals something about the question asked; “Neither of these men had any definite views on closing Pinkham B Road as a thoroughfare. They consider the road mildly hazardous but very convenient.”
A 1946 Forest Service memo laid out a plan; “I
explained to Mr. Robinson my desire to relocate the Pinkham B
Road so as to eliminate the State highway running through Dolly
Copp, and I believe he was in hearty accord.” Then in 1949
the Forest Supervisor wrote to the Campers Association;
It is hoped to complete that by late spring next year, and once that is done and the old bridge removed, leaving the entrance to the campground at the north end, Dolly Copp should really quiet down in many respects. At the same time, the possibility of charging, quite probably on a concessionaire basis, will be a practicable proposition.
More insight on the reorientation of the entrance is found in another 1949 memo; “Should, for instance, Dolly Copp have a single controlled entrance, a great many of the internal problems would almost automatically disappear, particularly those problems dealing with outside interference.”
Some of the record has been preserved as to a presentation of the proposal to the State Highway Commission and the Governor. “Their immediate reaction was to simply close the Dolly Copp Road at Barnes Brook, with that part of it going through the campground being abandoned by the State.”
This appears to mean permanent closure of the Pinkham B Road north of Barnes Field, then deeding the newly created stub of the main campground road to the Forest Service as a dead end, thus quieting the Campground and keeping the old bridge in use to avoid the cost of building a new one.
Continuing; “That of course would be the cheapest thing to do, but whether or not we, the State Highway Department, or both, could successfully meet any local opposition that might develop is another matter. The next alternative is to cut across a spur road, which in itself is not particularly difficult but would involve a pretty expensive bridge.”
But the ambitious plan for a new bridge got the
nod to go ahead. According to a 1950 memo from the Forest Supervisor
to the Campers Association:
The "cut-off road" under
It was selected in place of Dolly Copp, which would naturally be assumed to be the obvious choice for an operation of this sort, because ingress could be controlled. The Forest Service is carefully choosing only camps where the prospective camper can be informed that a charge will be made, before he enters and sets up his camp. This is not possible at the Dolly Copp Campground, where a public highway bisects the area.
This major change came quickly. USFS correspondence of 4/9/1951 informs us that “the new entrance road was completed last fall, and our present plan includes barricading or removing the old steel bridge and having controlled entrance from the north.”
The 1950 era bridge today, looking south.
It appears from this that for a brief period during parts of 1950 and 1951 both old and new bridges were in service simultaneously. Long time camper Elsie Ashworth says that the old bridge was then washed out by a storm in 1952.
AMC HELPS OUT. There had been evidence of a tight postwar budget situation in Forest Service memos from 1946 and 1947, noting that it might be inevitable that Dolly Copp be run on a concession basis. This issue then comes to a head in 4/9/1951 correspondence from the Forest Supervisor to the Association:
As you know, the Forest Service has just about come to the end of its rope financially. In trying to work out some arrangement for not only keeping Dolly Copp open this year but looking ahead to the years to come, we have after almost prayerful consideration, come to the conclusion the interests of the campers will best be served if we can get the management undertaken by some long term, non-profit organization.
In the order of priority or desirable management, this is about the way it stacks up: 1) Appalachian Mountain Club, 2) Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, 3) State of New Hampshire, 4) U.S. Forest Service, 5) Individual concessionaire.
The subject has been discussed at length with both of the first two above, and there is some considerable prospect that one or the other of them may be willing to undertake the job. It will, of course, have to be on a charge basis, and as far as I know now, at the rates which have been in existence on National Forest camp grounds for the past two years.
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) was then selected. Author F. Allen Burt places the start of AMC responsibility in the spring of 1951.
It was the fiscal pressure of the Korean War that kept the Forest Service budget so lean during this period (CH). Long time camper Nancy Birch recalls the worry in her family at this time, that the public nature of the Campground might be compromised by this move.
The AMC then operated Dolly Copp under a five year contract. A letter of 7/21/1954 from the Campers Association to the Forest Supervisor expresses approval: “The AMC is doing a splendid job. The young men in charge are very well liked. We are so happy that they now have nice living quarters.” See the AMC rules for campers.
Excerpt from early 1960's Campground
The “living quarters” likely refers to a crew quarters cabin built that year off of the dirt road above the Gravel Pit. It is shown on the 1958 campground map but was dismantled soon thereafter. Its foundation is still visible.
Fifties crew quarters foundation today.
AMC management did not last long for the Forest Service resumed direct operation in the summer of 1957. The Forest Supervisor at the time, G. S. Wheeler, expressed thanks to the AMC; “The Forest Service is indebted to the AMC for its continuing cooperation in all our common interests....The Forest Service will offer the facilities of Dolly Copp to campers free of charge.”
A letter from the Dolly Copp Campers Association at this time also offered thanks to the AMC “for all they have done in the past to make our stays at Dolly Copp so pleasant.”
Stationery letterhead of the
The AMC remains a prominent presence in the area today, its Pinkham Notch headquarters on Route 16 about 6 miles south of the Campground. Readily available for viewing there is a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Presidential Range and vicinity.
This display is especially worthwhile for the geographic overview it provides on Dolly Copp. Every loop and lane in the Campground is shown, in relationship to the adjacent topography and trail network. The leading role of Dolly Copp as a base for serious climbers is made obvious.
OTHER FIFTIES ISSUES. We often perceive of recycling and conservation as starting with the environmental movement of the sixties, Earth Day in 1970, and later federal and state laws. But consider that the Campground brochure of 1951 included in all capital letters and in short centered lines this credo: “I give my pledge as an American to defend from waste the natural resources of my country- its soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.”
A deepening of the Copp Family mystique occurred in 1952 as author Anne Miller Downes completed her fictionalized account of the life of the Copps entitled “The Pilgrim Soul.” The Downes book was reprinted in 1997 by Durand Press and is available in area book stores.
Casey Hodgdon remembers her visiting the Campground during the early fifties. He said she was not herself a camper so lodged nearby.
Forest Service vehicles were painted dark green in these years, rather than the light green of today (CH). The AMC staffs cleaning responsibilities were garbage collection in the morning and maintenance of outhouses in the afternoon. There was no tidying up of sites by staff upon departure of campers as practiced today (CH).
The Ford Motor Company's “Ford Times” magazine of June 1953 had an article extolling the virtues of “Dolly Copp Forest Camp." It included such descriptive tidbits as “The fireplace is for toasting marshmallows or dreaming... Its visitors take care of its cleanliness to the last tin can or shred of waste paper....
Dolly Copp is now managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, under the direction of Joe Dodge, the Club’s nationally famed Hut manager. There are two on-the-spot supervisors, both experienced mountain and forest men.”
Campers Association correspondence from the Summer of 1954 gives us a glimpse of pleasant vacations; “We put on a dance for the campers every Tuesday and Saturday night at the Recreation Hall. Last night it was really crowded. We have a large supply of “funny books” that I have charge of, and the children come and borrow them. Their parents say it is a blessing for they keep them quiet, especially on rainy days.... We have so far this year 168 members.”
Casey Hodgdon remembers that in the early fifties “It was all tents as the modern camper trailer was yet to come. We started charging-- a dollar a night, five dollars a week, with no 14 day limit. Most people camped all summer and did not pay until Labor Day when they left. Many campers came from the Boston, North Shore and South Shore Areas, and set up a permanent camp for their families, while the men were gone all week to their jobs in the Boston Area.”
Bob Brown remembers that as a child in the early fifties, he spent most of the summer in Dolly Copp. Fitting into Casey's commuting pattern, Bob’s father worked in Boston and drove up to join the family on weekends. As already noted this trend of high usage from the Greater Boston Area had established itself in the twenties.
Dorothy Brown remembers that at this time the head of the Association would visit each section of the Campground with a megaphone each morning. He would enthusiastically announce the activities available that day. Many campers thought this was a convenience, but others just wanted to sleep!
The date of 8/31/1954 is important in Campground history for on it Hurricane Carol struck, the worst storm since the hurricane of 1938. There was considerable damage in Dolly Copp from overflowing streams.
The new, northern bridge over the Peabody had erosion
on both abutments but held, while the small bridge inside the
Campground over Culhane Brook was damaged beyond repair. According
to Elsie Ashworth:
The old bridge that we had come across was washed away in the high roaring waters. The water had cut such a wide path that there were 6 or 8 camp sites that were located around the lower parts of Birch Lane that were totally washed out. The tents, stoves, chairs, etc. were washed away in the river.
Culhane Brook flowing over main
Campers south of the Culhane Brook could not get out because the bridge was almost gone. The water was so high over it that it could not be used. A lot of the people in that area were brought to the Recreation Hall to be safe. This was probably around the time that we left.
We went into Gorham, which was a little town just north of the camp. The Town must have already had an emergency plan in place because when my father went into the police station to ask for help, all the motels in the area were already full, they had a list of volunteer families to take people in.
My family was broken up and we were sent to three different places. They were quite wonderful to do that. I am sure we must have been quite a sight.”
Memories of Dolly Copp in the fifties, by Gail Craig Gordon writing in 2009:
--- Playing badminton with the Flynn boys from Winthrop,
--- Whitey Paquette’s Hudson convertible.
The Flynn boys mentioned at the top of Gail's list above are part of another long time Dolly Copp camper family. See the video of the Flynn's 2007 family party in Dolly Copp entitled "Dolly Copp 2007 - The Film."
Across the nation during the fifties the post war camping boom was in full swing. In 1954 George and Iris Wells published their book “The Handbook of Auto Camping and Motorist’s Guide to Public Campgrounds.” It is interesting for the perspective it provides on camping during the early fifties.
The growth of family oriented camping since WWII into a principal form of recreation was noted. Its long established popularity in the East and especially New England was seen as spreading rapidly to other states. Much was said of what to eat and how to keep costs down.
Concerning possible invasion of privacy, amateurs were advised that among campers the tent is considered just as private as the home. Also, that there is a code of honor in campgrounds that prevents theft. It was noted that wooden tent pegs were then going out of style in favor of steel and aluminum ones.
The reader was advised that while the camp site will have a table and benches, bringing along some of the newly invented folding aluminum chairs is a good idea. Also, you should not cut across an adjacent campsite as that is considered an invasion of privacy.
Moving on to the later fifties, in a 1957 newsletter we hear that “The past season at Dolly Copp proved to be the greatest yet. From all available records the number of campers exceeded all previous years, and membership in the Dolly Copp Campers Association soared to a new high of 616.”
Also, that “campsites, unused for years were reclaimed. The recreation hall floor was washed and oiled, pits were filled, and a new organizational area cleared.”
In a 1958 Campers Association newsletter we hear that “Your Board of Directors is giving considerable thought to the advisability of obtaining a generator for the Association. This would eliminate the use and uncertainty of batteries as well as give more effective lighting in the hall. Also, campers having slides or movies would be able to entertain their fellow campers especially in inclement weather....”
Continuing, “Also under consideration by your Board of Directors are ways and means of improving the enjoyment of Field Day evening.”
Several records and eyewitnesses confirm that these annual Field Days were major events. Here is an Association report on the fun had at the 1957 Field Day:
Our annual Field Day, Saturday, August 3rd was once again blessed with wonderful weather. We have been very fortunate for many years in having good weather prevail on this day.
Mrs. Cummings did her usual wonderful job with the younger set, while the teenagers were competing in their events in the Ball Field. The morning program was brought to a close with the running of the annual Marathon.
Annual fifties "Field Day" race in Dolly Copp.
Most of the afternoon events were devoted to the adults and the varied types of contests gave everyone a chance to participate in one of more events. The climax of the afternoon program came with the election of Miss Dolly Copp.
The honor this year was won by a local lass, Miss Leona Martin of Berlin, N.H. Her two attendants were Miss Sharon Ayles and Miss Dorothy Allen. A triumphal tour of Gorham and Berlin, with our bevy of Gorgeous Lassies perched atop Sport Roadsters brought the afternoon events to an end.
In the evening the Recreation Hall became the scene of activities. Miss Dolly Copp was officially enthroned, prize dances were held, a large number of prizes were drawn by association number and general dancing brought Field Day to a very successful close.
Pavement of camp roads was expanding in the fifties. It is estimated that by 1951 some of the now dead ended old Pinkham B Road through the Campground had been paved with tar, while the narrower side lanes, drives and loops thru camping areas still retained their original dirt surfaces.
The Association newsletter of late 1957 gives us a snapshot of road improvement activity that year:
The main road was paved all the way to the recreation hall. It had been planned to pave the road in the Big Meadow, but such a large amount of material was needed to repave the main road that available funds and materials were exhausted before this could be accomplished. This accounts for the high ridge along the Big Meadow roadway, as the road had already been prepared for paving.
According to Belvin Barnes (BB) the side spurs and loops were then all paved by 1960.
A Manchester Union Leader article on 8/13/1958 sheds some light on the inventory of camp sites at that time; “Although the campground has been set up for 210 sites, the average use during the 1957 season was 235 from July third to Labor Day.”
Belvin Barnes confirms that the official site total when he managed the Campground in 1957 was 210 sites. He recalls that this total made Dolly Copp the largest campground in the National Forest system.
That total would soon be reduced. Twenty years of experience with the thirties era siting plan had built up knowledge in USFS staff as to how spacing and layout could be enhanced, once money was available for the task.
Evidence of a late fifties site reorganization is found in a 1958 letter from the Forest Service to the Campers Association; “As we rehabilitate each area camping sites will be spaced at 50 to 100 foot intervals and eventually specific places for trailers will be set aside.”
The late thirties siting arrangement is documented as largely unchanged up until 1958. The site numbering system we have today was not in place until the early sixties, necessarily after the Big Meadow was expanded at the north end as it holds sites numbered 1 to 50.
Dorothy Brown remembers that by the late fifties sites had fallen into disrepair and that there were concerns for overuse. Long time camper George Brackett recalls the major reorganization. A June 1958 USFS file item states:
Under the Forest Service Recreation program known as Operation Outdoors, we were granted increased appropriations to begin a period of rehabilitation and expansion of recreation facilities with the objective of meeting demand by 1962. A detailed study of the demand and use at Dolly Copp Campground was made last year. We found that the Campground has been used in excess of its design capacity for several years...
Use of the 210 sites fluctuated from a low of 169 camps on a week day in mid-July to a high of 299 camps on a Sunday in early August... Even under conditions of overcrowding, there were a few sites that were still unoccupied. These unused sites are poorly located and apparently undesirable. In our rehabilitation of this area, camps of this nature will be removed and placed in more desirable locations where they will receive use.
Evidently the unsited sections in Swimming Pool Field absorbed the overflow beyond 210.
USFS Campground Manger Belvin Barnes recalls that the 1958 reorganization and thinning of camp sites were not popular at the time but that they did lead to much more pleasant camping conditions.
He can still visualize the tight packing of tents on peak weekends in the Swimming Pool Field and Midway Lane areas; “In the fields the tents were so crowded that the ropes extending out from the sides of one tent would cross right into those of the neighbor’s tent.”
When introduced in the late thirties, the designation of the number one site logically started with the first site nearest the entrance. This was on the north side of the End Loop entrance, formerly Site 1 but numbered as Site 169 today. Now Site 1 is at the other end of the Campground, at the north in the Big Meadow, nearest today's entrance.
Today Dolly Copp camp site numbering ends at 180 in End Loop. While there is a Site 96A that would appear to raise the total to 181, four numbers, 124, 144, 158 and 161 are currently unassigned, thus lowering the total to 177.