31. AROUND THE CAMPFIRE



Very much the social focus.



See full photo of permit being issued at early Dolly Copp.



Source of 1921 permit: Scott McClory Dolly Copp Collection.

 

Youthful campers in 1939. Back of photo reads
"July 1939 - Around campfire at Dolly Copp
camp site on a very, very cold night."

The presence of a fireplace at each camp site goes all the way back to the origins of Dolly Copp camping. This is a practical amenity for cooking of course, but also serves as a social focal point. Just about every camper has a memory of sitting conversing with friends on a dark night while watching red and orange rippling through hot burning logs.

Obtaining wood for the fireplace has always been a key ritual for the camper. To assist, in 1940 there were seven fuelwood yards placed strategically around Dolly Copp.

They were at the south end of End Loop, between Imp View Lane and Midway Lane, at the center of High Woods, at the top of Brook Loop, in the Gravel Pit, and then two yards in the Picnic Area to serve north and south sides of the Picnic Shelter.

We find this reference within the 1940 administrative guidelines; “Fuelwood- Provide four foot split wood in central yards designated by the District Ranger with saw horses and chopping blocks. Each year they shall be stocked to capacity at the beginning of the season.”

Bob Ross of Gorham, when a CCC worker in 1940, remembers “we delivered wood from the wood yards to camp sites and kept the Campground clean.”

George Brackett remembers the fuel wood yard near Midway Lane offering large slabs of wood. These were brought back to your site to chop up for campfire use. There was no fence or fee and you were welcome to take all you needed.

On the 1951 Campground brochure the seven fuelwood yards of 1940 had been reduced to three. Those remaining were at End Loop, Midway Lane and Brook Loop.

The 1951 brochure states “Wood at random lengths is provided at a central wood yard. Campers must cut their wood in the wood yard, using their own tools for the purpose. It is not to be worked up at the camp site. Persons not desiring to work up wood in the central wood yard may buy fitted wood, which is for sale at the gate house” (as it is today).

Photo from article on Dolly Copp in the June 1953
edition of Ford Times magazine. One of the boys in
this photo was camping in Big Meadow the late 1990's.

At least one wood yard was still operating until 1957, for that year the Campers Association newsletter reported the good news that “underbrush was cleared from around the wood yard between Midway and Imp View Lane.” Bob Cook recalls this site as in a now overgrown area west of Riverside Drive on the north side of the little brook crossing under that road.

It is believed that one historical motive in Dolly Copp and elsewhere for plentiful provision of firewood was to discourage campers who might otherwise cut their own in adjacent woods and thereby mar the scenery.

For many years fuel wood was available for sale at each camp site by a roving vendor franchised by the Forest Service. That amenity was dropped after 1996, with wood instead sold at the Gate House by the contracted Campground management.

Eleanor Eells in her history of camping documents the presence of group campfire facilities at many early camping areas. Dolly Copp had one such communal site near the Visitor Center by the later thirties.

The first reference in the USFS record to this group facility is in a 1937 memo from the Recreational Guard;

“I am of the opinion that the open air Council Ring would afford an excellent opportunity for informal talks on the aims and activities of the Forest Service. The campers gather at the Council Ring on pleasant evenings and the atmosphere of the open fire and community singing tends to make the group unusually receptive.”

Another from 1937; “At the Council Ring, there were 27 campers enjoying the fire as they sang popular songs. The Council Ring will seat about sixty campers without overcrowding.”

Council Fireplace on 1940 map.

This communal campfire was northeast of the Visitor Center, adjacent to the Play Field. That location is reverting to forest now. Bob Cook says there was then no communal campfire for many years. Then in the early seventies a new group campfire was built southeast of the Visitor Center, Bob assisting in its construction as a USFS employee at that time.

The fascination of our species with fire is not a mystery. If primitive people walked around at night they soon hurt themselves, so culture encouraged them to remain in camp, and around the fire. One theory is that a key evolutionary event then occurred. The evening focus of minds on a fire was a time for group thinking, and this led to the acceleration of thought.

Dennis Cutter writes in April of 2012: Here is a picture of
my grandfather James Smith and his daughters, my mother
Marjorie (Smith) Cutter, Gloria and Roxy. Also, James' sisters Della
and Ada. Their home was Lynn, Mass. The photo date is believed
to be 1938. "My mother, now 86, says it was very cold that morning
so everyone is huddled around the camp fire to get warm."