6. EARLY CAMPING
Early advice on the new past time of camping in the White Mountains was offered by Ticknor's 1887 travel guide: “In selecting the ground for a forest-camp attention must be paid to the two main requisites, - wood and water.”
The term “forest camp” would appear some decades later in the early title for Dolly Copp Campground. It was known first as “Copp Spring Public Camp Ground” and then for many years and more widely as “Dolly Copp Forest Camp.”
By 1900 the “camping movement” nationally was firmly established. Its basic feature was and remains, to quote the dictionary, "briefly living out of doors in a much simpler lifestyle than that to which the camper soon returns."
Back then, visitors to New Hampshire increasingly craved informality, partly in reaction to the overbearing snobbery of White Mountain summer hotels. The “sleeping bag” was also invented at this time.
The camping movement in the United States had its origins in the Northeastern states, and thus it is no surprise that tent sites would be sought early on in the high mountain valleys of rural northern New Hampshire.
The creation of the White Mountain National Forest after 1911 gave public land status to much of the area. The Copp homestead, and other nearby farm properties, were added to the new federal forest preserve in 1915.
The potent national forces of forest conservation, scenic mountain recreation and auto camping now met in a field along the Peabody River, five miles south of Gorham, where the river was crossed by a bridge and the Pinkham B Road road leading to Randolph.
At this junction was a long, thin, north-south riverside field, suitable for vehicle access to tents, and accompanied by a good spring for water supply. At this crossroads Dolly Copp Campground was born.
This little strip of land, hugging the east side of the Peabody, was all there was to the campground in its infant years. This roadside “cradle of Dolly Copp Campground” is now the USFS Dolly Copp Picnic Ground aside Route 16. No camping is allowed here today.
There are only a few tantalizing bits of information preserved from this earliest period. One is found in the 1927 George N. Cross booklet on Dolly Copp, which states that “in 1915 the federal government added to our National Forest the old farms in the Glen and laid out the Dolly Copp Camp Ground.”
A report by Mount Washington Observatory founder Robert S. Monahan in 1933 states that “Dolly Copp was first recognized as a campground about 15 years ago when a large fireplace and two toilets were provided by the Forest Service.”
Then the Campground rules of 1936 and the brochure of 1940 both cite 1915 as the origin date.
Large fireplace circa
1915 in later photo with Xeno Fontaine of the CCC
An old USFS memo states that its employee E. D. Fletcher “made the first survey of this area and established the Camp Grounds.” His initials are on a federal survey map of the area believed to date from 1915, "DEL. P.G. and E.D.F.", that map showing the "area available for cottage sites" on the adjacent Copp Farm.
Excerpt from E. D.
Fletcher map of 1915.
Fletcher was a man of some importance to While Mountain National Forest History. He first visited the White Mountains in 1888 and as a USFS employee his surveys in the area date from 1912. He wrote parts of the White Mountain National Forest history in the thirties.
The introductory text of the 1951 USFS Campground brochure states “Since 1915, the steadily increasing number of campers and visitors has developed a spirit of cooperation resulting in practical self government requiring a minimum of supervision.”
An undated and unsigned but post-1951 vintage USFS file item states that “It was in 1915 that the name Dolly Copp commenced to be used most popularly... and the Federal Government.... laid out the Dolly Copp Forest Camp.” Yet the 75th anniversary celebration of 1996 was based upon an assumed opening in 1921.
In the decade of the teens the automobile revolution in America was bursting into the White Mountains. As early as 1906 auto clubs had organized tours of the White Mountains.
The country had only one half million autos registered in 1910, that number reaching eight million in 1920. What was termed “auto camping” became a popular national recreation.
But in these first years most camping was individualized and informal, with spontaneous squatting on remote private property, out of view beside rural roads and farm fields. The sudden new auto invasion was not yet channeled towards organized campgrounds.
Rural residents and governmental units were unprepared for the new auto influx. Histories of camping tell us that they soon reacted with local ordinances, fences and no trespassing signs.
As the hunt for roadside squatting spots became
harder for the early auto campers, the development of the first
formalized campgrounds around 1920 was welcomed by them.
at this scale well demonstrates
The early unregulated environment of 1910-1920 is nicely mirrored in a Forest Service archive item that may have been written about 1980; “In 1915 the Forest Service erected two latrines and a fireplace near Dolly Copp Spring where passers by had been picnicking and camping for years.”
Since the date used in recent decades for the formal organization of Dolly Copp Campground is 1921, the implication is that early camping of the teens along Route 16 at what is now the Dolly Copp Picnic Ground was spontaneous and without much governmental management. But the reference above says 1915.
It seems that the 1921 date needs some further documentation. Otherwise, the centennial Campground celebration should start in 2015 (let's have a six year party?).
DOLLY COPP FARM COTTAGE PLAN. Although public property after 1915, across the Peabody from the growing camping activity at the riverside Picnic Area the Copp and Culhane Farms were planned for residential development. In 1916 they almost converted from farm land to private summer cottage lots, with the blessings and sponsorship of the Forest Service.
Early USFS policy aimed at protecting the White Mountain National Forest from over cutting of timber and resultant erosion, not necessarily prohibition of second home development on newly acquired federal lands.
Colorized excerpt from
1916 USFS cottage plan
In 1916 advertisements for cottage site permits were placed by the USFS. At first applications were accepted for sites throughout the Peabody River Valley, but this broad geographic choice was soon restricted to just key tracts laid out by the Forest Service specifically for second home development.
One of these planned areas was on the Copp, Culhane and Barnes properties, still leased out for agricultural use at that time.
Culhane Farmhouse in
A 1916 detailed survey map of proposed “Summer
Home Sites on Dolly Copp Farm” reveals a planned community
with a suburban type subdivision layout featuring six clusters
The plan had the foresight to preserve some internal greenery and was not amateurish. A careful overlaying of old maps shows that the proposed open space areas were mostly the swamp and wetter ground that had not been suitable in the 1800's for use as either field or pasture.
The “Dolly Copp Farms” subdivision was to have 89 lots of about one acre each. According to the sales brochure;
The locality is one of especial natural charm.... The Peabody River with its rapid, crystal clear waters, boulders, and bordering birches adjoins the location for more than half a mile. Picturesquely dividing the site into several blocks is a beautiful forest of birch, maple and spruce....
The area is penetrated by the Pinkham Road which while giving access to the site is not one of the main White Mountain highways. The big volume of traffic is over the Glen-Gorham road one half mile away.
The lots have all been surveyed and the numbers marked on corner posts. The Forest Rangers at the Peabody Ranger Station will accompany visitors over the ground and give needed information.
Fortunately for generations of Dolly Copp campers,
USFS use policy tightened and no construction permits were ever
Scott comments "these four shelters have been
a long time destination for hikers and all are within hiking distance
of Dolly Copp. The first two taken by Guy Shorey No. 25 and No.
26 are of the Great Gulf Shelter between Dolly Copp and Mount
NAMING THE CAMPGROUND. It is interesting that the 1916 cottage map uses the term “Dolly Copp Farm Tract” and not “Copp” or “Hayes Copp Farm Tract.” The terms “Copp Spring” and “Copp Bridge” were in use in the teens, with the word “Dolly” added to them in the twenties.
Then after the mid-twenties, only Dolly's name was used for the Campground itself. As Hayes and Dolly were a pioneer team, why was there a preference for memorials only to the wife?
The Copp Family genealogy offers perspective: “Hayes Copp was a quiet, kindly man, and Dolly was known for her housewifely skills as well as her sharp tongue. Her quaint sayings made her a character of note, which doubtless accounts for the fact that the large tract, which included the Copp farm, laid out as a camp for vacationers in the White Mountain National Forest has been given the name of Dolly Copp Camp Ground.”
More evidence on naming is found in a Berlin Reporter article of 9/7/1933 which informs us that “To Mr. J. J. Fritz, former Forest Supervisor, goes the credit of giving this camp ground its name which, with its history, has so appealed to the public.”