7. DOLLY COPP IN THE 1920S

Throughout the country by 1920, local authorities had reacted forcefully to the informal “auto camping” on private property of the teens. Sanitary problems and annoyance over the spread of garbage led to the organization of formal camping areas and regulations to herd migrating autos into them.

The approximate date of 1920 for this development in camping nationally fits nicely with the history of Dolly Copp, for there is a date of 1921 circulating as the year that informal auto camping activity at the intersection of Glen Road (Route 16) and the Pinkham B Road was in some way more definitively formalized under U. S. Forest Service management.



Very early east bank camping
under the title "Dolly Copp Spring."

While 1921 is the date of origin for Dolly Copp Campground cited in recent decades, as noted earlier the precise administrative or physical changes that distinguish the pre-1921 from post-1921 Campground remains elusive.

We do have a short description of the setting in a Berlin Reporter article dated 6/23/1921 that seems to lend some support to more intensive management starting in 1921:

On the Glen Road, six miles from Gorham, the Forest Service has opened a public camp ground for the automobile tourist, known as the “Copp Spring Camp Ground.” Here the camper will have plenty of room to pitch his temporary home, and he will find a large stone fireplace upon which to cook his meals.



Early sign for east bank camping using the name "Copp Spring."

Near the highway is the old “Copp Spring”, which has been stoned up and surrounded with stepping stones. Other conveniences arranged for the camper make this an ideal camping place for the tourist who wishes to spend his vacation in the open.

As a small child Marian Chase of Rowley, Massachusetts camped at this early Dolly Copp of 1921. Her memories were widely circulated by the Forest Service during the seventy fifth anniversary celebration in 1996. Mrs. Chase recalled today's Picnic Area as an open field back then.

She also remembers “a pure spring for water and that the children were ordered not to throw rocks in it or sully it in any way.” There was little organization, and camp fires were started on the ground without any enclosure of rocks.

Early USFS promotional photo.

Mrs. Chase remembered that across the Peabody River Bridge there was a large field, part of the Dolly Copp of today. Similarly, George Brackett's first camping experience a few years later was on this east, or Route 16 side, of the Peabody River.

Commenting upon this early period, the author of the short unsigned 1980 history stated that “In the beginning camping was totally unorganized. Lacking designated campsites, tents were placed wherever fancy dictated. Until 1922 some of the land was still being farmed and used for pasture. That year the last permits were revoked and the fences were torn down, allowing expansion of the camping area.”

While early camping equipment had been makeshift, this new type of recreation was widespread enough by the early twenties that specialized gear was mass produced and readily available. Camping entered the mainstream of American consciousness in 1921 when President Harding himself went on a well publicized camping trip.

Looking westerly at pre-1928 bridge over
the Peabody River. Below is same view in 2008.

A quaint little booklet dated 1924 entitled “The Manual of Camping” offers the advice of the day:

Find a high open site with good drainage.... Get permission of the owner to camp if you can find him.... The further you are from civilization the better fun you will have.

Have your tent pegs prepared before you leave home. The point of wooden pegs can be hardened by charring them in the fire, or you can buy steel pins at very little cost....

Don't touch the roof of a tent when it is raining. It will make the tent leak.... A camp should have at least one good cook. Try out the cook and the cooking before you get into camp.


A few of today's campers have roots in Dolly Copp extending back continuously to this early period. The Campground history has become part of their family history:

Dolly Copp: A Love Affair
Spanning Five Generations
By Gail Craig Gordon

The Craig family love affair with the White Mountains, and Dolly Copp Campground in particular, had its beginnings shortly after World War I.

The Lees, Boodry, Craig, Fraser and Thurston families from Lowell, Massachusetts would travel up to Pinkham in touring cars to hike. Some of the men had just returned from the war, Uncle Harold Boodry from the Navy, Uncle Bill Lees from the Merchant Marine.

The Boodrys liked to camp at Dolly Copp, but when they went as a group they all stayed in the cabins at Pinkham where they became good friends with Joe Dodge, the legendary hut master.

Harold Boodry's east bank camp site in the 1920s.
See Craig Family Photos page.

In 1924, Grandpa Charley Craig stayed on after the rest of the party left to help Joe close the huts for the winter. Joe then drove Grandpa down to Lowell in Azma on his way home to Manchester.

In 1931, Harold and Grandpa Craig took Charley’s son, Raymond, on his first camping trip to Dolly Copp. They traveled up from Lowell in Harold’s 1929 Model A. They camped in what is now the picnic area. Raymond remembered that there was a Boy Scout troop camped there too.

In 1939, Ray returned with wife Helen and together they embarked on what would be a more than fifty yearlong camping odyssey. Their children Gail, Bobby and Richie joined them as soon as they were born.

In the sixties, their grandchildren became Dolly Coppers and now the great-grandchildren are enjoying the awe-inspiring mountains, the pristine rivers, and the vast forest that drew their ancestors there almost one hundred years ago.


Regarding Dolly Copp, Robert S. Monahan reported in 1933 that “hay was cut until 1921 and during the following year the fields beyond the bridge were used only by horse grazing permittees.

But with the river adequately bridged in 1924 the camp ground extended to the opposite bank and the development of the area proceeded rapidly with appropriations barely sufficient to take care of maintenance.”

Another record in the Forest Service archive dated 1926 concerns the spread of camping from the Picnic Area over the old south end bridge (removed in 1951) into today's Campground.

Westward view of Pinkham B Road bridge
over Peabody River into Copp Farm in 1907.

Broader view of above excerpt
with Mount Madison in background.

 

Eastward view of bridge with Imp above in the 1920s. Demand
for camp sites burst across this bridge on to the Copp Farm.

It documents the spontaneous expansion of camping from the east side of the Peabody to the west side, into the fields that became the Dolly Copp Campground of today:

At the present time we have a supply of water pipe which was originally purchased to furnish running water to the Peabody River Ranger Station.... The spring at Dolly Copp takes care of the water supply for that side of the river; however, the camping is extending to the opposite side of the river, and in fact more people are using that side than the area originally opened.

It is too far to carry water from the spring to the opposite side of the river, and a number of people have been using the river water for cooking and drinking purposes. This is not a safe measure, and I have been planning to use the supply of pipe in order to furnish running water on the places available for camping on both sides of the river.

George Brackett as a small child in the twenties remembers tents pitched all along the west bank, not just the east side, of the Peabody River; the "new Dolly Copp."

George was a youthful eyewitness to the pressure and spillover across the bridge from the narrow and limited field of the original east, or Route 16 side, camping area.

Early view to south of west bank Peabody River camping,
near end of today's Birch Lane. Old bridge (1928-51) in background.
See details of above photo (278k).

The 1926 USFS source includes this additional historically significant information;

....We would still have sufficient pipe to extend it to a central location on the opposite side of the river where we could build a permanent toilet system....

That area is sufficient to take care of between 125 to 175 camps, and we are now able to enlarge that space since the pasture fence can be moved due to the permittee giving up the special use permit for the pasture.

With such central toilet facilities, I am convinced we would induce more and more people to use the opposite side of the river, which would leave the original side open for picnic and supper parties.

Soon the USFS would direct campers to use the new west side, then bar all camping on the east side. this was a crucial early policy decision and the template for Campground growth.

The 1915 survey map shows today's west bank Play Field and Visitor Center areas as field and pasture back then. Evidently the acreage was productive enough for agriculture to be rented out by the USFS to a private “permittee” for such use, until needed for expanding camping in the mid-twenties.

Another clue as to development of the west side of the Peabody for camping is found in a 1927 Forest Service memo stating that “The smooth and barbed wire on the area across the river has been taken down on the south side of the road to the old gravel pit and on the north side of the road as far as the old Dolly Copp place.”

As camping expanded we can assume that more and more of the barbed wire from the agricultural period was removed. Yet sheltered and well camouflaged remnants of teens and perhaps earlier barbed wire still remain in the woods today, at the peripheries of what were once the Copp, Culhane and Barnes farms.



Rare strand of old barbed wire.

These obscure locations have been pinpointed by Casey Hodgdon, Bob Brown and Bob Cook, but are not specifically identified here in order to enhance their preservation.

Commenting in 2001 on barbed wire remnants, Casey Hodgdon stated that “it is interesting about the barbed wire. I found some years ago to the right of the Pinkham B Road just west of the Peabody River. It could have been from the days of E. Libby & Sons after they purchased the farm from Nathaniel Copp.”

Another reference to historic barbed wire is from an article on Dolly Copp from the Lewiston Journal of 9/12/1953. Commenting on the Copp homestead vicinity, the article states that “up on the lower slope of Madison may be seen a strand of barbed wire. Once it was fastened to a Beech tree. Since that time the mighty Beech has grown around a part of the wire, which undoubtedly was part of the upper fencing of Hayes Copp’s pasture.”

In 1927 a 31 page booklet on the Copps was produced by area historian George Cross. A copy from that year has survived with a back page showing printed in pencil the attendees at a “Campfire Party August 1, 1927.” Are their descendants still camping at Dolly Copp today?

Vesta M. and H. A. Strout of Dorchester Mass., Carl L. and Beatrice Billings of East Weymouth, Mass., John H. and Mrs. McCormack, Providence, RI, Mr. And Mrs. Floyd N. Cassidy of Lake Pleasant, MA, Mr. And Mrs. A. F. McEntee of Lynn, MA, M. L. Barnes of Lynn, MA, Burton B. and M. T. McCully of Somerville, MA, James and Anna Devine of Lawrence, MA, Walter Nyhan of Lawrence, MA, W. D. Boisvert of the Carter Dome Lookout, and A.W. and R. P. Tuttle.

Entry sign from 1927.

Dolly Copp Sunday Night Service in 1928.

A September 1928 news article by Robert S. Monahan (an important local figure who would participate in the revival of the Mount Washington Observatory in 1932 and serve fifteen years in the USFS thereafter) describes the camping scene that year in his article entitled “Dolly Copp Camp Ground Now Famous for Tourists:”

As usual the campers came from all parts of this country and Canada. Some stayed overnight departing the next morning with the wish that their itinerary allowed for a longer stop and others settled for the entire season.

Many of the campers had spent previous summers at Dolly Copp and this year returned with their friends....

But whatever their camping experience, their age or their occupation a mutual desire for friendship was obvious all summer.

The hospitality for which the namesake of the camp ground was famous is still to be found on all sides of her homestead site....

Autos with period camping equipment.
Source: 1923 book "Motor Camping" by J. C. Long.

A tenting party less fit to haul and chop wood than others will wake in the morning to find a neat pile of firewood just outside their tent. Campers unfamiliar with the nearby trails will be guided by those more experienced....

Families with children return to school after Labor Day with the youngsters in fine condition for the winter. They have spent all summer outdoors on their rafts in the shallow pool just below the bridge or hauling water from the spring and dead wood from the forest....

Statistics of the past few years indicate the growing popularity of Dolly Copp. The average daily number of tents during August 1925 was 31, August 1926 55, August 1927 73, while this year the average jumped to 79....The record number of tents this season was tallied Thursday night, August ninth, when 106 tents were counted.

The Forest Service now maintains four other camp grounds {in the WMNF}.... but Dolly Copp still enjoys the greatest popularity among the camping public.

The Forest Service is laying out an ambitious program for continued improvement of the camp ground when the funds are available so that ten years from now the fields may present a somewhat changed appearance.

They would indeed. The physical youth of the Campground in the twenties reflected a rough and tumble scene. Early photos show far more boulders breaking through the surface on and near camp sites than now. These were removed by work crews over many years. Today's more manicured look had its roots in the thirties.

Boulders in early Dolly Copp
campsites, removed over time.


At the 1915 start camping and picnicking mixed on the east side of the Peabody at what is today the Picnic Ground. Then for some years camping was allowed on both the east bank and the west bank.

But in the thirties these uses were formally and permanently separated, camping continuing on the west side only. In simple terms the Campground moved from one side of the Peabody River to the other.

In these early years the main campground road along which campsite development activity migrated was a thru road. It included a bridge over the Peabody at what is now the dead end at the southern end of the Campground.

There is evidence in the old Forest Service files that this mix of state road and localized camper traffic was an annoyance to campers. These two types of traffic had to coexist until 1951, when the entrance bridge was relocated northward to its present location.

At that time the thru road designation of “Pinkham B Road” was moved out of the campground. Most signs and maps identify this same thru road today as the “Dolly Copp Road.”

Yet at its terminus to the northwest at Route 2 the Town of Randolph still signs it as the Pinkham B Road. To avoid any confusion the remnant of the “old” Pinkham B Road that remains within Dolly Copp today is referred to herein only as the “main campground road.”

Then as now, there are varying advantages to different segments of the summer camping season. Elsie Ashworth recalls: “I remember my family for many, many years going camping at Dolly Copp. We always went in mid-August because we found that the little tiny black bugs were still quite thick until the end of July. Then towards the end of August it started getting pretty cold at night.”

Another common issue is that the preference as to favorite site differs by family member. Why is it that the women always seem to win on this.