Wednesday, January 22, 2020

52 Ancestors - CLOSE TO HOME: Camp Sherwood Forest

As a child in the 1960s, I loved being a Girl Scout. Every week I was proud to put on that uniform and walk down Gillis Road to the little green Scout building on Afton Parkway.
The Woman's Club building AND Scout cabin
are now gone - made way for progress and new houses
One of the best parts of Girl Scouts was going to summer day camp. I used to have to bug my mother to get me registered. Invariably on the first day of camp when we gathered at the flag pole for our day troop assignments, I was always one of maybe three girls whose names were not called (I guess their mothers were procrastinators, too), so we had to be assigned after all the others skipped happily off to their campsites. After the initial embarrassment of having to find my group, I was the perfect happy camper. 

Day camp was like a different world for me. I was doing things my parents didn’t do with me. I was learning things most of my friends were not learning. It was adventure. It was independence.

Here is what I liked about summer camp:
  • Preparing for camp and making my own sit-upon by weaving folded sheets of newspaper into a not-so-comfy square mat covered in oil cloth 
    NOT mine - These are my daughters' sit-upons
    from when they were in Girl Scouts
  • Taking part in the flag ceremony and it didn’t matter whether I got to raise and lower the flag or serve as an honor guard 
  • Reading the daily duty list to see whether my group was in charge of cleaning latrines, clearing weeds from the walk paths using a little hatchet (yes!  A hatchet!), setting up for lunch, or cooking
  • Hearing the bell ring when the milk truck arrived delivering little cartons of milk to all the campers
  • Doing wood crafts and art projects around a big picnic table with other campers
  • Learning to identify trees – I still amaze people with my ability to tell the difference between red and white oaks, and to know a Sassafras tree by its three different-shaped leaves
  • Cooking on an open fire once a week – usually Hunter’s Stew
  • Making our own stove out of a #10 can and a tuna can with rolled corrugated paper and paraffin wax, called a Buddy Burner 
  • Learning First Aid, in particular how to make a tourniquet and a sling for a broken arm
  • Learning to load a bow and shoot an arrow
  • Singing Taps in a Friendship Circle at the end of the day before boarding the bus to go home

Part of the fun was just getting there. Brownies and Girl Scouts ages 6-12 rode together on a bus. An older Girl Scout was in charge and she always led us in fun songs like “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” and “Make New Friends.”  

We sang lots of songs because the ride to camp was a long one. We wound through my neighborhood Cradock, and then out to other parts of Portsmouth – West Cradock, Highland Biltmore, Simonsdale, Park Manor, and other places I have since forgotten. At the time, I probably had no clue what the neighborhoods were. They just seemed so far away. It must have taken well over an hour to pick up everyone and then head out across the Hodges Ferry Bridge.

The former Hodges Ferry Bridge
The Hodges Ferry Bridge was definitely at the edge of the world for me. My family never had a need to go that way. There was nothing but farm land, woods, and wide-open fields.

And Camp Sherwood Forest.

Far from home in the middle of nowhere. 

Or so I thought.

It was my last day of camp EVER because I was aging out of day camp opportunities unless I wanted to be the older girl monitoring young campers on the bus. Parents were invited to a program where the day campers displayed their crafts, performed dances, sang camp songs, and led the singing of Taps in the closing ceremony. Instead of riding the bus home, I hopped into the car with my parents.

I was surprised when my dad turned left out of the long gravel path instead of right as the bus driver always did. In a few minutes time, we were on High Street in Portsmouth. There was Churchland High School! There was the Churchland Bridge! All very familiar and just minutes from my home. Camp Sherwood Forest was NOT in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, it was much closer to home than I thought if you go THIS way instead of THAT way.

What a disappointment. It was akin to learning the truth about the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.

Flash forward 50 years. Where I live today is part of the former farm land, woods, and wide-open fields that once defined “the edge of the world” beyond Hodges Ferry Bridge.
Just a small part of Western Branch community in Chesapeake, VA
My house is marked by the blue circle, upper far right.
Camp Sherwood Forest WAS in the upper left part of the picture. 
Neighborhoods, shopping centers, businesses, gas stations, schools, churches, and a YMCA now fill the area that once was the middle of nowhere. In fact, I can actually walk to the neighborhood where I learned to handle a bow and arrow. The tell-tale power lines are still there just as they were those summers so many years ago.

The archery range was
where the power lines
stood even then.

Of course, now I’m wondering whose house was built over the latrines at Camp Sherwood Forest.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. What great memories! It's sad that the Girl Scout Camp is no longer in existence. There is still a Girl Scout Camp in Lynchburg and I'm glad that it has survived over the years. Our next door neighbor has been an active GS leader for years.

  2. Oh wow, how fun that you live where you once played! Great memories of your day camp days! I always enjoyed going when I was in that age group and sent my kids to them too. Summer can be so long sometimes that these breaks of fun like day camps was worth the effort to get them there. They were never disappointed, always learned new things and made new friends :)


  3. Some of my G. S. day camp experiences mirror yours, Wendy, but there was no bus and I don't remember work assignments. Not to say we didn't have them, just that I don't remember.
    I always find it interesting to realize how small the world really is compared to how it seemed when I was a child.
    Fun memory, fun post.

  4. Excellent to hear about your adventures, and pleasures in day camp. I may have attended a few, but I mainly remember being a counselor and teaching archery one year. Oh my goodness, it is not an especially fond memory! I preferred the crafts!

  5. I loved your post. It brought back wonderful memories of my scouting days that I had not thought of in a long time. I remember going to Day Camp one summer. I do not remember why I did not do it again after that. But if you had wrote this...I am not that this wonderful memory would have been stuck back in the dusty chambers of my brain never to be thought of again... loved the references to the songs...we sang them too... Thanks again!

  6. I love, love, LOVE this post! I read this the other day but didn't comment since I was on my iPad and was worried how the comment would come out. Ha! Great way to tie the prompt to your own memories. Did I mention that I LOVE this post?