Last week, I ventured south to spend a day at Episcopal Camp Bratton-Green, 9 miles north of Canton, at Way.
The camp’s origins are actually intertwined with Columbus, though the camp was never located here. Camp Bratton-Green, as it exist today, was the 1940s idea of Rev. Cecil Jones, the long time Rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus. The camp’s facilities were designed by W.B. Pearson, of Columbus. The Episcopal church had, in 1946, purchased an old resort being used as a nursing home known as Rose Hill. Across the road from Rose Hill was the resort hotel, Allison’s Wells.
In 1963, Allison’s Wells burned, and the Episcopal Church eventually bought that property also. That was then developed into The Duncan Gray Conference Center.
Allison’s Wells had its own ties to Columbus. There, in 1948, the Allison Art Colony was established. Until the hotel burned, artists, teachers and art students from across the country gathered there for workshops. One of the early moving forces in the art colony was Ralph Hudson of the Mississippi College for Women (now the Mississippi University for Women). For more than 10 years, students from the school’s art department attended Allison Art Colony weekends under faculty members Mary Evelyn Stringer, Eugenia Summer and Ralph Hudson.
Across Way Road, Camp Bratton-Green continued its Columbus flavor. Rev. Jones organized work crews to begin cleaning the campsite. Probably the first volunteer crew to arrive was composed of Bond Anderson, Bam Williams, Dan Williams and Louis Thelgie from Columbus.
Many of the camp’s first staff were also brought from Columbus. Mrs. W.G. Hairston was the first dietitian and the kitchen/cooking staff from MSCW was hired for the summer.
In 1954, an architect was hired to develop plans and commence construction of permanent structures, as the camp had been using army surplus tent-like structures. In March 1954, Rev. Jones called on a friend in Columbus, engineer and architect W.B. Pearson, to help design and build the camp.
My return to camp last week was to go with some of the campers and staff to find remains and artifacts of the old Allison’s Wells resort. And find them, the campers did — a couple of Buffalo nickels, broken china and an unbroken, almost 100-year-old bottle.
Allison’s Wells had been famous for mineral water that was said to turn black when mixed with Bourbon. The water was shipped across the country in 5-gallon pottery jugs. Several pieces of some of those jugs were found. One camper’s prize find, though, turned out to be a piece of antique sewage pipe.
The kids had a great time, and it brought back many fun memories to me. For about 20 years, I served a session each summer on the camp’s adult staff. We had activities and games on both the camp side of the road and the old Allison’s Wells side. The Allison’s side always fascinated me with its hidden treasures from long ago and its deep and mysterious gullies.
For many years the gullies were a favorite place for Bratton-Green campers to play capture the flag and other games. Often, picnics were held at the top of them, and hay rides on the field road that went around them. Beside the gullies were a stand of pine trees with fire lanes cut through them creating a maze. It was another favorite spot for capture the flag. The field road by the gullies was and still is lined with blackberries.
At several camp sessions, we would do archaeology at the old garbage dump for Allison’s Wells. An outdoor chapel has been built on top of it — a most beautiful setting for which you would never dream was once a garbage dump, except for broken glass and dinnerware on exposed ground.
The archaeology consisted of picking up the broken fragments of pieces once used at the resort. Later, we would go and pick blackberries and carry them back to camp. The cooks would make blackberry cobbler for those who had participated in the days exploits. I had found and purchased dinner plates in the same pattern as the fragments we had found. It was a popular china from about 70 yeas ago called Southern Blue Ridge Pottery. The campers who had spent the day digging and picking were then treated to the cobbler on the old dinner plates just like those whose broken pieces they had been finding.
There is something special about memories of a summer camp. It is even more special when old friendships are renewed and you discover a new generation having just as much fun making memories they’ll treasure. A long-time friend from camp, Stacy Sinquefield, may have said it best in a Facebook post last week: “A wonderful day with old friends digging for treasure at CBG this morning. The true treasure is all of the friends I have made here.”
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.
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