Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Camp Rapidan

Camp Rapidan was the summer retreat of the Hoovers. This was the first camp to be specifically designed a presidential retreat and was built by the Marines (the Hoovers kept meticulous records as they made sure to pay for all their personal items and furnishings as well as the land):
Rapidan Camp was the first complex specifically designed as a presidential retreat. It eventually consisted of 13 buildings connected by a network of paths and stone or wood bridges designed to blend with the natural landscape. Lou Henry Hoover hired the architect and told him exactly what she wanted. The buildings consisted of sleeping cabins for guests and servants, public spaces, and workspaces. The centerpiece was the “The Brown House” (facetiously compared with Hoover’s other, “White” house) or “President’s” cabin, located where Mill Prong and Laurel Prong joined to form the Rapidan. The buildings were simple one-story, gable-roofed, brown-stained frame cabins with many windows, usually consisting only of bedrooms, bathrooms, and porches. According to signs posted in the cabins, the “Town Hall” was the “the place of general meeting for anything from Executive Committee Meeting to ping pong and knitting.” Guests ate hearty country breakfasts and dinners at the “Mess Hall;” lunches often took place outside. Workspaces included the Secret Service “Duty Station” cabin and “The Slums,” which was, in fact, a perfectly comfortable cabin housing Lou Henry Hoover’s secretaries. Dormitories for the mess servants were across the main access road. Separate compounds for the Marines who operated and maintained the camp and for visiting Cabinet members were within walking distance.

Hoover held many meetings up at this retreat as well as worked on major items:
Rapidan Camp also served as a site for meetings where Hoover and his associates could discuss national and international policy with few interruptions. It was never cut off from public business. There were telephones in the Secret Service “Duty Office” and in the president’s cabin. Every day an airplane dropped mail and the daily newspapers at the Marine Compound; Hoover got his papers while he was still in bed. In October 1929, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his daughter spent a week at Rapidan Camp. During their stay, Hoover and MacDonald held private discussions in preparation for a conference on limiting naval armaments to take place in London the following year. A persistent, if probably apocryphal story tells that they dismantled the navies of the world while perched at opposite ends of a fallen tree trunk. The tree trunk has never been located. During the summer of 1931, as he worked on a balanced Federal budget, Herbert Hoover summoned four of his department heads, one by one, to a series of weekend meetings at the camp. Members of the press, whose relationship with Hoover was generally hostile, were not welcome.

The Hoovers donated the site to Virginia in 1932 to be used by later presidents, but the terrain was too rough for FDR and so he eventually established what we know as Camp David. In 1935, the land became part of the Shenandoah National Park. The Boy Scouts leased the land from 1948 to 1958 and then the NPS tore down all but three of the buildings in 1959. Jimmy Carter was the last president to use the camp in 1977. The NPS did restore two of the three remaining buildings and there is a museum inside “The Prime Minister” cabinet (so named for Ramsey MacDonald, mentioned above).

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