Built By Women: How Skyland Camp For Girls Continues Its 100 Year-Old Legacy

Outside of Asheville, in the little town of Clyde, there is a legacy that has been building quietly, decade after decade, since 1917. Every June, the legacy continues as groups of girls arrive on Skyland Hill. This is Skyland Camp For Girls, a traditional overnight camp whose ownership has been passed down through four generations of women.

Sherry Brown with Bunny

“I am so honored to be one of the generations of women to ensure Skyland’s legacy,” says Sherry Brown, Co-Executive Director. “By remembering our origins story, we stay focused and continue to enrich the lives of girls and women.”

Skyland is one of the oldest camps in the Southeast. When Susan Courtney Harris, lovingly referred to as “Granny Harris,” initially rented the property in 1916, she wanted to create a girls camp in North Carolina where campers could escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and build new friendships and a stronger connection to the world around them. As a traditional summer camp with upscale amenities but a healthy low-to-no tech policy, the leadership team and counselors focus on promoting girls to discover who they want to be instead of who society expects them to be.

The Whole Kit and Kaboodle

Clyde seems like an unlikely location to establish a girls summer camp, but during Granny Harris’s time, the town was starting to boom. Thanks to the Western North Carolina Railroad reaching the town in 1883, Clyde’s population had expanded, as had its tourism industry. Hotels began to pop up in the area, and in 1894 a man named Lorenzo “L.P.” Hipps purchased 36 acres of land in Clyde a short distance from the train depot. He quickly began constructing a hotel of his own.

That hotel, originally called Skyland Home, is still in use today. Referred to now as the Big House, its inhabitants are 6-10 year-old Skyland campers who lull themselves to sleep to the sound of crickets each night on its wrap-around, screened sleeping porch.

Granny Harris visited the hotel while on vacation with her family, and fell in love with the surrounding mountains. When the opportunity to rent Skyland Home became available, she rented the property for several summers, a common practice for new camps even today. Skyland Camp For Girls opened in 1917, establishing itself as one of the first girls camps in the Southeast.

“Bloomer Girls”

In 1920, Skyland was in its fourth year and beginning to take off. With bloomers in popular fashion, it was now easier for campers to engage in athletic activities. Girls traveled to Skyland from as far as Pennsylvania and Kansas.

However, on July 13, 1920, a short-notice auction of the hotel took Harris by surprise. The sale of the hotel would leave the future of Skyland Camp uncertain.

Harris decided to take the future into her own hands. She marched out to the front porch of the hotel during the auction. Small portions of the property were being considered for sale until Harris called out, “I’ll give you three thousand dollars for the whole kit and kaboodle!”

The audience stood in awe as they realized it was a woman who had placed the bid. The auctioneers called out, “Sold to the lady in the apron!”

Granny’s bold move secured the property and the future of Skyland Camp.

Centennial Season In Full Swing

Now in its centennial season, Skyland Camp For Girls shows no sign of slowing down as it enters the second century of its commitment to “girls inspiring girls.” The executive leadership team announced in January the appointment of new summer camp director, Wendy Burns. Burns’s past leadership experience includes serving as Director of Outdoor Programming and Property for the Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont council. She also served as the VP of Membership and Resident Director for the Girl Scout Council of Vermont, and was a middle school counselor for Stowe Middle School in Vermont.

“The first time I sat on the back steps of the Big House I fell in love with Skyland,” says Burns. “I am over-the -moon excited about this summer; getting to meet girls and staff, having the opportunity to be a part of the centennial season, and being allowed to help guide Skyland into its next hundred years.”

Associate Director Kay Anderson also recently launched an equine facilitated learning (EFL) program at Skyland.
And last but not least, Skyland’s Centennial committees are bustling as they prepare for a big celebration weekend that will take place August 4-6, 2017.

“The most exciting part of planning is definitely the people,” says Madi Weisberg, Centennial Coordinator. “What is driving people to come to the celebration is the community and the connection. Through our outreach efforts, we’ve reconnected with Skylanders who will be returning to the Hill for the first time in thirty or forty years.”

The Centennial Celebration will give alumnae and attendees a chance to relive memories and enjoy “traditional” camp activities while bonding with old friends. Horseback riding, singing camp songs, making crafts, walking down familiar trails, and more are on the schedule.

The weekend event will spotlight the legacy that Granny Harris left behind with a special auction. Proceeds from the auction will go to the Skyland Camp for Girls Campership Fund, which announced a new goal of $50,000 for 2017-2018. A campership provides financial support to families whose campers would not otherwise be able to attend Skyland. The Fund is operated through a partnership with the American Camp Association, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, so all donations to the Fund are tax-deductible. The Campership Fund not only opens doors for those with financial need, it strengthens the Skyland family through making Skyland more accessible to campers of diverse backgrounds.

Suzanne Hoover Klimek, committee member, attended Skyland Camp from 1971 to 1984. “I think this centennial celebration is important because we will not only celebrate the last 100 years, but we will lay the groundwork for propelling Skyland into the next hundred years by renewing our commitment to its spirit and providing support for future campers’ attendance at Skyland,” she says. “This reunion is a party with a purpose!”

Skyland continues to inspire curiosity, celebrate creativity, foster confidence, and forge connections. Their campers still sing the same camp songs their mothers and grandmothers sang, voices echoing out over the years. It’s hard to imagine that when Harris first bought the Big House off of the auction block, she understood how that single purchase would inspire and support so many girls and women for decades to come.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker