Cabin Fever 
 The Tradition and Magic of Summer Camps in Transylvania

Each summer, Transylvania County hosts thousands of young people from all over the nation and around the world who flock to the many summer camps that surround Brevard. Ranging from the traditional backpack and bug juice experience to internationally renowned summer music programs, Brevard’s summer camps are a treasured part of our history and part of what has made this community so special and beloved for generations.

The product of an increasingly urban, post-Civil War landscape, the American summer camp was initially introduced in the 1870s as a way for city children to play and learn outdoors. While the first summer camps were located primarily in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, the growth of the South and the extension of the railroad into the Appalachian Mountains in the late 1900s brought attention to the incredible natural resources and recreational opportunities there. 

As it happened, Transylvania County’s first “campers” weren’t so much kids as affluent adults seeking adventure and respite in the high mountains at resorts such as the grand old Toxaway Inn on Lake Toxaway. But the popularity of camps and summer opportunities was growing.  By the turn of the 20th century, there were no more than 100 summer camps nationally, but in scarcely more than a decade that number had increased to more than 1,000. 

With its lush forests, 250 waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and easy accessibility from many cities in the South and beyond, Brevard was a perfect fit for the summer camp experience. The first two, Camp French Broad and Camp Sapphire, opened in Transylvania County in 1913 and 1914, respectively. Just a few years later, Keystone Camp, which is still welcoming enthusiastic campers, would become the area’s first summer camp just for girls. 
Over the coming years, the number of camps in the Brevard area would increase, bringing an ever larger and more diverse group of young people to experience the joys of summering in the mountains. Notably, Brevard welcomed a historic cultural addition to its lively summer camp offerings in 1944 when James Christian Pfohl moved his summertime Davidson Music School from Davidson College to Brevard. He renamed the program Transylvania Music Camp, and two years later launched the first Brevard Summer Music Festival. 

Today, Brevard enjoys one of the highest concentrations of summer camps in the Southeast, including not only the aforementioned Keystone Camp and Brevard Music Center, but also Camp Illahee, Gwynn Valley, The Wilds, Camps Kahdalea and Chosatonga, Rockbrook Camp, Camp Carolina, High Rocks, Mountain Roots, Muddy Sneakers, Green River Preserve, Eagle's Nest, Ridge Haven, Carolina Point (Young Life) and Camp Pisgah (Girl Scouts). Children of all ages come to Brevard every summer. Along with today’s campers, camp alumni often return to enjoy some nostalgia, find new perspective in the beautiful spots they remember, and/or introduce their children or grandchildren to their own camp adventure.

The relationship between summer campers and the larger community can be felt all over town, from the camp-specific flavors of ice cream at Dolly’s near the entrance to Pisgah National Forest to the shops downtown that offer camp care packages. The sounds of happy voices filling the forests and waterways with laughter, joy and imagination echo the seemingly limitless possibilities of summertime when you’re young at heart. 

Explore more about Brevard’s summer camps here.

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Read the previous Field Notes here

Brought to you by Transylvania County Tourism

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