John Kelly’s Washington: Meet the ancestors of Camp Moss Hollow


In 1904, Associated Charities established Camp Good Will, where the Rock Creek Golf Course is today. Children and their mothers would live in tents and experience the outdoors. (Courtesy of Family Matters of Greater Washington/COURTESY OF FAMILY MATTERS OF GREATER WASHINGTON)
John Kelly
Columnist July 14, 2012

What’s that saying? Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it? Of course, here in Answer Man Land, we like history so much that we don’t mind repeating it, or at least reliving it.

This week, Answer Man wants to reflect on the history of Camp Moss Hollow, the summer camp for which this column raises money every year.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

In the grand scheme of things, Moss Hollow isn’t that old, just 45 years or so. But its legacy dates from 1904, when one of the first summer camps for underprivileged Washington children opened. It was called Camp Goodwill and was started by a man named Charles F. Weller of Associated Charities.

Weller was among those Edwardian-era do-gooders who believed that urban families locked in poverty would benefit from some time in the great outdoors. Squalid apartments, cramped houses and ramshackle alley dwellings were injurious to one’s physical health — and mental health as well. What was needed were “fresh-air excursions.”

So, on June 29, 1904, 50 children and mothers from the District went off to Camp Goodwill, which was in Rock Creek Park near 16th Street and Military Road NW.

In segregated Washington, Camp Goodwill was whites-only, but three years later — with funds raised by the African American community — Camp Pleasant opened at the end of the Kenilworth streetcar line in Tuxedo, in Prince George’s County. It was for black children and their mothers. In 1910, Camp Pleasant moved to Oxon Hill. Campers took a steamboat on the Potomac to get there.

As the city and its surroundings grew, campers had to go farther to find fresh air. The two camps — still one for whites and one for blacks — moved to Prince William Forest Park. The camps were integrated in 1954. The charity, which had changed its name to Family and Child Services, also ran a working farm, Ivakota, near Clifton. There, campers took care of farm animals and tended crops.

In 1966, Family and Child Services purchased 467 acres in Markham, in Fauquier County, and set about building Camp Moss Hollow.

Today, the charity — one of the oldest in the city — is called Family Matters of Greater Washington. And campers still go to Moss Hollow. It’s for kids ages 7 to 14, who are divided among four sets of cabins: Alpine for boys 7 to 11, Boxwood for girls 7 to 11, Cedar Hill for older girls and Deerhorn for older boys.

There are hiking trails, a pond, a basketball court, several playing fields, a ropes course, a pavilion for entertainment, a dining hall and, of course, everyone’s favorite, a pool. (There is also a half-completed running track. If you know anyone in the running-track construction business, let Answer Man know.) The camp is accredited by the American Camping Association.

About 100 kids a week, from all over the Washington area, go to Moss Hollow over the summer. Many are referred by local social-service agencies. Some are in foster care. There is a sliding fee scale for admission, based on the family’s income, but many children pay nothing at all. (It costs the charity about $700 to house one child for one week.)

Answer Man found that The Washington Post supported the camping program as far back as the 1920s. Then the Evening Star took over. When the Star folded in 1981, its publisher asked Katharine Graham if The Post would pick up the campaign. We did.

Why? Because publicizing Camp Moss Hollow and inviting readers to donate is one way of giving back to the community. All children — not just the wealthy ones — deserve the opportunity to spend time with nature, to trade a hot, city street for a cool, forest path.

So far this summer, we’ve raised about $205,000. Our goal is $500,000 by July 27. By donating, you can be a little part of history.

How to help

To make a tax-deductible contribution to Moss Hollow, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check, payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

Have a question about the Washington area? Write answerman@washpost.com.

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