June 22, 2013 7:14:05 PM
Rufus Ward - [email protected]
I have just returned home from a week on staff at the Episcopal Church's Camp Bratton-Green north of Canton. 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 the 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, who was Jones' good friend. The name of the camp is taken from Bishop Theodore Dubrose Bratton, who first envisioned the summer camp, and Green, who followed his lead.
The first Episcopal summer camp in Mississippi was held on the coast in 1924 at the Gulf Coast Junior Military Academy between Gulfport and Biloxi, The next summer it was held at the old Castalian Springs Resort 50 miles north of Jackson.
From the mid-1920s through the mid-1940s the camp moved around -- from Castalian Springs back to the Coast and then to All Saints School in Vicksburg. It was a summer camp without a permanent home.
Located nine miles north of Canton, at Way, Miss., there was the famous Allison's Wells resort and across the road a resort-turned-nursing-home known as Rose Hill. Allison's Wells had been a popular Southern resort and spa since the 1870s. In the late 1940s an art colony developed there. For more than 10 years, students from the art department at Mississippi State College for Women ( now Mississippi University for Women) attended Allison Art Colony on weekends under the direction of faculty members Mary Evelyn Stringer, Eugenia Summer and Ralph Hudson. Allison's Wells burned in 1963.
Rose Hill, just across Way Road from Allison's Wells had been another resort and was located on over 200 acres including a 40-acre lake. By the 1940s, that resort had been converted into a nursing home. In 1946 Cecil Jones, the Rector at St Paul's Church in Columbus learned that Rose Hill was for sale for $32,000. At the time, Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray, a former Rector at St Paul's, was in Columbus on a visit. The two men discussed the need for a permanent home for a youth camp and conference center.
Driving back to Jackson from Columbus, Gray stopped and visited the site and realized it was the perfect location. Soon funds were raised and Rose Hill was purchased. A close inspection showed that though the "Big House" was in excellent condition, the rest of the property was covered by "briars, bushes, vines and yellow jacket nest and crossed only by the remnants of dusty wagon trails."
As chairman, Cecile Jones organized work crews to begin cleaning the site. A church history shows probably the first volunteer crew to arrive was composed of Bond Anderson, Bam Williams, Dan Williams and Louis Thelgie from Columbus. The property was cleaned up and World War II army surplus "hutments" or half-tent, half-wooden barracks were purchased and placed on the site.
The first session at Camp Rose Hill was held in the summer of 1947. Many of the camp's first staff were brought from Columbus by Rev Jones. Mrs. W.G. Hairston was the first dietitian and the kitchen/cooking staff from MSCW was hired for the summer. In 1951 the need for permanent buildings at the camp became obvious. However, it was 1954 before sufficient funds were raised to hire an architect to develop plans and commence construction. In March 1954, Jones was directed to find an architect, draw plans, commence construction and have the camp ready by summer. Jones called on Pearson, an engineer/architect, who agreed to help with the expedited project.
Jones and Pearson worked together to make a survey of the property. Pearson drew up the plans and construction started in April., Before camp started in the summer of 1954, the administration building, recreation hall and dining hall were completed. It was 1959 before the last building -- the arts and crafts building -- was completed. In 1954, Clarence Day obtained 25,000 pine seedlings and had them planted them around the camp.
Jones served as director of the camp which had been renamed Camp Bratton-Green. In 1963, he turned the job over to another priest and ever since the director of each camp session has been a priest. Also in 1963, Allison's Wells burned and the camp lost its old neighbor. The Episcopal Church eventually bought the former Allison's Wells property where The Duncan Gray Conference Center was then built.
On Dec. 21, 1990, a tornado decimated Camp Bratton-Green, destroying most of the original buildings. The camp was rebuilt patterned after the original structures and on June 13, 1992, it was re-dedicated in honor of and thanksgiving for the Jones.
The past week I survived a very hectic but fun time on staff with a camp of 116 fifth and sixth-graders. The staff and campers were not just Episcopalians, but adults and children of many different denominations from not only Mississippi but also Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and even Sweden. Very few people, though, recall the present camp's Columbus roots.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]