The tough city-kid met his surprising match in a quiet Salem camp.
A known troublemaker, he exited the bus delivering New York City kids to Camp North – but ran off shrieking. What terrified him?
“He’d never seen a live chicken before!” recalled Isabell Crump Hylton with a laugh.
She charmed listeners with such stories at a recent Salem Historical Society meeting at the Salem Museum. Some had never even heard of Camp North, a summer camp for black “city-kids.” Her grandparents Floyd and Lillie North ran it from 1941-1974 on their 25 acres near Craig Avenue.
It all started quite casually, as young Isabell and her cousin jumped rope on the sidewalks of New York. The girls were attending elementary school there, since Salem’s G.W. Carver School hadn’t been built.
Answering the old what-will-your-child-do-this-summer question, Isabell’s mom offered to let a child come to the family land in Virginia. “That turned out to be not one, but three, children….
“Family-to-family, it just grew into more kids the next summer. It was all word-of-mouth; no advertising. I don’t think she had any idea what she was getting into!” said Isabell. It grew as kids kept telling others what a good time they had; the family had to open another section of land to accommodate two chartered busloads.
Along with that scary chicken, it was a place of woodsy firsts for the inner-city kids: Woods! Climbing trees. Making huts from branches. Camping. Campfires. A vegetable garden. A salt-lick for cows – which one girl just had to try, to no ill outcome. “My first bee-sting,” recalled Isabell’s son Richard, now of West Virginia.
There were games and programs, and learning-to-swim. Some local children also came to swim and use the playground – important, as Isabell and several audience members reminded, since Lakeside Amusement Park only allowed blacks to swim on one weekend after season’s end.
Hiking 30 kids to church slowed traffic, so Shiloh Baptist Church deacons and Rev. Glaspie started bringing Sunday School to the camp. All this for $40 per student, per month.
Campers were aged six to 14 – “unless they were exceptionally good,” said Isabell. Then they could stay until age 15 or 16 as counselors, as did Richard’s older sister.
Some parents who had moved to NYC from the Bahamas and other countries sent children here to show them “country life.”
And the family pioneered the wearing of camp t-shirts: That helped keep track of the two busloads of kids between NYC and Salem – particularly challenging, since kids had to use far-away, segregated bathrooms.
Segregation’s end also ended the camp, since black children could go elsewhere.
Among other artifacts, Isabell brought the old dinner-bell used to summon children with less disturbance to neighbors than an earlier public-address system.
Her presentation fit nicely with the Museum’s current exhibit on vanished landmarks, said Director John Long. He had introduced her as “one of our favorite docents”; several audience members later mentioned her other conscientious commitments to the Clothes Closet for the needy and to Shiloh Baptist Church.
P.S. Until this SHS talk my own doctor-dad hadn’t mentioned tending some of the campers’ minor incidents. Not pressing him to violate confidentiality, I’ll imagine bee-stings and terror-by-chicken.