Fifty-six days until I go to camp!” Caroline Linen stares down the calendar on her bedroom wall. “This year, I’ll probably be in the Castle,” the 16-year-old exclaims with excitement. “It’s amazing! I remember the first time I saw the Castle. It was my first summer at Main, and I was visiting my assigned big sister during free-time. It was ginormous!”
Cabin lingo spills from the rising junior’s lips, as she morphs into camp mode. But in truth, Greystone never escapes her. As a fourth-generation Greystone Girl, its spirit is embedded deep in her DNA. The rugged slice of heaven outside Tuxedo, North Carolina, influences her outlook and life. “I’m not sure when my great-grandma and grandma started attending,” she shares. “But when I’m walking the same roads and staying in the same cabins, and feeling what they did, it brings me closer to what I’ve learned about them, and how I’m like them.”
While pumped to spend five weeks with friends in the Castle, Caroline is even more delighted to dive into this summer’s centennial celebration. “I’m looking forward to the 100th year, especially learning all about what they did,” the St. Joe’s student reveals. “Carnival on the Fourth of July, Banquet Night. Those are some of my favorite things we do. I hope to have a daughter, and I’d love for her to go and do them.”
A Dad’s Dream // Many of the activities and rituals Caroline holds dear are the exact ones her foremothers embraced at the all-girl getaway. Vespers, Five-Year Celebration, Odd-Even Competition, all swathed in camp colors of green and gold remain virtually unchanged since Dr. Joseph Sevier founded Greystone in 1920.
The Presbyterian minister from Augusta, Georgia, grew transfixed on building a camp for young girls when his daughter wanted to learn to swim, but couldn’t find a place. Sevier spent the first two summers on Greystone Mountain in Tennessee, but moved the camp to warmer temperatures at its current, 150-acre location on Lake Summit in 1922. One hundred campers spent the entire summer that first year, as Sevier transformed a cornfield into an enchanting retreat. Always a spendthrift, the doctor purchased surplus World War I barracks from Camp Sevier in Greenville. The beloved “tentalows” are still used today, lined with wooden plaques, the names of former campers burned into the grain.
Vintage brochures glimpse the early days. Horseback riding on “eight Kentucky thoroughbreds” was cited as “the crowning feature of Greystone athletics.” Swimming, tennis, basketball, and baseball were popular, and just like today, Morning Assembly featured song and prayer. Armed with Kodak cameras, campers sometimes ventured beyond the wooden gate to tour Chimney Rock and Mt. Mitchell. Others stayed behind to perform folk dances and dramatic passages on Pageant Court, the outdoor stage. In 1932, the camp grabbed national attention when Cosmopolitan covered its archers, in white dresses, cloche hats, and Oxford heels, during a shooting exhibition at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.
Decades passed, and while many camps (and businesses) didn’t survive the Great Depression and World War II, Greystone did. Jimboy Miller, director of operations at Camp Greystone, remembers hearing the stories of how the camp operated through polio epidemics. “Once you had your community together, you didn’t let anyone else in, because you risked picking up the infection. There were quarantines,” he explains. “So, vendors would drop the food at the gate, and staff would bring it all in.” By then, Virginia Sevier, Joseph’s daughter who originally wanted to learn to swim, was directing Greystone. Perhaps one of her best skills was keeping connected to alumni. Each Opening Day, she would carefully arrange wedding and debutante announcements on the dining hall’s central bulletin board.
In years to come, a changing societal view and swinging ’60s drove other camps to close. But in 1972, Jimboy witnessed his parents re-focusing on faith, tapping into Greystone’s biblical roots. “My parents reinvigorated the camp and added moments of significance into each day,” he recalls. “They were very intentional to make sure campers go away from this experience with something more than just a good time.” Christian speakers were brought in to interact with campers, including writer Corrie ten Boom who stayed for two straight weeks. The ’80s also included facility improvements with construction of water ski docks, a pool, and a soccer field, and a track used by the Stumblers Running Club.
Today, Jimboy directs operations that serve almost 2,000 campers per summer, each staying for one-, two-, three- and five-week-long terms. The girls choose from 70 activities, A to Z . . . aerobics to Zumba. “The thing that you’re doing doesn’t matter as much as what’s happening in that relationship with your counselor, campers, to each other,” the 56-year-old executive director reveals. “That’s the magic of camp. Our camp has doubled down on that social connection. Campers keep coming back because of the relationships they make within the camp.”
Like Grandmother, Like Mother, Like Daughter // “Only five more months until I go back to camp!” Laura Linen, Caroline’s mother, plans on attending the 100-year reunion this October. With an estimated 30,000 alumni, Greystone may run out of tentalows. Laura states, “I’m 52 years old, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of camp. I was a camper and counselor there. It’s life-changing.” She can’t wait to reunite with former cabin-mates. “These are life-long friendships from the get-go. When you live with someone in a cabin for weeks on end, everything is stripped away. There’s a grounding. We are there for each other, no matter what.”
Laura’s mother, Sandy Pickens Wagner, is returning with her friends as well . . . at age 76. “I don’t think there’s a better place in the world,” the second-generation camper states. “Greystone has a spirit of the heart. I grew to feel there was nothing in the world I couldn’t do, if I had my heart in the right place. That’s what it does for young girls.”
Both now watch Caroline re-trace their steps. “You find out who you are, working on friendships, strength, and spiritual growth,” says Laura. “I found skills I didn’t know I had.” Her mom agrees, sending a silent thank you upward, to her mother, the first-generation Greystone girl. “I never wanted camp to end. I never wanted to go home. Greystone has been blessed with wonderful, strong, faith-filled women.” Women who yearn to gather round the campfire once more.
For more information, visit campgreystone.com