Keystone Camp Turns 100

Photo courtesy of Keystone Camp.

Brevard entrepreneur Jordan Horne Salman likes to think in hypotheticals. Had her nine-year-old self not been pushed up the East Coast back in 1994, leaving Tampa for a Transylvania County sleepaway camp, she might today be floundering in some bustling metropolis. Perhaps she would take to her husband’s hometown of Atlanta, quelling a die-hard ruggedness to instead climb the corporate ladder. “Working to live, maybe,” she speculates, giving pause to the notion.

This guesswork is a far cry from her current life as owner of The Hub and Pisgah Tavern, a mountain-bike outfitter and “post-adventure watering hole,” re-spectively. Positioned at the shadowy mouth of Pisgah National Forest, the 9,000-square-foot beer-centric shop nods to her time spent “pushing the limits” (sans well-hopped porters) at Keystone, an all-girls camp established in 1916.

Thirteen summers on the idyllic property equipped Salman with the steadfastness necessary to climb Looking Glass Falls, kayak down the Chattooga River, and bike competitively. Still, grit doesn’t come easy. Her first night at camp was riddled with misery, detailed in a letter home. “I said something about how much I missed them and how much I hated being there,” she says, reflecting on her pleads for a quick escape.   

Jordan Salman, a Brevard business owner, takes a trek on the Blue Ridge Parkway last fall. Jordan bikes in competitions all over the world; she credits 13 summers at Keystone Camp for nurturing her rugged side and changing the course of her life.

A follow-up letter just 24 hours later chronicled morning bells and a cinnamon-coffee-cake breakfast, all in childish calligraphy. Salman had found home in unlikely places, namely head cook Bertha Manuel’s fried chicken. Rolled in an assortment of spices (garlic salt, paprika, black pepper, and Kosher salt) and all-purpose flour, the entrée has been a hit since 1976.

“Everything I cook is good,” Manuel says unabashedly, mentioning pork roasts, stir-fry dishes, and former campers’ requests for cooking tips. Unlike most illustrious chefs, she isn’t one for recipe hoarding. “You can’t use self-rising flour for the chicken; no secrets here.” 

Beyond mealtime, Salman hiked the 30.1-mile Art Loeb Trail, its switchbacks stretching from Cold Mountain to the Davidson River. She moved up the ranks from camper to counselor to adventure staff director, afternoons giving way to paddling and assemblies warranting Keystone-specific hymns. Many of the melodies she learned at daily programs she would later hum to her infant son, now a seven-year-old camper at Gwynn Valley.

Though the tunes have changed a little, the family-centered sensibilities, which date back to original founders Miss Florence Ellis and Miss Fannie Holt, remain unaltered. Since Holt’s passing in 1942, the camp has moved down the bloodline; current director Page Ives Lemel is the fourth to inherit Keystone.

Hoping to leave her stamp on the place (though not much can outclass her father’s 1968 addition of women’s golf), Lemel has sought to update various buildings. The infrastructural changes have come more out of necessity than want, however, since a fire pillaged what was left of the 80-year-old pavilion in 2005. The flames caused an emotional loss that she says “shook the community to the core.” Only the original lodge, a hub for nightly milk and cookies, remains.

No matter the ever-evolving grounds, Brevard resident Reid Wood will always remember the late 1970s, early ’80s rendition of the camp. Sent up from the balmy summers of Atlanta, she bunked in Crabapple and Dogwood cabins and played field games on the ever-losing Apache team. There was also the questionable tradition of “Ghost Court,” where a panel of seven to eight judges would assign campers goofy and slightly galling superlatives at each session’s end. Though tons of good-natured laughter ensued, Wood figures the ritual has since been traded out.

Regardless of ebbing customs, as Keystone, the oldest private girls’ summer camp in the Southeast, breaches the 100-year mark, Salman and Wood hope to return to their childhood cabins during a late-summer reunion (though a bike race may prevent Salman from doing so). More than 130 alums are registered for a centennial celebration. “Most feel very strongly about re-experiencing camp as it once was,” Lemel notes. “But I’m convinced they’re just coming back for Bertha’s chick-en.”

Keystone Camp opens its centennial session this month, on June 12. The 100th reunion weekend happens Thursday, August 18 through Sunday, August 21. For more information about the camp, visit keystonecamp.com or contact Lemel at page@keystonecamp.com or 828-884-9125.

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