The story of Rockwood, a Girl Scout camp in Maryland, is told in a new book

Camping is an integral part of Girl Scouting, a way to learn independence and self-sufficiency. Participating in a class action can also teach a lesson. It was the prospect of losing a beloved Montgomery County Girl Scout camp that mobilized a group of scouts dressed in green sweaters to enter the Rockville courthouse one day in January 1979.

They were there to support nine plaintiffs suing the Girl Scouts of the USA: seven adults and two of their Girl Scout peers. The field trip to the courthouse would count towards their active citizenship badge.

That’s one of the details in a new book by Ann Robertson called “Rescue Rockwood: How a Group of Determined Girl Scouts Rallied to Save a Beloved National Camp.” It’s a messy story from the Carter/Reagan years that still annoys some in the Girl Scout community.

Robertson is the volunteer historian for the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, the group that oversees the local troops. It was local The Girl Scouts who were most upset by the loss of Rockwood, a 67-acre site off MacArthur Boulevard near Great Falls, when the national Girl Scouts announced they were selling it to a developer.

The national group had been bequeathed the property after the death in 1936 of its owner, the eccentric society lady Carolyn Gangwer Caughey. Carolyn may have said her last name “shy,” but there was nothing shy about her.

“She really was a character,” Robertson said. “She could twist her arms and pull almost anything out of anyone.”

Caughey was born in 1864. She was married to John Caughey, the son of a Pittsburgh industrialist, although she derived her own income from shrewd speculation in Washington real estate. Well, she probably had her own income. In 1915, John sued Carolyn, claiming he provided the funds for various properties that were in his name.

Later he dropped the case and, oddly enough, they did not divorce. They lived pretty much separate lives after that, Carolyn at Rockwood, her country home.

The Caugheys had no children, and as Carolyn grew up, she had decisions to make regarding her estate. She loved brave women, being one herself, and she was moved by the story of Helen Hopkins, a survivor of the 1922 Knickerbocker Theater disaster.

Hopkins, 26, was among the onlookers who were trapped when the snow-covered roof collapsed. She was a Girl Scout leader and her calm demeanor and the way she helped other victims made her a hero in the disaster, which killed 98 people. Caughey was a friend of Hopkins’ mother and in her last will – she wrote several – she left Rockwood for the National Girl Scouts for use as a “character building facility”. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more Helen Hopkins?

After some internal discussion, the Girl Scouts accepted ownership. The scouts camped there. They explored the property, walked its trails, forded the stream that ran through it. Caughey Manor had lived in hosted programs for adult scout leaders. Troops came from all over the country, using Rockwood as a base camp for trips to Washington.

Almost from the start, there was a certain tension.

“The locals were thinking, yeah, it’s a national camp, but it’s a bit more ours than anybody else’s,” Robertson said.

Why hadn’t Caughey just left Rockwood on the local council?

“I think the reason she went to the national organization is that by being national instead of local, the camp would be integrated,” Robertson said. The local Girl Scout council was not incorporated until 1955.

A property like Rockwood is expensive to maintain. Girl Scouts of the USA had another camp – Macy’s, in Westchester County, NY – which served a similar purpose. He didn’t need both. In 1978, the national group announced that Rockwood was being sold to developers Berger/Berman, who hoped to build nearly 200 homes there.

Some Washingtonians wondered why they were asked to buy Thin Mints and Samoas when the Girl Scouts were getting $4 million for Rockwood. The public didn’t understand the difference between local troops and the national umbrella organization, Robertson said.

The class action lawsuit was filed by individuals, not the Washington council. They raised funds with bake sales and garage sales. They were bolstered when Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs joined the lawsuit, making Maryland a plaintiff. Sachs said the state has an interest in ensuring the terms of charitable trusts are maintained.

But in 1981, before Maryland et al. against GSUSA was judged, a resolution was reached. A portion of the camp, including its two main buildings, would be donated to the Montgomery County Parks Department for public use. And the national scouting group would pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

The now smaller housing estate has passed. His name – Woodrock – infuriated camp boosters.

Today Caughey Manor and a cottage remain. Both are rented out for events, including weddings. Robertson said some brides nod to Rockwood history by offering Girl Scout cookies at the reception.

About Nicole Harmon

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