Forest And Stream Club Still Roughing It After 116 Years


December 19, 1990|By Marie V. Forbes

On Monday evening, May 11, in the year 1874, a group of men came together in the Westminster office of Dr. George Yingling to form an association dedicated to the enjoyment of their favorite outdoor activities -- hunting and fishing.

They adopted the name Forest and Stream Club for their organization and set about making plans for a summer encampment along the Monocacy.

Today, some 116 years later, the club continues to flourish, many of its members descendants of those original founders. And camping along the banks of the Monocacy still provides an enjoyable escape from the everyday world for Forest and Stream Club members.

The club's early encampments were rude affairs: a tent, purchased for $15 and dubbed the Blue Mountain House after a famous Pen Mar hotel, was the only shelter from the weather.

Beds were fashioned from rails and slabs laid on the ground and covered with straw. Cooking was done over an open fire. The table was a discarded barn door.

But lack of posh accommodations was the very element that made the Forest and Stream Club so popular with its members. Camped along the river's banks, they escaped into a man's world of hunting, fishing, horseshoes, card-playing and storytelling.

For 10 days each summer, there were no wives or mothers around to remind them to change their undershirts or to keep their elbows off the table. The fish were biting and life was good.

Relatively good that is. The Monocacy had a nasty tendency of overflowing its banks, flooding out campers and ruining the fishing.

From 1885 to 1890, various other campsites were tried, but none proved satisfactory. In 1891, the group returned to the Monocacy, as the club's published history states, "feeling like prodigal sons returning to their old home."

The club's history, published on its 100th anniversary, in 1974, contains the following account of that 1891 encampment as recorded by historian Frank T. Butler: "This was a year of enjoyable thrills and great havoc. A jolly group of men from Gettysburg were encamped about 1 mile below our camp. Having organized a calithumpian band one evening, the F & S members paid the Gettysburgers a visit about 9:00 p.m. and were royally entertained. About midnight the Gettysburg boys returned the visit and gave us a jolly and noisy serenade.

"The camp was quiet by 1 a.m. and all asleep when we were awakened by a great rush of water caused by heavy rains over the head waters of the Monocacy. The water reached the cook's tent to a depth of 3 feet before it could be moved to higher ground."

After that experience, there was again agitation to move the club to a more hospitable location. Over the next several years, various sites along the Potomac were tried.

A rift developed within the club between the "Potomac faction" and the "Monocacy faction." When, in 1902, most of the club equipment was destroyed by vandalism, the members decided to abandon the annual encampment.

Equipment was stored in John Reese's barn along the Western Maryland Railway; except for occasional short fishing trips, the club remained dormant until its re-organization in 1909 with 30 members, some from the original group.

The 1909 campsite was the old Dutterer farm along the Monocacy, then tenanted by Harvey Frock. As the automobile was still in its infancy and local roads were primitive at best, transportation to the camp was via the Western Maryland Railroad, a custom that continued until roads improved and automobiles became more commonly available.

The railroad company made several passenger cars available for members and their gear. A short switch and loading platform were erected near the campsite for disembarkment. A local farmer loaded the campers' gear onto his wagon for the trip down to the river.

Making and breaking camp entailed a lot of work for the campers: There was equipment to unload, tent sites to be chosen, tents to set up and personal effects to unpack. In addition, firewood had to be gathered so the cooks could prepare their first meal.

Quite often, after all this activity was completed, a thunderstorm with high winds would swoop across the area. Tents would collapse as the members clung desperately to guy ropes to keep them from flying away.

The 1910 camp season marked a momentous event in the club's history -- for the first time, women were allowed to enter the encampment. A "Ladies' Day" was designated, with a Glee Club and string band to provide fun and entertainment for the visiting female contingent.

In 1913, storms destroyed several tents and lightning struck both the flag pole and the cook's tent, severely burning the cook, George Bruce. The other noteworthy event of that season was that visitors arrived by automobile . . . all the way from Baltimore!

As the years passed, the club added many improvements and conveniences.

A Delco storage battery plant provided lighting for the camp until electrical lines were extended to the property in 1941.

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