Camp Ouachita National Historic District
Camp Ouachita was the hearthstone for outdoor- and social-skills development and a path through adolescence for two generations of Arkansas Girl Scouts who seasonally camped there between 1937 and 1979. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal New Deal agency, constructed Camp Ouachita from 1936 to 1940 for the Little Rock Area Girl Scout Council (LRGSC) in the Ouachita National Forest, twelve miles south of Perryville (Perry County) and some thirty-six miles west of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Camp Ouachita, the nation’s only surviving WPA-constructed Girl Scout camp complex, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The camp is currently undergoing renovation.
Prior to Camp Ouachita, the LRGSC had only limited, seasonal use of the Boy Scouts’ Camp Quapaw in Benton (Saline County). As Girl Scout membership grew, the organization pursued its own facility.
LRGSC President Sue (Worthen) Ogden and the council’s leaders (who hosted honorary Girl Scout president and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt during her two trips to Little Rock in 1936 and 1937) obtained WPA grants, private donations, and a U.S. Forest Service special-use permit to build Camp Ouachita. Camp Ouachita was dedicated in 1937, the silver anniversary of the Girl Scouts Inc.
Frank Ginocchio, of the Little Rock firm Thompson, Sanders, and Ginocchio, designed Camp Ouachita in the rustic style. The geology underlying Camp Ouachita is complex, and camp wells failed repeatedly over the years, forcing the camp to resort to sand-filtered lake water. Ultimately, Arkansas Department of Health public health regulations prevented using lake water any longer, and with the last option of hauling water to the camp logistically unfeasible, the Ouachita Girl Scout Council (formerly LRGSC) decided in 1979 not to renew its special use permit for the camp. The Camp Ouachita National Historic District now encompasses sixtyacres and contains thirty-seven native stone buildings and remnants, six foundations, four engineering structures (small well house, pump station, water tank, and swim crib/dock remnants), and three unique landscape features (Lake Sylvia, the lake’s dam, and Narrow Creek and Gorge).
Ogden Hall (a.k.a. the Great Hall) and the caretaker’s residence are in a cluster that originally included the camp’s infirmary, staff cabins, and the director’s cabin. Six Girl Scout “patrol units”—Lake View, Tall Timber, Eco Valley, Cliff Top, Atihcauo, and Toltec—were supported by the Ogden Hall cluster and contained sleeping cabins, a unit house, a bathhouse, and tent platforms, save Atihcauo, which was a primitive unit offering tent platforms, a pit privy, a fire ring, a unit house, and a bathhouse. Atihcauo was, by 1966, a 22.72-acre parcel that was part of Camp Ouachita until the camp closed. Lake View and Toltec shared common buildings.
Camp Ouachita rose beside the Lake Sylvia Recreation Area, which was planned well before Camp Ouachita’s site was chosen. Forest Service–directed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews constructed the dam in 1936. Today, Camp Ouachita is on the northwest shoreline, and the Lake Sylvia Recreation Area lies along the southern shore. The recreation area is not part of the Camp Ouachita National Historic District. The WPA and the CCC worked at the same time on separate projects sharing a small public lake, a unique moment in New Deal history, and research at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has proven finally that the CCC was not involved with any aspect of Camp Ouachita’s construction; the WPA alone built Camp Ouachita.
After years of disuse, the camp was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Phase 1 restoration of Camp Ouachita has been completed, with documents and keys exchanged at a rededication ceremony on September 17, 2004. Tommy Jameson, of Jameson Architects in Little Rock, was the architect conservator for Phase I and II renovations, being administered through the Central Arkansas Resource Conservation & Development Council—part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service—which implemented the improvements under a special use permit with the USDA Forest Service, Ouachita National Forest. To create a multi-use public facility and restore Camp Ouachita’s Great Hall, $365,000 was secured through Save America’s Treasures; additionally, the Arkansas Department of Transportation contributed $400,000, the Arkansas Department of Rural Services contributed $100,000, and private donors contributed over $30,000 toward the historic district’s restoration.
In 2021, the State of Arkansas signed a lease with the United States Forest Service (USFS) to permit the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to manage the Lake Sylvia Recreation Area, including Camp Ouachita.
For additional information:
“Camp Ouchita Girl Scout Camp Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Camp Ouachita National Historic District Feasibility Study. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Nelson, Rex. “Saving Camp Ouachita.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 29, 2023, p. 4H. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/jan/29/saving-camp-ouachita/ (accessed August 31, 2023).
Romund, Camilla M. The Camp Ouachita National Historic District: A Works Progress Administration Project from Start to Finish. N.p.: 2004.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
I went to this camp every summer from the time I was eight until I was sixteen. The next year, I finished high school and went to college instead. It meant the world to me. So, 1959 through 1967. I wish I knew what my mother did with my pictures–I took a lot on my trusty GS camera! My aunt went several summers during World War II.
I attended this camp in the summer of 1951 or ’52. I rode a train from Memphis to Arkansas to attend. I believe I stayed two weeks and they tried their best to teach me to swim, but it never worked.
For one of the night meals in the outdoor, covered structure, I was chosen to go pick something to use as a table decoration. I brought back “poison ivory,” to the horror of my scout leader. Something I have never forgotten.
My time at the camp is one of my fondest childhood memories! We are going to visit the state park very soon and I am so looking forward to seeing it again with my husband.
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