In 1916 Memphian Sophie Kraus decided that working girls needed a nearby vacation spot that provide outdoor recreation.With the aid of friends, Mrs. Kraus acquired donations from businessmen and purchased 40 acres in the foothills of the Ozarks on the South Fork of Spring River near Hardy, Arkansas.The site was selected because of its proximity to Memphis while still providing a marked change in scenery. Also, transportation to Hardy was easily available by train.
Wooden cottages and a dining hall were constructed, and the camp was in operation. The only stipulation on attendance was that the girls had to be employed. Dressed in camp uniform – middy blouses and bloomers or skirts when they went to town, working women had a place where they could go for fun, fellowship and relaxation. The Camp was first known by two names. “Girls’ Vacation Camp” and “Miramichee“. The Indian name Miramichee stuck. While some say Miramichee means “rustling of the leaves,” and others contend the name means “quiet resting place” there is no dispute that Camp Miramichee stood for decades as a source of inspiration for countless girls of all ages.
Miramichee was given to the YWCA of Memphis in 1920 believing that the YWCA could reach a larger number of potential campers. According to legend the three original owners were a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew, which established a tradition of openness and diversity that continued throughout the camp’s history.
For a decade participants continued to be working women with a two-week period designated each summer for use by Girl Reserves (the YWCA predecessor of Y-Teens).The changeover in age groups was gradual with mixed ages attending for several years. During the years of the Great Depression the camp was open to young women and girls of all ages.Family groups also enjoyed the camp during these years.
In the early 1940’s enrollment was limited to girls aged 10 to 18. Miss Julia Hope Hall, YWCA Youth Director began her long tenure as Camp Director in the late 1930’s. During the war years of World War II, adult camping returned. Gasoline and tire rationing curtailed long trips, so Miramichee again became a vacation spot for employed women. Where else could one vacation for a camp fee of $10.00 per week? Adult camping continued for approximately fifteen years attracting mainly former campers from Shelby County and their families. In the 1950’s camping reverted to the younger age group.
Swimming, canoeing, hiking, singing games, crafts, archery and overnight sleep outs were all part of life at Miramichee, which attracted campers not only from Memphis and Shelby County but also west Tennessee, north Mississippi and east Arkansas. Starting in Unit 1, at 10 years old, campers returned year after year until they experienced their rite of passage into the Senior Unit. Enrollment steadily increased from the end of World War II into the mid -1960’s.During these years registration forms were returned as soon as they were received shortly after Christmas in order to insure one’s place at camp.
Woody Lodge, sanctum of the Senior Unit, was donated to the camp by the Zonta Club of Memphis and opened in 1950. The lodge was named in memory of one of its members, Mary Wood Davis, who also was active in the YWCA for many years. Shortly thereafter a new unit was created, Unit IV, with the building of additional stone cabins.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s truck trips were expanded to explore the surrounding area of northeast Arkansas and southern Missouri. The Senior Unit took three-day trips to Lake Norfolk and Blanchard Springs in Arkansas and Alley Springs in Missouri. The Long Canoe Trip became longer and longer. Canoeists no longer paddled up Spring River to Dam 3, but now set in at Dam 3 and paddled down to Imboden or Black Rock. Annual events such as Olympic Day and Camper/Staff Day thrilled all campers.
Commercial development began to encroach more and more on the Camp as John Cooper developed Cherokee Village as a retirement site for Midwesterners and Mid-Southerners.Miss Hall, now Camp Director for over 25 years, began her search for a new camp site. In 1963 the long time Memphis Boy Scout Camp Kia Kima relocated further up the South Fork River, the east Arkansas Boy Scout Camp Cedar Valleyrelocated to Viola, Arkansas; the Memphis Girls Scout Camp Kiawani relocated to Middleton, Tennessee; and the Memphis YMCA Camp relocated to Pickwick, Tennessee.
Miss Hall retired in 1970, and in 1975 the original Miramichee campsite was sold. A new site which had been identified by Miss Hall, was acquired. Located up river on South Fork, near the new Kia Kima, the site consisted of 138 underdeveloped acres. Peggy Matthews served as Camp Director during the early 1970’s and created new traditions during the final years at the oldcamp site.
The mid-1970’s were a period of planning and fund-raising. The Camp Committee was reconstituted; former staff member Betty Griff Woodard was hired as camp director; a master camp plan designed by the University Of Arkansas was approved; and an architectural firm was hired. The new camp opened in June 1979 after operating one summer at the YMCA camp in Mammoth Springs. An extensive building program of 14 cabins, a dining hall, a bunkhouse, and a bath house was nearing completion when a tornado hit in December 1982 ravaging the camp. The building started over, and faith, hope and a lot of hard work raised the camp again. Ann Pool, longtime camper and staff member, served as Camp Director during these difficult years.In October 1983 the new senior lodge and bunkhouse was dedicated to Julia Hope Hall on a glorious Fall Day attended by over a 100 people.
However,by the mid-1980’s camp enrollment was experiencing a serious decline, and competent staff were difficult to secure. After several years of problems, the YWCA decided to stop operating the camp. Various other uses were considered, but the decision was finally made to sell the property and focus on other programs.
When Camp Miramichee closed in 1989, it was the oldest organized camp for girls in continuous operation in the tri-state area. Generation after generation of girls from Memphis and the surrounding areas had been able to gather the rewards of close association with friends and nature at Miramichee. Today when former campers gather it is not uncommon to hear someone remark the happiest days of my childhood were spent at Miramichee!
Courtesy of the YWCA of Memphis
with amendments and additions by Lila Beth Burke,