Camp Illahee-Girls Camp Since 1921

Inspired by the success of area boys camps, Brevard native Joe Tinsley purchased 100 acres in 1919 outside Brevard in Cathey's Creek Township with the intent to build a summer camp of his own. Tinsley leased 30 acres to Hinton McLeod, a teacher from Mississippi, and together they made Camp Illahee. Using local building materials and draft horses, it took them only six months to grade a road, build a dining hall/lodge, construct the dam for the lake, dig a well and septic, wire electricity, and level some athletic fields. Illahee opened her doors on June 27, 1921. Eleven campers and four counselors made up the population of that first eight-week summer. Coming from as far away as Indiana, the girls traveled by train to Hendersonville, where the camp truck "Henry" picked them up along with their one steamer trunk.

As directors, Hinton and his wife Francis placed great emphasis on the welfare of each camper and firmly believed she would learn self-reliance, grace, wholesomeness, and leadership from "actively participating in the invigorating properties of the natural world." Girls spent that first summer riding horses, swimming, singing, dancing, and adventuring to area waterfalls. There were 20-mile canoe trips on the French Broad, early morning lake jumps, a 3-day camping trip to Looking Glass Mountain, and even a walk to town to see a traveling circus.

Four generations later, Illahee girls no longer take the train to camp, but the McLeod'sfocus on Christian philosophy still serves as the foundation for their camp experience. The original dining hall and lodge still stand and are joined by 33 cabins, a covered gymnasium and riding arena, a high ropes course, and a second lake built for canoeing and kayaking. Just as they did in 1921, campers continue to hike in Pisgah National Forest, canoe down the French Broad River, and visit area waterfalls.

Over the course of each summer, 1,000 girls attend Camp Illaheecoming from 32 states and several foreign countries. They are a part of the history of Transylvania County and continue Joe Tinsley's vision of outdoor play and recreation while enjoying a traditional camp experience.

This information was compiled in cooperation with Camp Illahee as part of the 2015 Transylvania Heritage Museum Exhibit, Where America Comes To Play. This exhibit is currently on display in the County Offices located on East Morgan Street in Brevard.

To learn more about Camp Illahee, visit To learn more about Transylvania County History, visit the Transylvania Heritage Museum at 189 West Main Street. The Museum is open Thursday through Saturday, from noon until 4:00 pm. The Museum's new exhibit, Mountain Legacies: Exploring Appalachian Culture, will run until mid-October. The exhibit and accompanying programs are supported by North Carolina Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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