In July of 1921, four men in a Ford Model T pulled up to survey a small riverside clearing in the Patapsco Forest Reserve. At the site, men in neckties and women in white dresses were clearing the ground and pitching tents. As Joel and Albert Hutzler stepped out of the Model T, they saw a vision come to life. The brothers were of course the Hutzlers of the Hutzler Brothers Company, Baltimore’s department store empire, which operated from 1858 to 1990. Albert Hutzler Sr. was the company’s president, his younger brother, Joel, was the operational and financial director. In 1921 their endeavor was to create a summer program for the store’s employees and their families to enjoy leisure time while building company camaraderie. The result, “Camp Hutzler,” operated for the first time from July to September, 1921 and ushered in a rare era where bosses enthusiastically signed on to spend a weekend with their employees’ families.
Camp Hutzler, in a broader context, was part of an urban progressivism that emerged in Baltimore’s elite families between 1906 and 1921. One aspect of the era of progressivism was a newly found concern for natural resources. When a sawmill was proposed for the Patapsco forest, William M. Ellicott, an architect and member of the Municipal Arts Society, grew dismayed at the rapid deforestation of Baltimore’s surrounding woodland. Ellicott had a new vision for the forest, one with a more spiritual benefit. He told the Baltimore Sun, “[Patapsco] offers an alluring opportunity for a ramble in the woods or a walk by the river, and has become a favorite sylvan resort of large numbers of our people.”
Ellicott was not alone in his desire to preserve the forest. Frederick W. Besley, Maryland State Forester, wanted to protect the state’s timber supply and heralded scientific forestry while Robert Garrett of the Baltimore Municipal Arts Society envisioned the Patapsco Valley as an extension of the city’s park system. Through shared interest in urban progressivism, Beasley was willing to negotiate with Garrett to place an area of the Patapsco forest under reserve. When the Patapsco Forest Reserve opened in 1912, it introduced Baltimore elites to the concept that a recreational day in nature was a luxury. The idea quickly caught on. By 1925, Patapsco park officials signed nearly 250 camping permits annually, amounting to over 2,500 visitors. The reserve officially became Patapsco State Park in 1933.
Hutzler’s summer camp was integral in making the idea of scientific forestry a reality. For the elite, urban progressivism and scientific forestry blended the rugged wilderness with intellectual rumination. For city-dwelling employees who did not have access to land, the camp was a special release and easy childcare during the summer. With the same spirit of philanthropy that was redefining relationships between human spirituality and nature, the Hutzlers were bonding with their middle class employees. To escape the spiritual entrammelments of bustling city life, campsites incorporated primitive elements with the modern. But the Hutzlers spared no expense at making the campsite as inclusive and luxurious to their employees as possible. Hutzler’s made sure tents were close to each other, ran a nearby commissary, and had a tent offering ice cream once a week.
Hutzler’s monthly employee newsletter, found in the MdHS library, titled “Tips and Taps” published a series of articles on the camp from July to September, 1921. It reveals the inner-workings and shenanigans of camp life. Keeping the camp affordable was essential. The employees were charged a weekly rate based on their earnings. For example, employees earning between $8 and $10 could pay a rate of $3.50, which covered the cost of a cot, blanket, breakfast and supper with three meals on Saturday and Sunday. A daily rate for week days was also available at 75 cents to a dollar per day. The camp was only open to male employee’s families, mostly sales clerks. Patapsco Forest Reserve’s nearby location allowed the men to go to work during the day while their wives and children enjoyed the varied summer activities at Camp Hutzler.
The camp site, affectionately nicknamed “Canvas City,” was comprised of six large pyramidal army tents that each accommodated eight people. Camp Director and tent counselor, Mr. Otto Weir, corralled the boys while Mrs. Rhoda Meyers, the girls’ counselor, made sure there was no hanky panky.
The days were shaped by unexpected visitors – the various Hutzler’s buyers and club members who came to participate in the regalement with employees’ families. Stories and jokes in “Tips and Taps” reveal a conviviality that traversed socio-economic barriers: “Mr. Hall, the distinguished buyer, who has been in China, heard the stories brought back from camp about everyone using two or three blankets each night, so he came prepared with a pair of snowshoes and a snow shovel.”
Other visitors were highly anticipated. Children at the camp were so excited for the arrival of Superintendent Mr. J. Frank Haynie, that they proclaimed August 13 “Haynie Day.” They decorated Camp Hutzler with American flags and Japanese lanterns and topped it all off with a banner declaring, “Welcome to Our Superintendent!”
In between visitors, daily activities included playing cards, boating on the Patapsco, water sports and swimming or challenging opponents to a round of quoits, a game with the same basic objective as horseshoes. Joel Hutzler frequented the camp and was a formidable quoits player.
“Mr. Joel Hutzler has indicated his intentions of qualifying for the quoit throwing championship of the camp. You quoit throwers watch out for we have seen Mr. Joel demonstrate his skill.” (“Tips and Taps,” September 1921.)
Albert Hutzler was also a regular at Camp Hutzler, but was apparently elusive, according to “Tips and Taps” from August 1921: “Mr. Albert Hutzler has been voted the most modest man in Camp. So far he has spoiled six films in dodging every photographer who has tried to take his picture. This is unlike Dinty, the camp’s mascot. No picture would be complete without him.”
Camp Hutzler also offered clubs for employees’ children, like a Dramatic Club and Boy’s Orchestra. Yet despite the plethora of activities intended to keep the kids entertained, mischief prevailed. In the case of Paul Bell, the camp dishwasher, this had a particularly mortifying outcome.“Paul Bell thought he would take a dip, Without his gay apparel; But the girls and his clothes away did skip, Not leaving him even a barrel. The moral is this—when you want to swim, But you’re dressed up fine and dandy, Don’t hang your clothes on a hickory limb, Unless there’s a barrel handy.” (1)
There were episodes of failed hubris: “Mr. Schmidt tried to prove his prowess by swimming across the Patapsco under water, but soon decided that to do that on the installment plan would be the better part of valor.”
And Mr. Weir’s bathing suit seemed to have magical properties; “We hear that Laura McCain acquired her permanent wave the day she went swimming in Mr. Weir’s bathing suit. Wish we could get one that way.”
As the summer wore on, children thought of slogans for the camp including, “Everybody works but father,” or “Luv-lee weath-ar! All the time!” which became a camp song. A disgruntled camper offered his opinion on the ditty: “’Luv-lee weath-ar! All the time!’ sung in a shrill tenor at 4 a.m. is worse than a million cats on the back fence howling. We know, ’cause we threw more than our shoes at the singer.”
With overwhelming requests from employees, Camp Hutzler reopened for the summers of 1922 and 1923. According to “Tips and Taps” from July 1923, 500 employees urged the camp to reopen that year. Curiously, despite Camp Hutzler’s popularity, it quietly faded into company history and was not mentioned in any newsletter after 1923.
While many other stories of the camp might have evaporated into the summer air, fortunately two dozen photos remain in MdHs’s Hutzler Collection to give us some semblance of the revelry. Unfortunately the photos cannot answer to a few camp concerns raised in “Tips and Taps”:
“Ask Mr. Jess Gebhard if he knows the difference between a flagpole and a tent pole.”
“Who tucked Mr. Rinfret into bed last week?”
“What happened to Kennard’s hammock?”
The world may never know. (Sarah LaCorte)
Sarah LaCorte is a graduating senior with a double major in History and Journalism and a minor in French at Towson University. Sarah has worked over the past semester as an intern at MdHS in the Imaging Services department. Her efforts in reprocessing the Hutzler Photograph Collection (PP5) have been invaluable. Previously listed as seven boxes, the collection currently comprises 30 boxes. Please look for the new finding aid in the coming weeks.
Sources and further reading:
(1) Tips and Taps August 1921, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 10.
Buckley, Geoffrey L., Robert F. Bailey, and J. Morgan Grove. “The Patapsco Forest Reserve: Establishing a “City Park” for Baltimore, 1907-1941.” Historical Geography 34 (2006): 87-108.
Dorrance, J. Gordon. The State Reserves of Maryland: A Playground for the Public. Baltimore: Maryland State Board of Forestry, 1919.
Lisicky, Michael J. Baltimore’s Bygone Department Stores: Many Happy Returns. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012.
Lisicky, Michael J. Hutzler’s: Where Baltimore Shops. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009.
Tips and Taps. Hutzler Brothers Company Employee Newsletter. March 1921 to December 1922. Call Number: MHF 5465.A4 H973.