Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Traveling Tuesday: Camp David

Traveling Tuesday: Camp David

Photo: archives.gov
Everyone needs a vacation, even a nation’s leader. So, where does the president of the United States go when he needs a break? Since 1942…a 125-acre compound located about sixty miles from Washington, DC near the towns of Thurmont and Emmitsburg in the beautiful Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Catoctin Mountain Park (a National Park) doesn’t show the location of Camp David on park maps for privacy and security reasons, but it can be seen on publicly accessible satellite images. The helicopter ride takes approximately thirty minutes from the White House.

Built as a camp for federal employees and their families, the project was completed in 1938 through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the New Deal. Originally named Hi-Catoctin, it was renamed Shangri-La by President Franklin Roosevelt (after the fictional Himalayan paradise in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. President Eisenhower renamed it Camp David in honor of his father and grandson. The move angered some members of the Democratic party, and Representative Michael Kirwan of Ohio stating that renaming the camp “was the only thing the Eisenhower Administration accomplished without Democratic help.” After Eisenhower left office, there was talk of reverting the name to Shangri-La, but President Kennedy vetoed the idea, and Camp David it remained. Officially, however, it is the Naval Support Facility Thurmont.

If not for World War II, Camp David may not have become a presidential getaway. President Roosevelt typically used the presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, for relaxation. But when the U.S. entered the war, military and Secret Service leadership were concerned about FDR’s safety on the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean because of threats of German U-boats. As a result, the president asked the National Park Service to suggest possible sites within one hundred miles of Washington. There are no reports as to whether Hi-Catoctin was the only recommendation or if it was chosen after visiting numerous sites.

The President’s cabin, which sits on top of a hill, features several bedrooms, a small office, a kitchen, several fireplaces, and a large outdoor flagstone patio. There is also a swimming pool, hot tub, and single golf hole with multiple tees. (Eisenhower added a 250-yard driving range near the helicopter pad.

Paths wind through the property connecting the twelve guest cottages. Laurel Lodge is the main cabin
Photo: archives.gov
where meals are served and meetings are conducted. There are three conference rooms and a presidential office. Hickory Lodge holds a bowling alley, movie theater, restaurant/bar, game room, library, and gift shop. Tennis courts, horseshoe pits, a fitness room, and a skeet range are supplemented with nearby fishing and horseback riding. Trails are perfect for walking, biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. The hills are used for sledding and snowmobiling. Evergreen Chapel is a non-denominational place of worship. Golf carts are used as the primary means of transportation.

Because it is technically a military installation, staffing is primarily provided by the Seabees, Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marines. Renovations are handled by naval construction battalions.

Photo: archives.gov
 In addition to using the facility for R&R, presidents have hosted foreign dignitaries such as British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev, Australian prime minister Harold Holt, Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, Indonesian president Suharto, French president Charles De Gaulle, Mexican president Lopez Mateos, Columbian president Alberto Lleras, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Camp David’s use as a casual meeting place for world leaders is noteworthy, but the facility is most appreciated by presidents for its ability to provide escape from the daily pressures. Said President Reagan, “As president, the days I hated most were those of nonstop meetings, one after another, with no time in between to collect my thoughts…the days I liked best were those Fridays when I could break away a little early, about three or three-thirty, and take off for Camp David.


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