When modern presidents need some time away, they often head for Camp David. However, Herbert Hoover had Rapidan Camp, also as known as the Brown House and Camp Hoover. President Hoover used this wooded escape to ponder the challenges of the Great Depression.
Rapidan Camp is located in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, just a few hours from Washington. Unlike most Nerd Trips, this excursion involved some extended outdoor activity – a two-mile hike in (downhill) on the Mill Prong trail and two-mile hike out (uphill) on a humid summer day.
You can take a shuttle from the Byrd Visitors Center, but I was traveling with friends and their dog (who is a better hiker than I am), and dogs are not allowed on the bus.
The Hoovers built the camp with the intention that it would eventually be turned over to the National Park Service, and it was, so you can see it for yourself!
Oh, I should mention, along with the hiking (which is treacherous enough for me because I have a tendency to sprain my ankles), you need to be on alert for black bears since it is not uncommon to see them on the trails.
The park offers some black bear precautions. Just FYI, you CANNOT outrun a black bear and don’t even think about climbing a tree! Avoid eye contact. Also, apparently “a standing bear is usually curious – not threatening,” although I suspect if I came across a standing bear I may have a hard time remembering that he or she was probably only “curious.”
While I mostly kept my eyes on the ground, for fear of falling, I will admit that there were some pleasant sites along the way, like this waterfall.
President Hoover wanted a good fishing spot within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., and many communities were “angling” to be selected. Rapidan site supporters “lured” the president with a winning strategy: they apparently stocked the stream with fish!
The Park Service has a piece of YouTube video showing the president fishing and other historical footage.
Before this trip, I mostly associated Hoover with one thing: the Great Depression. But after our Rapidan excursion, I have a new appreciation for our 31st president.
Hoover and his wife both loved the outdoors and both studied geology, you can see rock samples in the Brown House (no photos inside though). Mrs. Hoover was the first woman to graduate from Stanford with a degree in geology – who knew! President Hoover was a multimillionaire through his mining business.
Conscious of his image, Hoover paid for the Rapidan land and furnishings himself and apparently later regretted allowing Marines to build the site as part of their training. First Lady Lou Hoover (who, just FYI, was proficient in Chinese) oversaw the camp’s construction.
While the Hoovers spent many nights at Rapidan Camp, you cannot. We stayed at the nearby Big Meadows Lodge, but there was no TV, which is roughing it enough for me! We did encounter this friendly bear in the lobby. Yes, he is standing and did not seem at all threatening. However, he wasn’t real.
Next post: We explore Camp Hoover and have a real animal encounter.