A history of Camp Skyuka
 is being compiled by Susan Speight. 

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Camp Skyuka Home Owners Assocation

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Mountain History

     Before there was a hotel or a camp or a great modern community, this beautiful White Oak Mountain top location had a fascinating history. The story is told that during the American Revolution, British Redcoats used the Cherokees to raid pioneer homesteaders. After three bloody massacres, Captain Thomas Howard organized a campaign against the Cherokee.  At his side was an Indian named Skyuka who led Howard and his men over a secret trail that led to the defeat of the Cherokee in 1776. While Skyuka was considered a hero to the white man, he was a traitor to his own people. Some say that the friendship between Captain Howard and Skyuka came about when the Captain saved Skyuka from a rattlesnake bite when Skyuka was a young boy. However, the allure of White Oak Mountain dates back much earlier. Archaeological evidence reveals that members of the Cherokee Nation were in the foothills and mountains of Western NC 11,000 years ago. The land was a rich hunting ground, full of edible plants and berries and plenty of fresh water. The legend of the Indian named Skyuka is reflected in the naming of a hotel, a summer camp, several roads, and a creek.

     In the late 1800’s, businessman Frank Stearns from Berea, Ohio, bought up more than 3000 acres across White Oak Mountain and began to develop an elite mountain resort. Many folks from the low country would ride the train to Tryon and then take a horse and buggy up the winding serpentine road to enjoy the cool air that the 3,100 foot elevation provided. On the site of the building that later served as a dining hall and game pavilion for campers, Mr. Stearns’ brother, David, built the Skyuka Hotel. Old timers say that the white clapboard structure could be seen from miles around. The steps to the old hotel are still here. Polk Co. native, Alice Bradley, writes that in 1909, her family lived at the Skyuka Hotel where her parents would rent out rooms and take care of the property. Mrs. Bradley remembers that there were 32 rooms in the hotel with a small post office in the dining room. The hotel boasted a fireplace in every room, water, lights and nice bathrooms.

     Mrs. Bradley remembers that the kitchen had two large stoves and her mother did the cooking, serving delicious cornbread, biscuits, green beans, Irish potatoes, old fashioned gingerbread , and deep apple and blackberry pies. She reflects that some people would come up for a picnic and some would stay for several days. “For those who stayed, there was good, fresh spring water, fresh air, good fresh vegetables and all the outdoor exercise they needed.”

In the 1940’s, the once popular hotel was torn down and the 99 plus acres surrounding the hotel were sold to the YMCA of Spartanburg. Local historian, Garland Goodwin, reminisces, “As a child growing up here, I thought the mountains belonged to everybody. When I asked Uncle Ethan about the big white square visible even in summer on White Oak Mountain, he said that it was the huge Skyuka Hotel. Naturally, I wanted to see it, so my mother packed lunches for my brother Bill and me and we set out with Uncle Ethan to climb the mountain. There were well-marked bridle trails all over the area, including the mountains. Riding and hiking on the mountain was a cherished activity enjoyed by all able-bodied folks back then. We drank water from the streams and waterfalls. No one ever got robbed or killed that I heard of. There were indeed some places that we knew not to go because moonshiners were active there and did not welcome visitors. Maybe that’s why the bridle trails were well marked.”  When Camp Skyuka first opened its doors in 1954, it was touted as an “Outdoor Paradise in the Clouds.” The much loved camp director was Evans Cannon, the general secretary for the Spartanburg YMCA.

     The unique sleeping cabins, mess hall and infirmary were all built of blue granite by local rock mason, J.C. Williams, with the help of a local crew which included three Cherokee Indians. All of the stone came directly from the mountain or from a quarry in Green River Cove. Members of the U.S. Naval Reserve CB Division 6-27 of Spartanburg took part in a project called “Operation Skyuka,” a goodwill development program in which they constructed a rifle range, ball field, and tennis courts, making sure everything was ready for opening day. They even devised a PA system. In the late 1900’s, the YMCA board voted to close the beloved summer camp and the 100 plus acres were sold to a developer. He in turn divided the land into building lots and sold them and the old stone cabins for vacation homes. In 2007, the Spartanburg Herald Journal ran an article about a Camp Skyuka resident who was searching for former campers. The response was overwhelming with many former campers writing and emailing about their time here.

     The following letter from camper M Coffin (1970-73) reflects the feelings that many shared:

 “The first trip to the camp was sort of magical for a young boy like me. We took a bus up to a spot below the mountain. There we were met by the pick-up truck from the camp. We piled in the back of the open pick-up with our luggage. We then proceeded to ascend the tremendously steep gravel road to the camp. The truck bounced and clattered up the steep grade. It was so cool! I was actually terrified the first time. The road was very rough and rutted and only suited for trucks. I remember my ears popping from the altitude change and the coolness of the shaded mountainside, finally reaching the camp with relief that we didn’t plummet to our deaths down the steep slopes! On first sight, the camp was a wonderment and utterly beautiful. The amazing view from the pavilion was like looking off the side of the world. And, when a thunderstorm would come across the mountain, you thought it was the end of the world! Mr. Cannon made the camp the magical place that it was. He was a masterful story teller and one of the prime events of the summer camp was the ghost stories told around the bonfire. His stories scared us to death. The meals were excellent. The warm summer days of swimming, hiking and crafts melted into cool nights of bouncing on the trampoline at the pavilion and roasting marshmallows over the camp fire. It was a great experience. The people that made it all possible for underprivileged children really need to be honored. They are true heroes.”   
      It should be noted that Camp Skyuka was not just a camp for the underprivileged, but Mr. Cannon made sure that every child that wanted to come was able to come. All of the original stone structures for Camp Skyuka have been renovated and are providing rest, relaxation, and adventure for new generations. The horse stable, softball field and archery range are gone, but the old rifle range, though unusable, is still here. Memories are still being made at Camp Skyuka. Recently, visitors have described this area as “21 hairpin turns to heaven” and “like living in a postcard”.

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