The Beginning of Beckwith

There's more than meets the eye in this historic photograph of pioneers at Camp Beckwith.

Photo courtesy Beckwith Camp and Conference Center // Do you know the identity of any of the boys in this photo? Let us know! Email [email protected].

Decades before Beckwith became synonymous with summer camp and hidden-in-the-pines retreats, it was merely an undeveloped swath of land along the shores of Weeks Bay.

In 1903, the Rev. Charles M. Beckwith, newly elected bishop of Alabama, visited the area, and, after becoming enamored with its peacefulness, bought some of the land. In 1932, four years after his death, Beckwith’s heirs bequeathed the 40 acres of timberland to the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

In July 1933, 23 boys from churches across Alabama spent two weeks clearing the property, building a log cabin, driving a well and constructing a prayer altar. The boys, three of whom are pictured above, spent their days working — and swimming — and their nights sleeping in borrowed tents.

The Rev. J. Hodge Alves, under whose leadership the boys worked, said of that summer, “I remember how beautiful it was looking over Weeks Bay at sunset through the palmetto palms and long-leaf pines.” Their work would continue into the next year.

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“We who have lived with and worked for Camp Beckwith for two weeks are naturally partial to it. We have invested in it a great part of our physical interests and moral and spiritual support and somehow feel that a part of our personality
is located on the site.”

Herbert West, camper, summer of 1933

Excerpts from a Camper’s Diary, 1934

Tuesday, July 10: The morning was spent fixing up the campsite and tents. Meals are somewhat different this year — real bread and an indoor table.
Wednesday, July 11: Every meal we’ve had, except breakfast, has been mostly potatoes.
Thursday, July 12: Finished cutting trees today — 74 in all. No potatoes at dinner today. Wyly and Octave are continually at each other’s throats.
Saturday, July 14: Slept under two mosquito nets last night. Had a good dinner today.
Sunday, July 15: Spent the afternoon in Fairhope and saw several girlfriends. 
Monday, July 16: Eight days and not a drop of rain! They started the foundation of the cabin today.
Friday, July 20: Hauled lumber all day. After supper we had the motorboat. 
Saturday, July 21: Got up at four this morning to get an early start for home. We didn’t leave until 3 p.m. Had a blowout on the Bay bridge. Finally reached home about 9:30 p.m.

By the Numbers

96: Temperature reached in Mobile on July 12, 1933 — the monthly average was 88.3 degrees
82: Acres Beckwith now includes, up from its original 40
49: Total number of years Beckwith has held a summer camp

Click here to explore our “Back Story” series that digs into the history behind some old local images.

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