Sunday, July 7, 2013

44th District History: The Girls' Friendly Society Holiday House

My father used to tell me about a summer camp that was located down the street from our house overlooking the George Washington Memorial Parkway called The Girls' Friendly Society Holiday House.

One of my neighbors who is also a local recently researched this and wrote up the piece below for our community newsletter.  I thought it was an interesting piece of local history.

Interestingly, the Holiday House was also the first place of worship for the Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church and is mentioned on their history on their website.  I haven't been able to find any pictures of it though.
Tauxemont of Old – The Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) Holiday House
by Pat Thompson 
After writing an article last year in our newsletter about the Alexandria Dairy, I embarked on an effort to find more information about a collection of old barracks-type buildings among the woods and thickets on the north side of the Alexandria Avenue stone bridge that many of us explored as children. This is what I found:  
 The land and buildings belonged to the Episcopal Church’s Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) of Washington. The land extended from the north side of the overpass to Morningside Lane. In the early years of the 20th century, the Episcopal Seminary was closed in the summer, so seminary students held services in the GFS’s Holiday House small chapel on this land.
It was used as a summer camp for girls of high school age and younger. Early on, girls came out on the Old Dominion trolley’s Mount Vernon Line to spend the summer. They would exit at the trolley line’s 1913 Belmont station (later changed to Wellington Villa) which was close to where the stone bridge is today. Some local girls also attended. When the parkway opened in 1932 and the trolley had closed down, they arrived by bus or car.

Beginning the end of August and continuing through October, Holiday House was specifically used for church conferences. These conferences or retreats took place on weekends and drew participants from many denominational affiliations. Most of the conferences consisted of the young people’s societies from churches in Washington and nearby Maryland and Virginia. The number of participants ranged from 20 to 60.

According to original Tauxemont resident, Fran Feddersen, groups of children were still meeting for summer events at Holiday House in the 1940s and one time a group of girls from there came into Tauxemont by horse and wagon (!) to deliver invitations to a festival there. She remembered seeing a well-tended corn field on the grounds of Holiday House. Fran used to walk over to the house through the woods and through an old-fashioned stile in a fence. Rob Surovell remembers attending a day summer camp there when he was five or six years old.

The Holiday House was used for a number of other purposes. A general membership meeting of the Mount Vernon Association was held there in 1948 as reported by Tauxemont’s Margaret Magnusson in her Tauxemont and Thereabouts weekly article in the Fairfax Herald newspaper. The then President of the rural mail carriers spoke about rural mailboxes and the telephone company showed three movies, at least one of which was called "Party Line." The school board rented the Holiday House from the church and in ten days had collected enough donated toys to set up classes again.

As late as the summer of 1948, Margaret Magnusson reported that campers had come to Holiday House. During the month of July, it was still operating as a girls’ camp for eight to 12 year olds, during the first two weeks and older girls, 13-17 years old, during the last two weeks. About 30 girls from Washington and its vicinity and four counselors made up the camper group. Margaret also reported that plans were underway to open a day nursery at Holiday House, under the auspices of 9

the GFS for two- to four-year-olds, five days a week. Apparently plans were also made to operate a rest home for tired business women or housewives at Holiday House, but neither plan materialized.

As we know, the land was sold, cleared and houses were built along the north side of Ridgecrest Road and Lee Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s.

The GFS of the United States is still quite active as an international not-for-profit organization for girls and young women of any race, religion, or nationality between the ages of five and 21.

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