There are many layers of history at Camp Salmen. The bayou and the land itself are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years old. Native Americans, after centuries of occupation, left shell and pottery fragments in the ground. The story of European and American settlement echoes up and down the bayou and is represented by our old 1807 trading post. The landscape was altered in many ways by natural resource extraction and storms. More recently, the Scouts built a campground for nearly a half-million boys. Now St. Tammany Parish government is “repurposing” the land as a nature park for public enjoyment.
Here’s a little story about one of those layers.
Next to the path down the hill to the Swampwalk, under a large oak tree, is a small patch of ground with the black, crumbly remains of a coal pile. Camp Salmen had its beginnings in the 1920s and apparently there was a kitchen located here that used the cooking technology of the time – a coal-fired stove. For some reason, broken glass, ceramic bowls, plates, platters and cups are also in this pile. The kitchen staff must have had a jolly time smashing unworthy dinnerware. I imagine the scouts could be a pretty rambunctious bunch around such delicate things.
Interestingly, some of the fragments of this dinnerware are marked with the logo of the old Grunewald Hotel in New Orleans. It was a big, fine building built in 1893 with Fritz Salmen’s bricks. This must have been a pretty nice order for Fritz’s relatively young brick manufacturing company. The building was renamed the Roosevelt Hotel in 1923 and the proprietors apparently donated their obsolete bowls and plates to the new scout camp on the other side of the lake.
In later years the scout’s food preparation and serving moved up the hill to a new cafeteria, also since demolished. Most of the former scouts who visit the park today ask, “Where’s the old cafeteria?” Their appetites must have been a significant part of their memories of the place. St. Tammany Parish used the cafeteria’s old slab to build a beautiful new picnic pavilion for its new nature park and people continue the tradition of using this location for eating.
With its nature walks and playground, Camp Salmen is now home to family fun and adventure. Children had enjoyed the grounds for decades and still do today. Though the kitchen and the Boy Scout camp are long gone, Camp Salmen may become a playground for archaeologists someday as well.