The Scout and the Umbrella

By the 1920s Fritz Salmen was at the height of his career. His brick manufacturing plant in Slidell was admired nationally and its prodigious output had a large part in the expansion and modernization of the Central Business District in New Orleans, with its many fine, large masonry buildings. He had his fingers in many different pies with pursuits in farming and land development, retail outlets, ship construction and shipping, railroads, imports and exports and of course, lumber and clay products. He had important business associations with many other powerful men in the region and had even tried his hand in the Louisiana State Legislature by shepherding his interests there as a Representative. Additionally, the welfare of his family and relatives in his enterprises and most of the citizens in the town he helped build (and who helped build him) were among his many concerns.

 

The railroad from Slidell through the marshes to New Orleans was Fritz’s lifeline, vital to his success by efficiently linking him to his many business connections and getting his products to their main market. It was on one of these trips to the city that Camp Salmen had its origins.

One day in 1922 Fritz was downtown at Common and Carondelet Streets to conduct business at the Canal-Commercial Bank. The bank had been founded back in 1831 to build the New Basin Canal where Salmen barged his building products to his yard on the canal’s turning basin (where the Superdome is today). His next meeting that afternoon was at the hotel across the street but one of south Louisiana’s infamous, toad-choking thunderstorms held him back.

Fate began its long journey to the present when a Boy Scout, whose name, unfortunately, was not recorded, appeared at Fritz’s side and offered to assist him with the help of an umbrella. Once the two got safely to the other side of the street it was only natural for the generous mogul to reach into his pocket and offer to tip the boy with a coin. Just as generously, the boy refused to accept it because, he explained, he was a Boy Scout and this favor had been his good deed for the day.

Perhaps Fritz was perplexed at first or just curious or charmed for he asked the boy to please elaborate. What he learned then and there sent Fritz to discover more about Scouting. The more he learned, apparently, the more he liked. Eventually, when he found out the Scouting organization in New Orleans sought a piece of land somewhere in the woods near the city where they could conduct summer camps and do their Scouting thing, Fritz had just the place.

Fritz had a long-standing policy of not just walking away from a tract of land after he harvested its timber or clay but to keep it useful and somehow in commerce. He often turned these properties into housing, pasture and even demonstration farms. There was a certain tract just beyond the edge of town he had bought from Horace Beedlove in 1901 that included an old country store and ferry on Bayou Liberty. The crosscut saw, dragline and locomotive had done their work in the intervening two decades and perhaps the land had recovered enough and there were enough unwanted trees left for it not to have been a complete stump-scape. Fritz sold it to the Scouts for a token $5.00 and the eternally grateful Scouts gave the land, its old store and their new camp an appropriate name.

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