All of my life I had lived in this community. I had been to Westminster countless times. Having grown up on West Wesley Road, we frequently took Nancy Creek Road to and from Lovett. That there was this authentic rustic camp operating as Westminster Summer Camp seemed at odds with the stately buildings and university feel of the prestigious school.
My mother used to tell us about going to Westminster in the early days but that seemed implausible, one of those “I walked to school in knee-deep snow uphill both ways” types of stories. Mary Kennedy said that when she first went there, she had to walk through the woods to get to her classes. Apparently there was a good reason for that. When Westminster was founded in 1951, it was on property adjacent to Fritz Orr Camp. Orr was an early supporter of Westminster and was among the civic leaders who pushed for its creation after North Avenue Presbyterian School folded the same year.
The camp off Nancy Creek Road predates the school by 22 years. Our son Thornton attended the camp as did I. It remains virtually unchanged all of these years later. Well, there is synthetic grass on one of the fields.
What is there today couldn’t be more different from what was there in 1933, when a young math teacher operating a camp for boys out of a private home on the corner of Habersham and West Wesley roads purchased 100 acres on the corner of West Paces Ferry Road and Nancy Creek. While the camp bears his name, the impetus for Fritz Orr Camp came from attorney Charles Shelton, who engaged Orr to spend afternoons teaching his four boys’ sports. In addition to being a teacher, Orr was an athlete who had been a camp counselor at the Athens Y Camp. He took the boys and other neighborhood kids under his wing, operating the after-school sports program at Shelton’s home at 2740 Habersham Road in 1929. While I am sure the Sheltons did not mind up to 100 neighborhood children running all over their yard, which could not be much different from having four brothers doing the same, Orr’s quasi-camp outgrew the space within a few years.
While Orr originally purchased 100 acres, he sold much of it off to pay back the loan. The original camp consisted of 14 acres, according to Franklin Garrett in “Atlanta and Environs.” Called Fritz Orr Club School, it was for young men to learn football, basketball, whatever sport was in season. It eventually offered programs for girls as well.
In 1938, after building a swimming pool, Fritz Orr Camp opened during the summer, offering local children the opportunity to shoot bows and rifles, ride horses, play sports, swim and canoe until their heart’s content. The campus grew to 60 acres. The Orrs also owned and operated Camp Merrie-Woode in Sapphire, N.C., a girls’ camp that is going strong today.
Fritz Orr Camp is now Westminster, but the familiar “F.O.C.,” the letters laid atop one another creating the logo, still exists. It adorns the oars which whitewater canoe champion Fritz Orr III makes by hand in the North Carolina Mountains.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.