Fighting back

Officials combating vandalism at camp

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Anti-vandalism signage has been part of an unsuccessful attempt to limit vandalism at Birdsall Edey in Pleasant Township. Federal officials are increasing efforts to limit resource damage at the site.

It’s been a decade since Birdsall Edey, a Girl Scout camp on the Allegheny National Forest in Pleasant Township, was closed.

Nature has done its part to reclaim the site but it has also had some help — vandalism has been rampant at the site.

Federal officials are fighting back.

“The site has been subject to vandalism for several years now,” Rich Hatfield, Bradford district ranger said. “It seems to be getting worse. For example, we boarded up the buildings — again — in July; by August some of the plywood had been torn off again.”

According to a document prepared by the ANF’s Heritage Resources Department, the first structure at the site — known as the “Homestead” — is a two-story building that dates to the mid-19th century and may have been an early church in the county.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry The Homestead at Birdsall Edey in 2020.

“The property say for twenty years before the Forest Service purchased the tract from Warren Lumber Co. in 1927,” that document states. “During the Depression, the Forest Service decided to start a transient labor camp near Grunderville. This was not a CCC camp as commonly believed.”

By the end of the 1930s, the Forest Service decided the site should be dismantled but the Girl Scouts stepped in and attempted to lease the site, which required some assistance from Eleanor Roosevelt to get over the finish line. The Girl Scouts operated the camp under a special use permit from the Forest Service until 2010.

While the future of the site in the long term isn’t clear, the first step in that direction is.

“We are going to end the vandalism,” Hatfield said. “Cameras are an option and they are going in. We’re going to have the site well surveilled. I’m quite sure that we will catch the next round of vandals and we’ll involve law enforcement to press federal charges.”

Vandalism to date, he explained, has included doors torn off and windows broken as well as interior damage such as stolen fixtures.

He said that within the last four to six weeks “someone tore off/pried away plywood on a side entrance of the dining hall and a side door of the playhouse. I suspect that was done to gain entry to both buildings.”

“(I’m) not really sure about the structural integrity of the remaining buildings but some seem to be in good shape, particularly the dining hall and the playhouse,” Hatfield said.

He said the site is monitored sometimes weekly and sometimes monthly.

Signage has been placed to discourage vandalism — likely be federal Heritage Resources staff who also check in on the site — but those efforts do not appear to be bearing fruit.

“I plan on augmenting the cameras with routine checks at various times and on various days,” he said. “There are no long term plans at this time but I am committed to ensuring that Warren County does not lose this historical resource.”

Federal officials went part way down the road of protecting Birdsall Edey, named for Sarah Birdsall Otis Edey, a suffragette and early Girl Scout advocate, with a report in support of a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places back in 2002.

That application explains that the original transient camp was known was the “Warren Camp for Men” and one of 10 constructed in Pennsylvania, operating year round at a maximum capacity of 201 men.

Girl Scout camp was first held there in 1939. In the subsequent decades, six of the 13 buildings were removed with the most notable to remain being the Homestead, dining hall, Playhouse and Hickory House, in addition to several accessory structures.

But the effort to place the camp on the National Register never came to fruition.

“I am not sure why the National Register application was shelved several years ago,” Hatfield said. “We absolutely plan on resurrecting the effort and submitting the paperwork this time.

“The site has an amazing history that deserves to be interpreted and preserved.”


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