It’s no surprise that adults and children remember their stay at Buck Forest Lodge differently. Buck Forest Hunt Club was a fishing and hunting club organized in the High Falls area; the lodge was built in 1941. Its members brought their families to just enjoy being outdoors. The more than 5,000 acres were owned by Frank Coxe, James and Dorothy Stikeleather, and the Yancey family. The club lasted until 1956, when the Dupont Company bought the land.
“The children spent all their time outdoors,” Ellen McCotter remembers in a recent discussion. “We’d play at High Falls all day, hiking and sliding down a tributary of the falls. After two of three trips down the falls, our jeans were ripped, but so what? Maybe we got back to the lodge for a sandwich when we were hungry.”
McCotter was part of a group from Marion, North Carolina who visited Buck Forest Lodge from the time she was a young child until she was 15 years old when the club folded. Most of the memories are from the early 1950s.
In an interview conducted by Jeff Jennings in 2005, Joshua Camblos, then 88 years old, remembers that “You had to be twelve years old to fish and all children and teenagers had to have an adult with them if they fished or went into the woods, as it was considered a dangerous place.” Camblos, a physician, was in his thirties when he stayed at Buck Forest and probably a parent.
“The children always wanted to cross the river above the falls which was forbidden and dangerous,” he adds.
McCotter now agrees that crossing above High Falls was risky. “When we, children, went across High Falls, we would form a human chain – just held hands – so that everyone would get across the falls safely and no one would be left on the other side.”
Sam Yancey, one of the land owners, brought his family and friends to Buck Forest frequently from Marion, often as many as twenty people. His daughter, Amelia Yancey Bond who was best friends with McCotter, still calls Buck Forest her “happy place”. The Yancey family brought Ellen and her family as frequent guests. Margaret, their maid, came to cook for this large contingent.
The adults had extended cocktail parties on a rock in front of High Falls. They’d use water from the falls to mix their drinks. It seems like it was a happy place for parents as well. A picture of the Marion gang shows a group of blond children in shorts and women in casual dresses and flat shoes.
Big Sam, as Sam Yancey, Sr. was known, came from an old family in McDowell County and owned a lot of land in the county. Sam knew the falls and the paths of the Buck Forest area and was able to lead others to Hooker and Bridal Veil Falls.
Al Richie, also a young member of the Marion gang, ran around with the boys. They always tried to find new places to go. “The girls were too slow,” Richie says. “They would be behind us and we tried to lose them.”
“We never saw any wildlife,” Richie recalls. “A bear or deer would have heard us coming from a mile away. My dad spent the day fly fishing. The river was very close to the lodge.”
One day, the boys found a dead snake close to Buck Forest Lodge. As a prank, they curled it up and put it on the door step as they were leaving to go back home. When the next group of visitors came to the lodge, a woman carrying food and dishes in her arms, walked up to the door, saw the snake, dropped everything, and ran back to the car.
Adults played bridge and helped Margaret cook. All the shopping had been done before they came. They brought coolers, ice, everything. Once they were at the Lodge, they didn’t leave the forest.
“Sometimes the frig would work. Sometimes it didn’t,” Richie says.
Amelia Bond remembers sleeping in a dormitory-style room with other girls on the ground floor. “There were cots and bunk beds set up. The boys were in a room upstairs. The lodge had a wrap-around porch. Daddy set up target shooting from the porch.”
The lodge had running water of sorts with a pump.
“I had to go down the hill, find the pump and prime it. You primed it by putting water on the top and that got it going. Then I hit it to start the pumping. I got 25 cents each time I did this. That gave us water in the bathrooms and kitchen. We had flush toilets, though we had to wait for the tank to fill,” Bond recalls. “Wasn’t that amazing?”
Bill Duckworth, a real estate appraiser interviewed by Jeff Jennings in 2001, recalls that “the lodge didn’t have electricity. We used gas and oil lamps.” He emphasized that the club wasn’t just about hunting. “It was fishing, swimming and also fellowship.”
Frank Coxe, whose ancestors first came to the North American colonies in the early 1700s, was the majority owner of the Buck Forest property. Duckworth remembers that Coxe related to fellow lodge members a conversation with the Dupont representative who came down to look at the property.
“He said that it was the purest water he’d ever seen. The purest air he’d ever seen. And when he said that, I figured You’uns lost your place.” And that’s what happened.
All that remains of Buck Forest Lodge is the chimney by the High Falls picnic shelter with a wonderful view of High Falls – and memories.
Thanks to Jeff Jennings, Kent Wilcox and the work done by John Carney.
Photographs of Buck Forest Lodge and its interiors from the Friends of Dupont Forest archives