HOUSE IN THE WOODS 
by April Renfroe 

Not too long ago, historically speaking, there was a haven at the place we now know as Valdosta State University. It was surrounded by pine trees, azaleas, squirrels, and birds: a nature lover's paradise. Some call it the "Log Cabin"1 others remember it as the "Little House in the Pines"2, but history records it most as the "House in the Woods".

When the "House in the Woods" was removed in 19683 it was situated near the Farber Health Center4. It was torn down unsentimentally to make room for Langdale5, a girl's dormitory. However, the "House in the Woods'" history is richer than what the former implies. To fully appreciate the "House in the Woods" one must trace the early history of Valdosta State University.

Valdosta, in the early twentieth century, was a thriving town in need of an institute of higher learning. Georgia Representative Cornelius R. Ashley introduced a bill requesting a college in South Georgia6. Meanwhile Senator William West, who was president of the Georgia Senate, also introduced a bill supporting a college in South Georgia7. In the Senate West's bill passed easily, but in the House, Representative Ashley had considerable problems. Some representatives felt a united University system in Athens would be Georgia's best educational option. Moreover, one voice of dissention came from a surprising source, a neighboring county. Berrien county's Representative Jonathan Knight wanted an agriculture college without the "sugar-coated stuff"8. Knight finally supported the bill after an understanding that both higher learning and agriculture would be taught. In 1906 South Georgia State Normal College was voted into existence9, but the political aspect was only the beginning.

Very soon afterwards, Georgia Governor Hoke Smith formed a land committee. Some of the land committee members were from Valdosta, including Senator William West, William Loraine Converse and Representative Ashley. Four land sites were offered, but Senator William West's land was chosen. This is ironic because West was on the land Committee and was the Chairman. But in spite of the former implications, without West, Converse, and Ashley's appeal to the state of Georgia there might never have been a Valdosta State University10.

The Board decided, almost from the first, that their new college would, at least for a time, be just for ladies11. The campus of Spanish Mission buildings would open its doors in January 191312. Richard Holmes Powell was named president of the college13 and tuition was set at $10.00 for local girls. Girls that boarded paid $2.00 extra for room and laundry14.

Converse was the first building completed, West Hall in 1918 and Ashley Hall in 1921 soon followed15. The school was continually growing but the depression following the First World War would cause financial problems. Also added to the former economic woes was the destructive force of the boll weevil16. Still in spite of all these economic setbacks enrollment continued to flourish17. President Powell improved matters even further by recommending that South Georgia State Normal College expand to offer bachelor degrees18. In 1922 South Georgia State Normal College became Georgia State Womans College19. With an increasing number of girls, a more organized place for social activity was needed; thus, the "House in the Woods" was born.

The original "House in the Woods" was a green wooden frame tenement house20. But from there, the sources contradict each other. The Valdosta Daily Times stated that the "House in the Woods" was purchased21. However, Hambrick's Valdosta State College the First Half-Century22 and the Mailbox Post23 agree that the "House in the Woods" was donated. No matter if the house was donated or bought, all three sources fail to divulge the owner. William Culpepper, who is the husband of a Georgia State Womans College alumnus, believes that the tenement house was originally on the property, thereby belonging to William West24.

The original tenement "House in the Woods" burned down25 and the second "House in the Woods" was built in 1939 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's WPA26. The new "House in the Woods" was made of logs with two large open fireplaces27.

Regardless of its origin, the girls of Georgia State Womans College enjoyed their "House in the Woods". This is demonstrated by the time the girls invested in the house's improvement and upkeep. The girls pasted newspaper to the walls for rustic wallpaper28. They also made curtains and generally changed the old tenement home into a charming place29. Other amenities would eventually include a large Magnavox console record player30, and a prized Carnegie Music Set31. The former was not only used for the girl's amusement. The record player and the Carnegie Music Set were also utilized in the student's studies. Some records contained scholars' monologue. Other records aided the students in their mastery of a foreign language32. The girls no doubt appreciated the materialist aspects of the house, but the "psychological effect"33 the "House in the Woods" had was perhaps most valuable.

The "House in the Woods" provided Georgia State Women's College with a very necessary channel of stability. Club members need not question where club meetings would be held34. The "House in the Woods" served as a meeting place for clubs. At least two of Georgia State Womans College's literary organizations were permanently housed at the "House in the Woods": The college yearbook The Pine Cone and the college newspaper, the Campus Canopy35. As a matter of fact, the first time the "House in the Woods" was mentioned in a campus publication it was in conjunction with a club meeting. In 1925, the College Literary Magazine, The Pine Branch, noted that the "House in the Woods" hosted a meeting of the Lowndes County Club36. Club membership and activities held a very important role in "House in the Woods" at Georgia State Womans College. Nevertheless, these activities could be considered secondary when compared to other activities that occurred at the "House in the Woods."

Georgia State Womans College had numerous rules in which the dean of women Annie Powe Hopper strenuously enforced. The "House in the Woods" was one of the few places that the girls could go to relax and shed the dreaded school uniform37. Dorothy Jones, a "town girl", also remembers the "House in the Woods" as a place where one could study. She and other town girls would come to the "House in the Woods" in between class to study and enjoy one of the girls favorite treats: a cracker with cheese and marshmallows38.

Like the former suggests food and drink played a role in festivities at the "House in the Woods." After an excursion in New Orleans, student Mildred Turnbull Workman and friends secretly enjoyed a "terrible" bottle of wine at the "House in the Woods."39 On a more respectable note, families would reserve the house for visits. Verda Zant recalled that her mother would bring a "feast". Zant, her family, and close friends would enjoy a nice Sunday dinner in the "House in the Woods"40. Alumnus, Jacqueline Smith McCrary fondly remembered her favorite memory of the "House in the Woods". McCrary, her sister Jeanette, who at the time was only a freshman and other friends, had planned to cook a meal for themselves and their beaus. Picturesquely, with the phonograph playing in the background, the four girls and their dates enjoyed a shrimp dinner41.

Many boy - girl outings such as the latter were enjoyed at the "House in the Woods." Georgia State Womans College was just for girls, but with the accommodations of the "House in the Woods", boys visited frequently. A men's college was located at what we now refer to as North Campus. Emory Junior College was minutes from Georgia State Women's College. Airmen from Lowndes County's Moody Air Force Base were also frequent visitors42.

Frances McIntyre Dees frequently reserved the log cabin to visit with her beau. Later he became her husband43. This situation was not uncommon. The "House in the Woods" assisted with many courtships, and many warbrides had their bridal shower at the "House in the Woods"44.

However, with freedom came responsibility. The students had strict rules to follow45. Although all of the girls were allowed to use the "House in the Woods", students had to reserve the house in a timely manner and though the proper channels. Underclassmen, freshmen and sophomores, could not loiter, but go directly to and from the house. No one could reserve the house on Sunday nights. This was the "House in the Woods" open night and all the girls and their dates would congregate freely. But the girls had to use their house privileges wisely. The girl's free use of the "House in the Woods" would be lost if they did not clean up after themselves. However, the girls always managed to keep the log cabin tidy. Jacqueline Smith McCrary remembers the "House in the Woods" as "so neat, so clean"46.

The girl's obvious concern over the neatness of the house is another reflection of the girl's love for "House in the Woods". Annettee P. Chamberlin was of homesick freshmen in 1944. No doubt, like other girls, Chamberlin would wander down to the "House in the Woods" and "find some measure of comfort in the warm logs and casual atmosphere"47. She also gives the "House in the Woods" credit in her maturation process adding that the "House in the Woods" was a "warm sheltering mother house for a bereft freshman"48.

Perhaps the beginning of the end for the "House in the Woods" was when Georgia State Womans College became Valdosta State College. No longer segregated by sex, rules became more relaxed. The "House in the Woods" was no longer the center of student life.

In 1968, the termite ridden "House in the Woods" was torn down to make room for a new girl's dormitory49. "Don't ask me why the college didn't have a contract with a termite company?50" Former graduate, Virginia Culpepper's comments reflect alumni and historians frustrations at the loss of what could have been a beautiful part of the Valdosta State University campus. The "House in the Woods" represents objects in Modern Society that some feel must be compromised for technology and improvement. It was not necessary for the "House in the Woods" to be sacrificed51. With effort, time, money, and a pest control contract this historical monument could possibly still be at Valdosta State University to reflect the past and show the way for a promising future. Alumnus Linda M. Summer summarized the situation when she stated, "I regret that the current youngsters won't have a rugged fun... log cabin like our "House in the Woods"52".

Notes

1 Valdosta State University Archives, Student Handbook, 1930's.

2 Memories of the "House in the Woods", Dr. J. A. Durrenberger

3 Valdosta Daily Times, "Construction Begins on New Structures", May 5, 1968.

4 The Mailbox Post, August 16, 1995.

5 Valdosta Daily Times, May 5, 1968

6Valdosta State College: The First Half Century, Theresa Hambrick, Florida State University, 1961, p 6.

7Ibid, p 7

8Ibid

9Ibid

10Ibid, p 10-11.

11Ibid, p 11.

12Ibid, p 12.

13Ibid, p 11.

14Ibid, p 12.

15Ibid, p 17.

16Ibid, p 18.

17Ibid

18Ibid

19Ibid, p. 19.

The Mailbox Post, August 16, 1995.

Campus Canopy, "Progress Removes VSC Landmark; House-In-Woods Looses Importance", October 14, 1966.

Valdosta State College the First Half Century, p 90-91.

The Mailbox Post, August 16, 1995.

Interview with William Culpepper, March 21, 2000.

Interview with Virginia Culpepper, March 21, 2000.

Campus Canopy, late 1930's, "Activity House to Materialize At Early Date"

Campus Canopy, late 1930's, "Measurements are Laid for Log Cabin"

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Kathleen G. Knight.

Ibid.

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Martha Wilcox Chambliss.

Campus Canopy, late 1930's, "Wonder Down to the House in the Woods-You'll Like It"

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Martha Wilcox Chambliss.

Campus Canopy, late 1930's, "On Back Campus"

Ibid.

Campus Canopy, "Measurements are Laid for Log Cabin", late 1930's.

The Pine Branch, December 1925.

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Iva Lee H. Snow.

Interview with Dorothy Jones, March 21, 2000.

Memories of the "House in the Woods" Mildred Turnbull Workman.

Ibid, Verda Will Carter Zant.

Ibid, Jacqueline Smith McCrary.

Ibid, Kathleen G. Knight.

Ibid, Frances McIntyre Dees.

Ibid, Frances Kennedy Meeks.

Georgia State Women's College Student Handbook. Valdosta State University Archives.

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Jacqueline Smith McCrary.

Ibid, Annettee P. Chamberlin.

Ibid.

Valdosta Daily Times, May 5, 1968

Interview with Virginia Culpepper, March 21, 2000.

Campus Canopy, October 14, 1966.

Memories of the "House in the Woods", Linda M. Summer.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Campus Canopy. Various Issues, Late 1930's.

Campus Canopy. 5 May 1968.

Culpepper, Virginia. Interview by A. E. Renfroe, 21 March 2000.

Culpepper, William. Interview by A. E. Renfroe, 21 March 2000.

Georgia State Womans College Student Handbook Valdosta State University Archives Collection, mid 1930's.

Jones, Dorothy. Interview by A. E. Renfroe, 21 March 2000.

Memories of the "House in the Woods". Valdosta State University Archives Collection, 1995.

Pine Branch, V. 10. October 1925-May 1926, p.26

Report to the Chancellor, Valdosta State University Archives Collection, 1941.

Valdosta Daily Times. 14 October 1966.

 

Secondary Sources

Hambrick,Thera. Valdosta State College: The First Half-Century. Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1961.

The Mailbox Post (Valdosta). 16 August 1995.

Valdosta Daily Times. 26 June 1997.