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Camp Hoover, aka the Brown House – Part 1

Camp Hoover, aka the Brown House – Part 1

By on Jul 13, 2013 in Presidents | 6 comments

President and Mrs. Hoover at Camp Rapidan

President and Mrs. Hoover at Rapidan Camp

When modern presidents need some time away, they often head for Camp David. However,  Herbert Hoover had Rapidan Camp, also as known as the Brown House and Camp Hoover. President  Hoover used this wooded escape to ponder the challenges of the Great Depression.

The Brown House, President Hoover's presidential retreat

The Brown House, Hoover’s presidential retreat

Rapidan Camp is located in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, just a few hours from Washington (Our “On the Map” page has more details). Unlike most Nerd Trips, this excursion involved some extended outdoor activity –  a two-mile hike in (downhill) on the Mill Prong trail and two-mile hike out (uphill) on a humid summer day.

You can take a shuttle from the Byrd Visitors Center, but I was traveling with friends and their dog (who is a better hiker than I am), and dogs are not allowed on the bus.

Our canine companion Tavish. He has is own blog:

Our canine companion Tavish, who was testing a new side pouch. He has is own blog:

One of our three stream crossing to reach Rapidan Camp

One of our three stream crossings to reach Rapidan Camp

The Hoovers built the camp with the intention that it would eventually be turned over to the National Park Service, and it was, so you can see it for yourself!

Oh, I should mention, along with the hiking (which is treacherous enough for me because I have a tendency to sprain my ankles), you need to be on alert for black bears since it is not uncommon to see them on the trails.

The park offers some black bear precautions. Just FYI, you CANNOT outrun a black bear and don’t even think about climbing a tree! Avoid eye contact. Also, apparently “a standing bear is usually curious – not threatening,” although I suspect if I came across a standing bear I may have a hard time remembering that he or she was probably only “curious.”

While I mostly kept my eyes on the ground, for fear of falling, I will admit that there were some pleasant sites along the way, like this waterfall.

Waterfall on the hike, we had almost made it to Rapidan Camp

Waterfall on the hike, we had almost reached Camp Hoover

Lou and Herbert Hoover at Rapidan Camp

Lou and Herbert Hoover at Rapidan Camp

President Hoover wanted a good fishing spot within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., and many communities were “angling” to be selected.  Rapidan site supporters “lured” the president with a winning strategy:  they apparently stocked the stream with fish!

The Park Service has a piece of YouTube video showing the president fishing and other historical footage.

The Brown House, Rapidan Camp, Virginia

The Brown House, Rapidan Camp, Virginia

Before this trip, I mostly associated Hoover with one thing: the Great Depression. But after our Rapidan excursion, I have a new appreciation for our 31st president.

Hoover and his wife  both loved the outdoors and both studied geology, you can see rock samples in the Brown House (no photos inside though).  Mrs. Hoover was the first woman to graduate from Stanford with a degree in geology – who knew! President Hoover was a multimillionaire through his mining business.

Conscious of his image, Hoover paid for the Rapidan land and furnishings himself and apparently later regretted allowing Marines to build the site as part of their training. First Lady Lou Hoover (who, just FYI, was proficient in Chinese) oversaw the camp’s construction.

He does not seem threatening, but I think I did try to avoid eye contact

He does not seem threatening, but  I did try to avoid eye contact

While the Hoovers spent many nights at Rapidan Camp, you cannot.  We stayed at the nearby Big Meadows Lodge, but there was no TV, which is roughing it enough for me! We did encounter this friendly bear in the lobby. Yes, he is standing and did not seem at all threatening. However,  he wasn’t real.

Next post: We explore Camp Hoover and have a real animal encounter.


  1. That was a fun trip…and equally fun to relive it through this post. Well said!

  2. What a neat place – nice to combine some physical exercise with your nerd tripping! Looks like beautiful country – my husband and I want to visit Shenandoah National Park so badly!

    • I am not a real outdoorsy person, so I think my friends purposefully withheld the details. When we were driving there, they disclosed the facts of the stream crossings, a few steep inclines and the possibility of snakes and/or bears. However, the scenery was great, especially the sunsets!

  3. Wow, I never know what I’m going to learn…I only live 90 minutes away from this site (which I never even knew existed)! I’m adding this to my list of nearby places to go before the summer’s out-

    • I hadn’t heard of it either, but my friends knew about it. We stayed overnight because we did more hiking the next day. If you go, let me know what you think.

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