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Historic Camden celebrates its own 40 years of history

Posted: November 5, 2010 2:06 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.

More than 40 years ago, a few dozen acres of vacant land near downtown Camden looked like nothing more than just an open field. But when longtime Camden philanthropist Richard Lloyd looked at it, he saw nearly 200 years of untouched American history buried beneath the ground.

Eager to share that history with the rest of the county, Lloyd went on to create the Camden District Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization whose purpose was to preserve, restore, research and interpret properties in Camden.

After being appointed lifelong trustees, Dick Lloyd, Lanning Risher, Henry Savage, Bill Wilson, Joe Jenkins, James Anderson, Henry Boykin, Austin Sheheen, Mary “Teene” DuVal and Roderick Canty were soon given their task: creating what is now known as Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site.

“Richard Lloyd was a great benefactor who started Historic Camden. He decided that creating a foundation would be a great cause for Camden to pursue getting the Battle of Camden to become a national park,” Sheheen said. “He collected a group of people and created the Camden District Heritage Foundation and provided funding to buy the land and property. He committed and enlisted the help and services of everybody that he could.”

And as Historic Camden celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, the Revolutionary War site has still proven to be a local and national favorite among residents and visitors.  More than 780,000 people from all 50 states and 40 foreign countries have toured the site since it opened in November 1970.

“Just last year, we had visitors from 24 foreign countries. And out of 50 states, 44 states were represented,” said Historic Camden Director Joanna Craig. “Ohio is a big one; so is California and, of course, Texas. We are the first thing people see when they come to Camden. We’re a tourist attraction. It’s great; people can come here to take tours or picnic.”

Today, the 107-acre outdoor museum boasts a wide range of activities for visitors of all ages. With a variety of events ranging from Colonial Christmas to Jammin’ in July taking place at Historic Camden throughout the year, Craig said there’s bound to be something for everyone who visits the grounds.

“I just added onto what others have done before. We have things going on all the time. We’ve done things with schools, group tours and we always have a lot of events … and we have a very active staff,” Craig added. “We’re small but we have a lot of gumption. There’s a lot going on here.”

But ask any member of the CDHF original trustees, and they will tell you that getting Historic Camden to what it is today took a lot of hard work, time and effort.

“It was an ongoing effort over a number of years. I have always been interested in history, so I was tremendously enthused to be a part of it. And when we found a map that was used during the Revolutionary period, it was a gold mine in putting together Historic Camden,” said Boykin, who worked as an architect for the site. “I got into it after the archeologist completed their work, and that was very exciting. The little buildings that are there now, I was involved in helping to preserve them. A lot of work went into creating Historic Camden, and that work stretched out over a number of years. Hopefully, it’s not done yet.”

Historic Camden has grown to be much bigger than any of the original trustees ever imagined when they began to work on it 40 years ago. There is still one more goal to be reached, though: becoming formally recognized as a unit of the National Park Service (NPS). Currently, the area is recognized as a NPS affiliate.

“It’s a very slow process, but we’ve been working on it. Camden has a significant place in American history and has earned that right … and we’ve been able to find all these things,” Craig said. “It’s like someone above saying ‘I’m going to give you a gift.’ This whole place is a meant-to-be place. When people come here, we want them to walk away with a new sense of appreciation for Camden and what an incredible place this is.”

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