By Chris Caragher, Girl Scout Historian
After years of being a Girl Scout troop leader for Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes, I yearned to visit the birthplace of Girl Scouting, Savannah, Georgia. I viewed that as the ultimate pilgrimage to our founder’s home and, by extension, the birthplace of my Downers Grove-based Cadette Troop 606. It was the girls’ last year in this troop as they were faced with the decision to move on to a long-standing Senior Girl Scout troop, a “Mariner troop,” known as Ship 167, or end their active membership as they started high school.
At our meeting, we decided the trip would be a great idea, and we had enough cookie money in the bank to do it!
The troop applied for a date, as required by the birthplace, and chose a “high tea” program and house tour. Our reservation was for August 1, 1991. Now, all we had to do was to figure out the transportation costs, logistics, and the care and feeding of each member. Our troop loved camping and had been on short trips to Mackinac Island and Wisconsin and used Camp Greene Wood often, even in the winter, but this was much bigger! So, I called an airline. Tickets to fly would take all our cookie money plus more! We had to figure out another way.
My co-leader, Ginger, and I wondered if we could drive to Savannah, so we thought we’d check with the parents. We knew that we had parents who owned vans. We asked, and two dads volunteered, but they would need gas reimbursement to drive and would go for free. We calculated the miles, cost of gas, food, and activities.
At that time, the birthplace provided a booklet called Birthplace Bound. It had ads for accommodations, restaurants, local attractions, and some discount admission coupons for Girl Scouts. I called the hotels recommended for Girl Scouts and got a special Girl Scout rate reservation at Budget Inn.
The trip down to Savannah would take time, so we decided to leave early to do some activities on the way down and some on the way back; it turned into a 10-day trip. It was like a family vacation. We had snacks, drinks, games, camping equipment, luggage, and uniforms in each van.
The itinerary as told by a Girl Scout:
7/28 We visited the Kentucky Derby Museum and toured Churchill Downs. Afterward, we drove to Cave City, tent camped and cooked at Mammoth Cave National Park.
7/29 Mammoth Cave Tour and lunch in their cafeteria, then departed to Indian Springs State Park near Macon, GA, where we visited the Historic District. When we arrived at the campground at 7 p.m., we discovered we had lost our campsite for being late, so we just found a long stretch of grass, set up our tents in a single line, and shared a fire with the friendly campers next door. We made a snack and settled into our tents. After breakfast in the morning, we waded in the creek before we left.
7/30 We visited the Macon Historic District and a trinket store tourist trap, then drove to Savannah, GA, through a torrential rainstorm and arrived at a flooded Savannah. As troop leader, I was elected to wade through the water to check in to the Budget Inn, 3702 Ogeechee Rd., Savannah. It was an old, one-story motel with outside doors looking nothing like the ad in the Birthplace Bound booklet, but it was clean enough and turned out to be safe. The promised swimming pool was out of order and filled with rainwater, but we went swimming at one of the owner’s other properties. We ate at a real sit-down restaurant and ordered off the menu! Thank goodness!
7/31 Toured the Savannah Visitor Center, the Savannah Experience, and the Ships at Sea Museum. We walked along the ocean, visited the Andrew Low House and other mansions, learned about the city’s squares, had fun, ate popcorn, shopped for souvenirs, saw a movie about Juliette Low and her childhood, and more. We walked ’til we dropped and ate out, but not at the famous restaurant everyone else was eating at. It was way too long of a wait time for hungry girls!
8/1 Birthplace Day! – JULIETTE LOW DAY AT HER HOUSE! We had a lovely tour and took pictures. Saw all the rooms, including her bedroom and the old library. We went to the garden and learned all about JGL, her art, her wedding, the history behind the birthplace, and some things about the Civil War. We saw the real oil painting of Juliette Low in her pink party dress hanging in the living room. The docent answered all our questions. Then it was time for our activity program in the basement. We did a project to learn about the Girl Scout history of helping others and interacted with another troop that had signed up to try-on dresses that girls and women might have worn in JGL’s time. We invited the “dress girls” to our tea party. We had fun. Then we went to the gift shop for souvenirs. We all got a Birthplace Pin with a Daisy on it. Our precious spending allowance was also used, so everyone could bring home a keepsake.
One of our troop’s favorite fun songs was Boom Chica Boom. We came up with new lyrics that didn’t really fit the tune but went like this:
I said a Boom Chica Boom – a little bit Southern Style:
“So down to Savannah we went, I said a Boom Chica Boom,
Little did we know that the Budget Inn, I said a Boom Chica Boom!
Would be only a little better than a TENT,
I said a Boom Chica Rocka Chica Rocka Chica Boom!”
8/2 We started heading home but not stopping the fun. We made our way north to Stone Mountain. This was a place where a large bare rock was carved to show the Confederate Generals. Although we were mostly Northerners, it was interesting to see and part of our country’s history. We stayed in the beautiful campground behind the rock. It was a lovely place. At night, a laser light show reflected off the rock carving and special effects to make it look like the generals were actually riding their horses across. It was kind of like a fireworks show. Very cool. We had a good time, and I shared with the girls that my maternal grandfather, Josepha Bouska, who had been a stone cutter in Chicago, was one of the cutters hired to work on carving the rock.
I bought a book with a picture of all the stone carvers in a big group. I told the girls I could not figure out which one was my grandfather, but I wanted it anyway.
8/3 We went home a different way through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We stayed at the Tanglewood KOA Swannanoa, North Carolina, near Ashville, which had a swimming pool! It had a big hall in a red building with screens all around, but no windows. We visited the National Park Shop and signed up to learn horseback riding. We had hoped to do this activity while planning the trip, so we packed the helmets. We learned how to lead a horse, not be scared of the horse, and we went on a trail ride. Then we brushed the horses and helped put them in the stable. It was great! There were many water activities around the area as well. Although we could not do the tubing activity because no lifeguard was going down the stream with the group. We still interacted with the water at the edges of the stream and got very wet. This area was beautiful to drive through.
8/4 Driving home through Indiana, it got to be late, so we decided not to camp. We found a nice hotel and a restaurant for a late dinner and collapsed from all the vacation activity.
8/5 Arrived back home. We called our moms to let them know we were home. We cleaned out the vans and gave them a car wash to thank the drivers. We had a little goodbye ceremony on the front lawn. It was not only the end of the trip but the last thing for our beloved Troop 606, as we disbanded with hugs and tears all around.