Shown on the screened-in front porch of the Woosley Camp in Old Settlement are Carolyn and Mary Woosley. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 1:45 PM
When they were children, Carolyn, Mary and Terrell Woosley, III, had the run of the ample grounds of three homes along Shell Beach Drive where their parents, Terrell and Evelyn Shaddock Woosley, and other family members lived.
But when summer rolled around, shoes were shucked and the Woosley children exchanged one lake view for another and life among the homes of their mother’s side of the family for life at the camp of their father’s family.
They still have that camp on Calcasieu Lake.
It’s not a stately structure, like their childhood home at 1501 Shell Beach Dr. or the home they recently sold at 1401 Shell Beach Dr. There isn’t a formal room in the whole place.
The camp is unpretentious, made of strong stuff, a survivor. “I believe this may have been one of the few Old Settlement camps that survived the hurricane of 1918,” Carolyn offered.
The date the camp was built is not known. Terrell and Gertrude Woosley, Undaddy and Nana to their grandchildren, acquired it in the mid-twenties. It’s constructed of pine, a raised cottage, leaving room for cooling ventilation and a place for high water to escape if needed. The roof is hipped, a style that stands up to high winds. After Hurricane Rita, new oak trees were planted to replace those damaged by the winds and water and a sturdy fence was built to hold back debris. During Ike, it held back a staircase that would have rammed the camp.
At one time the camp floors held screened openings through which the water drained when the camp was washed down before each summer visit. Mattresses were taken outside to air.
The camp is in Old Settlement, the name of the enclave in Big Lake that was a resort area of sorts back in the early 1900s. (Big Lake is Calcasieu Lake.)
Mary lives nearby, but admits that rocking on the screened-in porch of the camp is the one place where, if only for a few minutes, she can forget about the cares of the world. Terrell Woosley, III, lives in Beaumont. Carolyn has a place near the Lake Charles Charpentier Historic District and in Los Angeles.
The three share the camp and now another generation of grandchildren looks forward to visits there.
It is a place that invites recollections from the past.
From the porch you can see where the Borealis Rex delivered its mail, packages and passengers. The steamboat made runs between Cameron and Lake Charles by day, by night it was an entertainment cruise.
A few of the local families like the Woosleys pitched in to buy the wharf to keep it from being torn down after “The Rex” was retired in the 1930s, well before the time that Carolyn and Mary spent summers there.
Now they have their memories of things that, like the Borealis Rex, no longer exist. When they grew up, parents and grandparents banished children to an outside world until they were called – in this case by bell -- for meals.
Mary said that lunch might be butternut squash baked with brown sugar and cinnamon, a salad of sliced tomato, red onion and cucumbers and watermelon -- and usually an ice-cold Nehi soda. Her favorite was orange.
But perhaps her favorite meal was feasting on the fried croakers that she caught fishing with her cane pole.
Even after homes had refrigerators, Tuesday ice deliveries were made to Old Settlement residences. The Woosley’s don’t have their original ice box, though they do have an antique that was collected later, but the old tongs and ice pick are still there above where the long, green enamel ice box stood, the pick stabbed into the wall along with countless other holes from years past.
As a child, Carolyn would have to stand up on her tiptoes and impale herself on the lip of the icebox, feet high in the air, to fish around for her drink. “I was determined to get my favorite soda – grape or orange or whatever it was,” she remembered.
The children were made to lie down for a nap on the screened-in sleeping porch of bunk beds and cots, which their father closed in later.
“I remember how it felt laying in a pool of sweat. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be under the creaky fan or not. It was so loud I was afraid that it was going to fall through the ceiling on me at any time,” Carolyn said.
Mary and Carolyn seldom napped. They read instead. “We read all of Mother’s Louisa Mae Alcott collection. I still have it,” Carolyn said.
They read their uncle Bill Shaddock’s collection of Hardy Boy Mysteries and devoured their own Nancy Drew mysteries – 30 of them according to Carolyn.
But when naptime was over, it was back to the lake. “We lived in the water,” Carolyn said.
“We got paid for taking soda bottles back to the store,” Mary recalled. We would feel around for them with our toes when we were swimming.”
But returning those glass bottles to collect the nickel or less deposit wasn’t enough to cover their chewing gum, Kool-aid straw and other candy bill at Askews, the corner grocery. According to Carolyn, their mother declared it was larger than her monthly food bill in town from Abe’s Grocery.
Carolyn remembers seeing those bills, wild, crazy-quilt looking things with figures skewed this way and that on a page and wondering how any person could make sense of it.
The Woosley girls said they often imagined themselves as cowboys.
“We waited with baited breath with the Smythe or Quilty kids each dusk to chase the cows with our handmade whips as they passed us nightly on the road out front. At times a cow would get in the yard, and Dad would chase it out, running and snapping his great bull whip,” Carolyn said.
Mary loved setting crab lines and still remembers how slowly and cautiously she dip netted three at time until she had enough to take back to her grandparents’ camp to boil.
Their grandfather, Terrell Woosley, Sr., was a native of Louisville Kentucky and served as an attaché to General John Pershing during WWI. When he was sent to Hot Springs, Ark., to recover from mustard gas poisoning, he met his future wife, Gertrude Hinton, who helped nurse him back to health. The two corresponded by letter until the war ended and they could be married.
The Boy Scouts of America recruited him to become the first director south of the Mason Dixie line in 1920. In 1923 he opened Terrell Woosley Insurance Company. The Woosley couple settled in Lake Charles, on Kirby St., one block from Central School and he was known as one of the Lake Area’s great civic leaders especially for his devotion to the Boy Scout program in particular but to children’s causes in general.
Nola Mae Ross wrote in an article about Terrell Woosley, Sr., that appeared in the American Press in 1989 that Woosley carried insurance on some people who could not pay during the depression and quoted a former employee, Clarence Shaddock, as saying, “When the banks closed in 1933, he paid each of his employees an extra half-month’s salary to tide them over until the banks reopened.”
In the dining room of the camp is the Stickly table and chairs that Carolyn and Mary’s great grandfather, W.T. Burton awarded their grandfather for his work helping Burton during
the Calcasieu Marine National Bank reorganization, a plan that required seven years and began in 1939.
Mary and Carolyn describe their grandmother as short and stout and always busy. She sewed, crocheted, painted and fired ceramics and Mary remembers canning pears with her one summer on a small table covered with an oilcloth with a naked bulb hanging overhead.
Gertrude, who had a friend named Maggie Smythe, held court from the screened-in porch of the camp, watching the coming and goings of the community.
Terrell and Gertrude had three children, James, Elizabeth (Daughenbaugh) and Terrell Woosley, Jr., Carolyn and Mary’s father.
Terrell, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, holding state and national offices in the insurance industry. He was involved with the Boy Scouts Association for 66 years, receiving the Silver Beaver Award, like his father.
He served in the Navy as a seaman first class during World War II in the Pacific theater. He received a Navy\Unit Commendation Ribbon for his work as skipper of LST-353 during the Solomon Islands campaign. He served one term on the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.
His contributions to the camp are in every corner. After one of his trips abroad he constructed a brick “Chinese smoke oven” and fashioned his own hooks and holders of various designs to hold the chicken, beef and fish. It’s near the deck newel post cap that he sculpted into a pelican using a chain saw. The kitchen was added after the house was built, probably in the 30s. Over its range is a hood covering created by Terrell Jr. from old whisky barrels.
“He was just one of those people who could read a book about something and do it,” Carolyn said. “He built a boat in Lake Charles and he and the Sea Scouts sailed it here,” She said.
He converted the camp’s large attic space into another bedroom, adding beautiful wood beams to the downstairs ceiling for reinforcement. The stairway rail is a harpoon, just one of the nautical touches he added. In the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom instead of nailing up the pine boards the easy way, he created a pattern that differed on the east and west ceiling slope. The layout of the boards point up in the east and down in the west.
Terrell Woosley, Jr., lived out his last few years in Old Settlement. He died in 2002. Carolyn and Mary’s mother died in 2000.
In the hall of the camp is a map of the world stuck with pins designating all the places Terrell, Jr. traveled in his lifetime. His daughters have done their share of travel too.
But Southwest Louisiana is their home. And the Woosley Camp -- built of strong stuff that’s survived many storms -- remains a constant and a reminder of days when ice deliveries, the crack of a bull whip late at night and grabbing a grape Nehi without falling into the ice box made summer with the grandparents seem very cool.