The Vagabond - History of Camp Sumatanga

February 2, 2018 chris
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By Danny Crownover

A couple of weeks ago, The Vagabond talked about how the Gallant community in Etowah County got its name from John A. Gallant. Located nearby is a large camp that many people have visited and enjoyed for a number of years.

Back in May of 1951, the late local historian Will I. Martin wrote about the lake and camp:

“Much the most ambitious recreation project ever undertaken in this section, is the fishing lake now being constructed by the Etowah County Conservation Club near Gallant, [located] several miles west of Attalla. The location is in a valley flanked by high mountains and a section that affords some of the most gorgeous scenery in this part of Alabama.

“[The area] is overlooked by Buzzard’s Rock, a high and picturesque peak, and is fringed by numerous hollows at the foot of the mountains. To reach [the area], go through Ivalee and to a point about two miles beyond Ga-llant. There is an excellent dirt road there now, but both Etowah and St. Clair counties will pave highways to it on the farm-to-market program, the promoters believe.

“The club owns 358 acres of land in a hollow that was cut out for a sportsman’s paradise. The lake will cover 125 acres and the remainder of the land will be reserved for cottages, the sites for which will be leased for a period of years with members having the preference.

“The dam will be 250 feet long and 60 feet wide at the bottom with an 18-foot roadway on top. The dam will be 30 feet high and the water will be 26 feet deep at the dam. There will be a shallow section that will be roped off for children, it being the intention of the club to cooperate with youth organizations such as the boy scouts, the 4-H clubs and others of like nature. There will be swimming facilities and boating. The lake will have a shoreline of about six miles.

“The water will come from the source of Little Canoe Creek and from four large springs in the lake itself. In fact, Little Canoe Creek will flow through it. This means that there will be an abundance of crystal clear water, and it will remain clear, for it is the plan to preserve the surrounding forest. There will be no erosion and therefore no muddy water.

“The lake site is now being cleared by the contracting firm of Melton and Pittman. Pretty soon bids will be asked for constructing the dam, and [by] late next September the lake may be filling up, although there might be a delay because of weather and the scarcity of materials.

“In planning the project, the club has had the advice of experts. State, county and city engineers, county farm agents, state and county health department and the state conservation department heads have given their advice and services free of charge.

The United States government hatcheries will stock the lake with game fish and will give advice as to their care. In fact, the club has had the best of cooperation from all conservation agencies and will continue to get it until the property is fully and scientifically developed. It is said that the cottage sites being planned will be among the most beautiful in the state. They certainly will be in one of the finest scenic sections of the county.

The Etowah County Conservation Club has over 500 members and is the largest men’s organizations in the county. The members are scattered all over the county. Luther Durham is president; Raymond Bell and R.S. Golightly, vice-presidents; James Watts, secretary; and John Freeman, treasurer. L.A. Heaton is treasurer for the lake fund. The project is being financed by issuing certificates to members. There are 21 directors.”

The following was taken from Camp Sumatanga’s website, which was taken from the book “Our Sumatanga” by David N. Hutto, Jr., and Warren Hamby, Jr.

United Methodist camping ministry in North Alabama

“The North Alabama Conference youth camping program began in 1928 when Earl McBee, a youth worker at First Methodist Episcopal Church South in Ensley, was appointed volunteer director of an effort to hold summer camps for junior high [students]. From 1928 until 1951, Methodist camps were held at various places owned by various organizations and church denominations.”

Founding of Camp Sumatanga

“In 1947, McBee heard about an undeveloped piece of property in St. Clair County that the Boy Scouts had used for primitive camping. The owner wanted to sell. McBee and Elizabeth Brown decided to have a look. (The) property consisted of 430 acres from the crest of Chandler Mountain, down into a valley known as Greasy Cove, north up the side of a hill, to its summit.

“Mrs. Brown was extremely impressed with the property, and she eventually recommended that it be purchased. The $5,000 asked by the owner, according to Brown, was very reasonable.

“On Aug. 14, 1948, 500 youths and adults gathered at the site for a picnic and to hear Bishop Marvin Franklin speak. It was then that Bishop Franklin spoke of his hopes and dreams for a camp and explained the meaning of the Himalayan word, ‘sumatanga.’

“On Sept. 23, 1950, ground was broken in the area where the pool camp is today.”

The meaning of ‘Sumatanga’

“Earl McBee and David Hutto prepared a resolution that stated, ‘Our camping program has a two-fold mission in the church. One of the missions is to provide a place where tired bodies with weary souls and uncertain minds may come and find rest and peace. The other mission is to provide a place of vision where men may come and get a larger view of things for the present as well as the future years. With these missions in mind, we are recommending the name ‘Sumatanga’ for our camp site. The name means a place low enough for all who have a mind to climb to reach its heights and yet high enough for all to catch a vision of higher heights. The name ‘Sumatanga’ was adopted at the 1950 session of the annual conference.”

The man who built Sumatanga

“David Hutto was born in 1905 in Patton’s Chapel, a rural community near Lincoln. A farming accident as a youth nearly took his life, and as a result, he walked the four miles to school on a pair of crutches. Possibly due to his survival and recovery, he knew in high school that he would answer a call into the ministry and enrolled part-time at Birmingham-Southern, finishing in 1933.

“Despite being told by two separate draft boards that his childhood injury would keep in him from the army, Hutto persisted until he was allowed to be a chaplain, serving in England, France and North Africa. It wasn’t long after returning to North Alabama that he was appointed the first director of Camp Sumatanga.

“Uncle Dave” Hutto served as the director of Camp Sumatanga until his death in 1969. He saw camp through much of its initial construction and through some of its greatest challenges.

In the 1950’s, Hutto drew criticism for bringing African-Americans to the camp when the society was still segregated. In 1966, he was told by the conference’s camp commission to stop allowing those individuals into the camp, so he offered his resignation. The outcry of youths and adults across North Alabama was so strong that the commission was forced to change the policy, and Hutto stayed on as director. Later that year, the Hutto family’s home was burned in retaliation.

“In 1968, lightning struck [the camp] and the nearly completed lodge was burned to the ground. David immediately set about rebuilding the lodge to keep a promise he had made to younger campers so they would have their own place to stay at camp. Through all of this, David Hutto persevered, and the camping ministry today is a continuing testament of this servant of God.”