A Brief History
Researched by Marti Buckner. Special thanks to Lucien Rice.
The history of McKee Scout Reservation is rich in diversity. Native Americans occupied east central Kentucky before the white people arrived. The Shawnee settlement of Eskippakithiki was less than 5 miles from the present day McKee. Grape Knob would have offered a good observation point from which Daniel Boone or a Shawnee could view the surrounding land. The courthouse in Mt. Sterling was built with stone that was mined from Grape Knob when it served as a rock quarry. McKee has a special sense of place.
Mrs. Gertrude P. McKee began piecing together the land that became known as McKee Scout Reservation on June 1, 1920. On March 31, 1945, seven tracts of land totaling more than 300 acres were deeded over to the Blue Grass Council of the Boy Scouts of America by P. L. and Gertrude McKee for one dollar. There were certain stipulations, one of which said that the land was to be used for scouting events and not “…cease to be used for the purposes herein set forth,…” The first official Camporee was held in 1946, and for several years after, fall camporees were held. Additional parcels of land were added in the late 1950’s. This land is well situated on the borders of Montgomery and Powell counties, and now consists of more than 600 attractive acres.
Early in 1958 the Executive Board and Professional Staff of the Blue Grass Council recognized the need for developing this property. At that time, W. T. Bishop was council president. Mr. Clair F. Vough, president of IBM, was chairman of the long range study which led to the Capital Campaign of 1958-59 that financed Camp McKee’s early growth.
The National Scout Council studied this reservation and recommended a layout for its development. The proposed plan divided the reservation into two distinct camps. One was to be Camp Lee, and the one that was developed was originally called Camp Bishop. Each camp was designed for a capacity of 200 boys, and would have about ten unit campsites. Each unit site was to be developed as a separate functional unit with its own latrines, tents, washstands, patrol cooking facilities, and activity area.
In early April 1959 clearing and lumbering for the nearly 17 acres lake began as soon as weather permitted. The construction was done largely with donated time, materials and equipment. Work on the waterfront, activity areas, campsites, administration lodge, health lodge, trading post and Keeneland dining hall proceeded concurrently with the other projects and was well advanced by early 1960. The estimated construction cost for the development of Camp Bishop alone was $270,000.
Employees of the Soil Conservation Service accomplished the site survey and engineering for the lake and dam construction, with L. E. Gregg and John Burns providing engineering assistance. H. C. Adams of Carey and Adams Construction Company undertook the lake, dam and road construction. Marion Welch was instrumental in building the water treatment and sewage disposal system. John Burke took charge of constructing the main lodge, and Charlie Shoemaker, the campsites, activity areas, waterfront and health lodge. Gene Heilbron procured and installed the kitchen equipment.
The first camp ranger, Walt Ferrell, took up residence in his new home located at the camp entrance early in 1960. Most of the projects were completed while others were started, such as the council ring and rifle range. On June 10, 1960, the first of 1300 boys who were to use the facility during its initial summer camping season arrived. The camp fee was $14.50, with the fifty cents paying for insurance on the camper.
Early in 1960, Mr. Vough was elected president of the Blue Grass Council and Charlie Shoemaker became vice-president in charge of camp development. In 1961 Mr. Vough was again elected president and appointed an IBM engineer, Ed Druschel, to the position of camp development. Mr. Druschel left IBM and did not return until his work at McKee was completed.
The Pioneer Mountain Trail was hiked and laid out by scouts in late 1960 and early 1961. Walt Ferrell led the group, and members included, among others, Hugh Miller, Harry Clover, John Young and Lucien Rice.
The chapel and picnic area were the next items built. Byron Romanowitz designed the chapel, which was constructed at a total cost of $5,534.96 and dedicated on June 28, 1962. Churches in the Blue Grass Council donated nearly half the funds for the project.
As the number of boy scouts in the Blue Grass Council increased, so did the need for more and better camping facilities. In 1976 the number of campsites increased by five, and showers and a pedestrian bridge were built. Forrset McKloskey prepared construction drawings for the renovation of Keeneland dining hall, with Lexington restaurateur Mr. Levis assisting him as a kitchen consultant. During the same era the OA Lodge (Cox Building) was designed by Helm Roberts and constructed.
That was then and this is now. In the summer of 2001 motorboats sailed for the first time on Lake Vough during camp season, and the Blue Grass Council is again investing in the future of McKee Scout Reservation.
On March 31, 2001, a groundbreaking took place for celebrating a new beginning of construction for Camp McKee. Terry B. Simmons, Architect along with Central Associated Engineers was selected to design the New Dining Hall at Camp McKee. This new Dining Hall (Stamler Hall) Seats about 400 people, and sports a “State of the art” Kitchen. The Walker Company of Mount Sterling was the general contractor.
In July of 2003, the new Stamler Dining Hall was open for service. There were about 360 campers and staff eating in air conditioned comfort, a first for the McKee Scout Reservation.
Also constructed: The Karrick Retreat Lodge (2002), the new Square D Climbing Tower (2002), a new C.O.P.E. High Course (2003), the Phil Fox Handicraft Pavilion (2006),and the Orion Aquatics Tower, in memory of Kevin O’Canna (2007).
And most recently constructed: The new central Flag Pavilion, in memory of Murphy Jones (2008) and the Ramey Ecology Shelter (2009).