Historic Rapidan Camp

Rapidan Camp was built by U.S. President Herbert Hoover and served as his rustic retreat from 1929 to 1933.The first family’s residential cabin was known as the “Brown House” in contrast to their more famous residence, the White House. Rapidan Camp was the precursor of the current presidential retreat, Camp David.

Rapidan Camp, the summer retreat established by President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover during his administration, is located within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. The camp has been restored to its 1929 appearance and is an excellent reflection of not only its era, but also of President Hoover.

Rapidan Camp was the first complex specifically designed as a presidential retreat.  It eventually consisted of 13 buildings connected by a network of paths and stone or wood bridges designed to blend with the natural landscape.

Lou Henry Hoover hired the architect and told him exactly what she wanted. The buildings consisted of sleeping cabins for guests and servants, public spaces, and workspaces.  The buildings were simple one-story, gable-roofed, brown-stained frame cabins with many windows, usually consisting only of bedrooms, bathrooms, and porches.  According to signs posted in the cabins, the “Town Hall” was the “the place of general meeting for anything from Executive Committee Meeting to ping pong and knitting.”  Guests ate hearty country breakfasts and dinners at the “Mess Hall;” lunches often took place outside.  Workspaces included the Secret Service “Duty Station” cabin and “The Slums,” which was, in fact, a perfectly comfortable cabin housing Lou Henry Hoover’s secretaries.  Dormitories for the mess servants were across the main access road.  Separate compounds for the Marines who operated and maintained the camp and for visiting Cabinet members were within walking distance.

The camp served as a much-needed retreat for the president during the tumultuous first years of the Great Depression.  White House Physician Boone felt that Rapidan Camp played an important role in maintaining Hoover’s health.  He recalled that, “The president could recuperate from fatigue faster than anybody I have ever known.  As he had tremendous powers of concentration, he had tremendous power of relaxation once he surrendered himself to taking periods to relax and rest mentally and physically.”

The Hoovers were very social and rarely came to Rapidan Camp alone.  The guest-register reads like a “Who’s Who” of the era, including such notables as Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Mrs. Thomas A. Edison, the Edsel Fords, Henry Luce, and Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Ranger Tours of Rapidan Camp

Due to COVID-19, there will be no ranger-led tours of Rapidan Camp.