The land that makes up Camp Helen is surrounded by water on three sides, and even more importantly has access to both fresh and salt water. The high bluff would have provided protection to indigenous people choosing to make their homes here.
Regular seasonal settlement of Native Americans occurred in the Lake Powell area for many hundreds of years, prior to the arrival of the first Europeans. There is evidence of this from several Indian middens found on the property.
In the 1840s an Indian group living near Camp Helen lead an attack on a stranded schooner under the leadership of a man named Phillips.
Captain Phillips was massacred at the inlet of Lake Powell when he became shipwrecked by a storm. This legend is why the inlet leading to the gulf today is now called Phillips inlet.
In 1928 a man by the name of Robert E. Hicks, purchased 185 acres of land overlooking Phillips Inlet. He then built a summer home for his wife and daughter; his wife then named the property Loch Lomond.
The construction of the Hicks family home, now referred to as the Lodge went underway in 1931. Logs for the exterior were milled nearby, providing much-needed work for the local residents. Meanwhile, each solid log beam in the interior of the dwelling, was brought in from South America. The granite for the large fireplaces and the chimneys once served as ballast in ships sailing from Spain. The total cost for construction was $75,000 dollars.
Today it welcomes visitors as part of Camp Helen State Park. The Lodge boasts nearly 4,000 square feet, four bedrooms, a great room, dining room and kitchen. Among its many interesting features other than the fireplaces, are an indoor balcony, and a basement –the latter an unusual element for most Florida homes.
Robert Hicks died in 1932, his wife Margaret Hicks faced with the death of her husband, and the hardship of the great depression, build the Rainbow Cottages and opened Loch Lomond to vacationers. Mrs. Hicks added the multi-colored cottages and their matching paving tiles, in the 1930s to help supply income to her family.
Each cottage contained sleeping space for 2-4 people, a kitchen and bathroom. The smallest, at 291 square feet, was studio-style with sleeping and living spaces combined. Cramped as it sounds, the cottages contained bunk bed, and by 1958 guests could sleep on the newly-added screened porches during summer nights.
A caretaker managed her vacation cottages and guests while the Lodge remained a private family retreat. The cottages are one of the focal points at Camp Helen State Park. They now remain to preserve a slice of history.
In 1945, Avondale Mills purchased the Hicks property on Phillips Inlet and opened Camp Helen to their employees in 1946. Avondale Mills, a cotton mill and fabric manufacturer, was founded by Braxton Bragg (B.B) Comer in 1897. Avondale Mills operated various plants in Alabama. Employees of Avondale Mills were not unionized. Rather, the company provided various benefits to employees, which included Camp Helen. Camp Helen was named after Helen Comer, the wife of Fletcher Comer, one of B.B. Comer’s sons.
CampHelen provided a week’s worth of fun for Avondale Mills employees who could choose between boating, fishing, sunbathing, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball and other activities. Meals were eaten three times a day in the dining hall, and guest could enjoy evening fun in the Recreation Hall with dancing, bingo and other games.
In 1987, Avondale Mills discontinued its use of Camp Helen as a vacation facility. In 1996, the State of Florida purchased Camp Helen and opened it to the public as a state park.
Today, visitors to Camp Helen can still enjoy the beautiful scenery, good fishing and Gulf beaches that have enchanted visitors here for decades. As you explore the buildings left behind by the Hicks and Avondale Mills, you can also catch a glimpse of vacationing in Florida as it use to be.