Camp David

Camp David, located in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland, became a favorite retreat for the President of the United States in the early 1940’s. Originally, the Park was developed through the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a recreational area and campsite for the disabled, and for families and children of federal employees. Camp David offered a cool mountain retreat, 100 miles away from the hot summers and muggy climate of Washington D.C.

Roosevelt was accustomed to spending summers on the presidential yacht Potomac or at his home in Hyde Park, New York. However, with the onset of World War II, there was genuine concern for his safety. The Secret Service recognized the dangers from the presence of U2 submarines along the Atlantic Coast and proceeded to find a safer retreat.

Camp Hi-Catoctin, formerly a family campsite, was selected as an appropriate location. It required approximately $25,000 to build the main lodge and complete the conversion to a presidential retreat. Roosevelt immediately changed the name to Shrangi-La, from James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon.

After World War 2 ended, there was some discussion about the future of Camp David. The original plan was for its transfer to the Maryland State Park and Forest System to remain as a national recreational park. President Harry S. Truman wrote a letter to the Maryland governor stating that Camp David would remain as a presidential retreat, due to the significant, historical events that had occurred there.

A compromise was made in 1952, when Truman agreed to divide the area in two separate parks. The area north of Maryland Route 77 kept the name of Catoctin Mountain Park, operated by the National Park Service, and the southern portion was called Cunningham Falls State Park.

The official division and transfer became effective in 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of Shrangri-La to Camp David, after his grandson, shortly after he took office in 1953.

Presidents of the United States have gone to Camp David for relaxation and contemplation, as well as for meeting with world leaders in formal and informal discussions. These discussions, often called summit conferences, have resulted in important peace agreements and resolutions.

One with particular historical significance was the summit between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, which was held by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. The Camp David Accords or Camp David I summit resulted in a formal peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Other historically significant events such as the planning of the Normandy invasion, the Bay of Pigs, and the Vietnam War strategy also took place at Camp David. President Eisenhower, Prime Minister MacMillan of Great Britain, and Premier Kruschchev of Russia met on several occasions and Winston Churchill held cabinet meetings and briefed Members of Congress at Camp David.

The Camp David II summit in 2000 between Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Ehud Barak, the prime minister of Israel and was far less successful. President Bill Clinton was unable to resolve the continued conflict between these two nations, although in later years he spent an entire week at Camp David in an administrative retreat for his incoming administration.

Many presidents have gone to Camp David to prepare their State of the Union messages, as well as to meet with advisors on national security issues and other government concerns. President John F. Kennedy and his family enjoyed the horseback riding and recreation there in addition to meeting with world leaders.

President Lyndon B. Johnson conducted several summits on world events, such as the Vietnam War and the Dominican Republic conflict, in addition to entertaining the Australian Prime Minister and his wife. President Truman did not retreat to Camp David often, since his wife Bess did not particularly like the quiet and seclusion.

The most frequent visitor to Camp David was President Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed the woodworking shop and horseback riding. His wife Nancy spent time there redecorating and improving the landscape. President Richard Nixon added several new buildings and more modern conveniences.

The first wedding at Camp David took place when Dorothy Bush married Bobby Koch in 1992. President George Bush enjoyed playing horseshoes and other outdoor activities while spending time at Camp David.

The world’s foremost leaders, foreign dignitaries, and Presidents of the United States continue to meet informally and formally at Camp David. It is a wonderful mountain retreat, 1800 feet above sea level, away from political pressures and stress.


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