For over 50 years, Camp Highlander has been dedicated to changing the lives of our campers through our outstanding role-model staff, our inclusive cabin unit philosophy and our exceptional programs. Each day is filled with laughter and fun for our campers, but our purpose is intentional – to build character and strong values in each of our campers that will remain with them always.
The story of Camp Highlander begins with Ben and Polly Wax, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the first owners of Camp Highlander. Mr. Wax was a beloved high school coach who dedicated his life to making a difference in the lives of children. Together with his wife, Mr. Wax started the Boys Academy, an after school program and day camp for boys in Baton Rouge. In 1957, in hopes of expanding their camp program, they purchased Camp Parrydice, an all-girls summer camp, in Highlands, North Carolina, and founded Camp Highlander. While under the ownership of the Wax family, Camp Highlander spent its first six summers as an all-boys camp (though at one point the Waxes had a girls’ three week session that coincided with the boys’ session, pioneering one of the first co-ed camp experiences). Camp Highlander was located at 4,200 feet of elevation, in what was considered one of the “wettest” areas east of the Rockies. The camp itself was under fog every day until noon, giving campers the feeling of living amongst the clouds during the summer. During those first summers, activities included hiking, camping, horseback riding and canoeing.
After the death of Mr. Wax, Mrs. Wax sold Camp Highlander to Pine Crest Preparatory School of Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1964. Dr. Mae McMillan, the founder of Pine Crest, wanted to create an extension to the educational process by taking advantage of the many teachable moments that arise during the camp day. Pine Crest reopened Camp Highlander in 1965 as a co-ed camp, offering separate and combined programs that created a “family” atmosphere. There were 85 campers in 1965, and due to the location of the camp on the side of the mountains, they established the cabin unit system for safety and discipline practices. Activities included many of the activities we still offer today with the exception of boxing, prospecting, ruby mining and shuffleboard. Tutoring was also available for campers who wanted to continue academic work. The first Color War took place in 1965 and was only one afternoon of competition including the mountain relay and rope burning. In 1974, Camp Highlander had outgrown the facilities in Highlands, so Pine Crest purchased Camp Blue Ridge in Mills River, North Carolina and moved Camp Highlander to its current location.
The current location of Camp Highlander had a long history itself. Originally the land was owned by Dr. Silver who purchased the land and built the still existing lodge in 1927 as a summer home for his family. Dr. Silver had been operating a tent camp for boys on Lake Osceola in Hendersonville since 1924. In the late 1930’s, Dr. Silver built two additional cabins on the land (what is now cabin 1 and the Cottage) and moved the tent camp from Hendersonville to Mills River. Dr. Silver’s son, Herbert Silver and his wife, Belle, inherited the camp and established Camp Osceola for boys and girls, and built most of what we know as Camp Highlander today. In 1948, they built a girls camp section (cabins 14, 15, 16 & 17) and in 1951 a boys section (cabins 18, 19, 20, Fox & Hound, & Bunker). Over the years they added more cabins (Hilltop and Box Canyon), the tennis courts, the gym and the dining hall. In 1970, the Silvers sold Camp Osceola and it became Camp Blue Ridge, and eventually in 1974 it became Camp Highlander.
In its new location, Camp Highlander via Pine Crest saw great expansion. Pine Crest quickly set to adding to the campus to accommodate the growing number of campers. They constructed the buildings down in Florida and transported them to North Carolina. In the 1980’s, Tenny Top, the arts and crafts barn, the pottery barn and the stables were all built. In 1991, Pine Crest added an in ground competition pool, becoming one of the first camps in the area to have one. Activities including the traditional riflery, archery, mountain biking and woodworking, and remained very much the same throughout the years. It was in 1999, that Camp Highlander played host to the Disney Channel’s reality TV show of children at camp called “Bug Juice.”
In 2000, Pine Crest, after over 35 years, decided to sell Camp Highlander. And in November of that same year, Karl and Shelley Alexander of Baton Rouge, Louisiana purchased Camp Highlander. The Alexanders came to the Appalachian Mountains to live their dream of owning and operating a residential summer camp. It wasn’t long before Camp Highlander was their home. Starting that first summer in 2001, Karl and Shelley set to making many improvements to the camp. Over their ten years of ownership, they have built eight new cabins (the Hotel and Alamo) and facilitated improvements to over nine additional cabins, the gym, the dining hall, the stables, the arts and crafts barn and the pool. Most recently in the spring of 2010, the “Mr. H” bell tower was erected as the central focal point of the campus and the mega waste water treatment plant was completed after years of planning. Additions to the ropes course, lake area and the arts have expanded the programming significantly to over 30 on camp activities, and seen the revival of activities from the past including Native American Culture, fencing, gymnastics, painting and sailing. In 2005, Camp Highlander began waterskiing at Lake Keowee at the premiere east coast ski school, Keowee Adventure Center, operated by one of the top competitive collegiate skiers of his day, Davey Mallett. Along with whitewater rafting the Nantahala, camping in Pisgah National Forest and paddling the Green River, Camp Highlander has become one of the premiere residential co-ed camps in the country today.