Camper Clan Contribution, A Vintage Vignette

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Camper Clan Contribution
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
March 8, 2008

The Campers came here from Lebanon, Tennessee, about 1824. Simon Camper was born in Virginia, a great grandson of John Kemper who was born in 1692 in Musen, Germany and in 1714 came to the Germanna Colony near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Simon’s father John was born in the mid-1700s in Virginia and served in the Revolutionary War. Simon brought his family here and settled near Meridianville before moving to Warrenton in Marshall County before 1840, where he died. However, while Simon was here several of his children married and stayed.

One of Simon’s children was Amanda Camper, who married Bryant Cobb, a War of 1812 soldier, postmaster, Overseer of the Poor, Justice of the Peace, and constable. Simon’s children also included Benjamin L. and Jordan Howard Camper, both of whom lived in Madison. Among Benjamin’s many children was a son named Robert Isaac Camper, who lived on the east side of Indian Creek immediately south of Old Madison Pike. Robert I. had sons Robert E. and William Olin Camper. According to a 1933 lawsuit, Robert E. was “doing business as” The Hotel Twickenham, which had 5 stories and was one of Huntsville’s premier hotels, operating between 1915 and 1971. It was located at 118 Clinton Avenue, between Washington and Jefferson Streets, where today we have a city-owned parking garage. According to a 1914 lawsuit, Robert E. and his brother Olin were partners in The Toggery Shop of Huntsville, which advertised “Fine Tailoring”. In 1910 Robert E. and his wife Marie deeded land for Union Hill School (also called Benson Hill School) in the northwestern corner of the junction of Slaughter Road with Old Madison Pike.

By 1919 William Olin Camper came into ownership of the Lanford-Slaughter house, one of the most imposing mansions of the county. It still stands north of Old Madison Pike and east of Indian Creek, looking south over the lands owned by Olin’s father Robert Isaac Camper. In fact, it is surmised that R. I. Camper may well have planted in his yard the ancient dogwood that was recently moved to Huntsville’s Botanical Garden to save it from planned development as the road is straightened and the new Catholic High School is constructed.

In her privately published book “Reflections of Madison, 1869-1999”, Gladys True wrote that there was a bedspread factory on the upper floor of the City Hall on Garner Street, but that “R. O. Camper was director of a recreation center occupying the first floor” in 1944. While the Camper clan contributed to commerce and recreation of the area, there were always lawsuits plaguing them. A 1914 suit pitted Apperson Ice Cream Company against Fred O. Camper, and a 1915 suit was pressed by a Texas company against Camper Brothers Garage. The garage was both a gasoline station and an automobile repair shop. It was a partnership of Jodie and George Camper. Earlier, in 1874, a suit was filed by some of Daniel Whitworth’s descendants against Benjamin F. Camper and others regarding land purchased for back taxes owed by Daniel’s estate. (Benjamin F. was a brother of Robert I. Camper.) Worst of all, in 1914 Jordan H. Camper was involved in a criminal case for murder of an Italian immigrant. However, that requires another story, with details to be revealed at a later time.

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