Thirty years ago, Lucy and Roger Hanks purchased an undeniably beautiful piece of property on Onion Creek in Dripping Springs, Texas. It became a place where their son, Whit Hanks, and his family were able to experience idyllic weekends and cherished holidays. Here, Whit's father taught granddaughter Louise how to drive - first on the ranch and then on the country roads nearby. Grandfather and grandson Roger built all sorts of things together - a go-cart, a tree house, and a cable trolley (that ended up in the creek). The grandchildren learned how to hatch a goose egg, dive for rocks, and feed the Longhorn cattle.
When Whit's son Ian moved to Asia a few years ago, it would lead to an odyssey that, quite unexpectedly, would marry this Texas ranch with French Colonial buildings from Vietnam and inspire Whit to open up the family's land as "Camp Lucy" so others could experience the Hill Country dream.
Upon Ian's suggestion, Whit visited Asia, including Hanoi in Vietnam. It was here he developed an appreciation for Vietnamese antiques, especially pieces from the French Colonial period. In an era that ran from roughly 1870 to 1950, France colonized Southeast Asia and, ultimately, developed Hanoi as the regional capital. The influence of France, a traditionally Catholic country, led to the conversion of many Vietnamese. After buying several hundred French Colonial figures of Catholic saints and importing them to his Austin antique store, Whit asked his trusted Vietnamese agent how it came to be that so many of these actually quite rare antique figures happened to come on the market.
Whit learned that while the Catholic influence ebbed in the wake of the withdrawal of France in the 1950s, today, thanks to new leaders and new foreign investment, the Catholic Church is seeing a resurgence of interest and prosperity in Vietnam. Reinvigorated and refinanced, each village in the Catholic regions now seeks to upgrade their French Colonial-era church with a larger, modern church; when the older churches are sold, the saints are included with the purchase.
"Forget about the saints," said Whit. "I want to see the churches!"
In December 2007, Whit traveled to Vietnam to see some of the churches available for purchase. As a result of that visit, and after a long sea voyage, the first building arrived in America. Carefully disassembled and packed in sea-land containers, all the timbers and tiles had been painstakingly photographed, labeled, and provided with a diagram and video to show how the church, estimated to have been built in the 1880s, would go back together for its new life in Dripping Springs. Along with the arduous task of reassembly, a new bell tower, based on the shape of other churches in Vietnam, was built by hand using stones harvested from the Camp Lucy property, and designed to hold a bell originally made in France and shipped to Vietnam some time in the 1800s.
About halfway through the restoration of the first chapel, Whit's agent contacted him to let Whit know that another French Colonial church was available. This larger structure with massive ironwood timbers, originally built in Vietnam some time in the 1930s,would be reborn in Dripping Springs as an open-air pavilion, a tribute to the joy of being outdoors at Camp Lucy. Also around this time, Whit heard rumor that the original 1920s Ludowici tile from the Bexar County Courthouse in downtown San Antonio might be available, as the courthouse was getting a new roof. Whit found the deep, green glaze of these antique tiles evoked an exotic feel and added an energy to the development. The rescued Ludowici tiles are now the crowning glory on the pavilion.
Upon entering Camp Lucy, many visitors notice a common symbol tastefully carried throughout the venue. Originally carved in the building arches, and stamped in the Vietnamese tiles of the chapel, is the shape of a heart. This heart, a visible symbol of the French Colonial influence on Vietnam, has been adopted by Camp Lucy and integrated into the overall aesthetic. The ancient Chinese influence on Vietnam is also seen, quite poetically, in the symbol for happiness carved into the ironwood of both the chapel and pavilion.
Why "Camp Lucy"?
Whit named this place Camp Lucy, a place where many new families begin, to honor his family and mother, Lucy Hanks. In a place where East meets West and old meets new, the ultimate shared theme, in this dream shared, is family, love, and double happiness.
The next chapter in the Camp Lucy storybook was written in December 2011 when the doors opened to our new Events Hall. This addition to Camp Lucy, created from a repurposed Amish barn originally built from hand-hewn white oak timbers in the 1800s, continues Whit's unique design aesthetic.
The barn's purchase, relocation, and reconstruction was facilitated by Robert Feuge and his Barn Preservation Company of Fredericksburg, Texas, working with Whit and Paul Smith of RVi Planning and Landscape Architecture. The barn, located in an Amish community in Ohio, was offered for sale to make room for a new structure. Upon Whit's purchase in early 2011, it was carefully dismantled by members of the Amish community for transport to its new home in Dripping Springs, Texas.
The Amish barn's background adds a rich, historical note to the Camp Lucy story, as community members told Whit that it was used as part of the Underground Railroad which helped escaping slaves move toward freedom in the north. For almost two centuries, the structure served as a functioning barn for families in the community, complete with threshing floor for the local grain harvests and a secret room below it.
While the barn's woodwork is distinct from Camp Lucy's Vietnamese buildings - the rougher, hand-hewn white oak timbers of the Amish barn contrasts with the intricate ironwood carvings of the Vietnamese - the exposed wood beams and high ceilings in all of the buildings provide continuity, as does the sense of awe at being in the presence of centuries old hand-crafting from both sides of the world.
"Camp Lucy was created to celebrate life, family, and new beginnings," says Whit. "Whether it's a repurposed Amish barn originally built in the early 19th century or a French Colonial chapel from the other side of the world, giving new life and a new purpose to old buildings embodies that spirit."
Last updated September 4, 2012.