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“All those Tennessee people will be heroes”
A history of nudism in Tennessee part 2: The nudist parks
From 1937 through 1963, Tennessee nudists organized several groups and informal clubs throughout the state, particularly in the eastern region. Although a few found secluded parcels of property on which to gather, the promise of a true nudist park with facilities wasn’t realized until 1964, when members of ASA Club #385 secured a 100-acre plot of land in a remote area outside of Knoxville, which they named Timberline. But the state’s first nudist park faced strong opposition from the local community and required the tireless work and determination of its founding members, a national organization, a historic Maryland nudist club, and twin brothers from New York, culminating in a federal court case that made newspaper headlines across the country and forever changed the legal landscape for nudist clubs in the United States.
“Dead Wood at Timberline!” proclaimed a headline in the October/November 1964 issue of the Midwestern Sunbathing Association’s newsletter MSA News.
In the Knoxville, Tennessee area within the next several weeks, will be the MSA’s newest chartered club. The final paperwork is now in the mill, and it is hoped that a final report on the board action can be printed in the next issue of the MSA News. Their latest newsletter tells of their incorporation as a non-profit organization and the harassment of the five signers of the corporation papers. It is always amazing how the news media jump on such a story as this, and make a big issue out of it. With all the necessary groundwork out of the way – constitution, dues and fees, community acceptance, elections, etc. – Timberlineers are now starting to work on improving their club grounds. Present plans are to have their lodge built, running water, flush toilets, gravel road into the grounds, and improved parking and recreational facilities all by next spring. This may sound like wishful thinking, but with the drive this new group has, it is highly possible that with the green of spring will be seen a completed work list.
The October 1964 issue of The Bulletin included the first mention of Timberline and its founding organizers in a report on the August ASA convention at Penn Sylvan. “With all the ‘whoop-dee-do’ and excitement going on at the ASA convention it was impossible for one pair of eyes and ears to keep track of everything. In sports there were sometimes as many as three events going on at the same time, and, while your reporter watched one and listened to another, he could only guess at what was happening to the third.” In the list of trophy winners from such familiar clubs as Empire Haven, Pine Tree, and Sunny Rest were Adam and Bunny of Timberline. The report noted that Adam won men’s swimming and table tennis trophies, while Bunny won the women’s archery competition. Though not identified as such, Adam and Bunny were founding members and leaders of the new Tennessee club.
“A newcomer to Club Notes is the TIMBERLINE CLUB of Tennessee,” announced an update in the December 1964 Bulletin. “They report that they have recently incorporated as a non-profit organization and have received a charter under the laws of the state of Tennessee. They received considerable publicity and a large number of inquiries from people interested in nudism.” The update acknowledged that members remain concerned about the community’s response to a nudist club in the area, particularly the press coverage, but that they are expected to receive their ASA charter in the coming weeks.
A good deal of information regarding the early behind-the-scenes happenings with the Timberline club can be found in a series of letters between John and Henry Roberts, New York residents who applied to become Timberline’s managers, and Adam and Bunny, the leaders of the fledgling Knoxville club. The Roberts brothers, Columbia graduates, bookstore employees, and identical twins, had spotted an ad seeking a caretaker for Timberline in the January 1965 Bulletin and quickly responded. The Roberts introduced themselves in a January 4, 1965 letter:
My brother John and I saw your ad in the January Bulletin and are interested in becoming the managers of Timberline. We are both 35 (being twins) and have been nudists since 1954, joining at Sunny Rest Lodge Pennsylvania and continuing membership there for 5 years when we switched to Camp Goodland membership to cut traveling time from New York City in half. Zelda Suplee of Sunny Rest and Paula Kramer of Goodland are our long-standing good friends.
A February 15, 1965 response from Timberline chairman Adam, who, like the twins, was just 35 at the time, offered more information on the club’s founding members.
Timberline is an affiliate of the Tennessee Outdoor Club… incorporated under the laws of the state of Tennessee in August of 1964. Our ASA Charter received the final stamp of approval in January of this year. We have a six-member board of directors which covers the business of the club. You might be interested in some background information on each of the board members: an independent businessman who is owner and lesser of the club property (7 years in the movement); a wife of an independent machinist who recently set up his own company (6 years); a wife of an insurance executive (1.5 years); an instructor in the University of Tennessee (15 years); a local business executive, born and raised in Knoxville (2 years); a retired U.S. army colonel and West Point graduate (15 years).
One interesting revelation in this letter was the identification of a boarding home near the University of Tennessee, managed by the Timberline chairman Adam and rented out to an ever-growing group of local nudists.
You expressed an interest in Gemeinschaft Haus which delighted my wife Bunny and I particularly. I happen to be the resident agent for the owners of a rooming house situated two blocks from the University of Tennessee. Over a period of two years, we have been unusually selective (and fortunate) about whom we have allowed to rent apartments. By this I mean we have finally put together a house full of nudists who, by the way, are connected with the University of Tennessee in some capacity or other. The occupants consist of three families and a single girl. You will be welcome to stay here unless previous commitments to other out of town members should take up all available space… No finer camaraderie could exist. Gemeinschaft is a German sociological term which is used to characterize a form of social relations consisting of close, personal, face to face communication.
But trouble was brewing as the Roberts brothers prepared to relocate to Tennessee. In the summer of 1964, State Representative Gaines Morton was flying his helicopter near the Timberline property north of Knoxville when he spotted several nude people frolicking below. Morton would later claim that someone in the area fired a gun at his helicopter, though the nudists denied responsibility. In the early months of 1965, with the support of Knoxville law enforcement, Morton pushed through a statute (39-3009) that effectively banned nudism in Tennessee. Its critical provisions stated:
It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to operate or carry on, or engage in the operation of a nudist colony in this state.
It shall also be unlawful for any person to engage in nudist practices in this state.
It shall be a misdemeanor for anyone to violate the provisions of this section, and punishable as such.
The ASA was quickly engaged, and three influential members of Maryland’s Pine Tree Associates began to work with the Timberline group on a plan to confront the law. As reported in the March 27, 1965, Knoxville News-Sentinel, “The secretary of the first chartered (1934) nudist club of the American Sunbathing Association, Pine Tree Lodge in Maryland, traveled to Knoxville this week for the purpose of inquiring into the status of the Knoxville nudist club following the recent anti-nudist legislation. Mr. Sam Richards, who is also the editor of the Pine Tree Cone, a nudist newsletter published by his club, stated he first informed the ASA attorneys, Dennison and Dennison of Washington, and Mrs. Rose Holroyd, the ASA Executive Director, of his intended trip, and that he would gather data pertinent to the proper method of testing the constitutionality of the law.” Richards was quoted as saying, “I was utterly appalled at the little interest which Tennesseeans, in general, demonstrate in the face of erosion of their freedoms. The issue involved here, goes far deeper than the conception of prohibiting a few ‘cranks’ from running naked through the woods.”
Timberline chairman Adam provided another report on the involvement of the Pine Tree representatives in a March 28, 1965 letter to prospective managers John and Henry Roberts.
Lee (aka Sam Richards), of Pine Tree Lodge came down, talked with us, gathered info, and left for home after assuring us of his intention to publish our situation throughout the movement via his club’s newsletter, of which he is editor. The newsletter is sent to every club in the country. Plus he’ll inform Jerry (chairman of ASA legislative committee) who is a member of Pine Tree; and also Paul (public relations chairman of ASA) who is also a member of Pine Tree. In his newsletter he’ll push for financial support for us. Lee just called from Washington DC and told Peggy that Jerry says that the ASA hopes that this case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court so that the legality of nudism in all 50 states will, once and for all, be established. The ASA will financially back the case all the way. Jerry said, “all those Tennessee people will be heroes.”
Back in Maryland, Lee wrote about the seriousness of the situation in the March 31, 1965, Pine Tree Whispers newsletter.
I learned that there is a movement afoot to bring “social and economic pressures” to bear on the members if and when they return to their grounds. We all know what this means – nothing new here, it has all happened before. Knoxville already has several martyrs. The signers of the charter are being hunted – people have lost their jobs… there is much more, but due to the fact that copies of this issue (minus heading and signature) are going to the newspapers and the Sheriff mentioned, we must write carefully.
In November 1965, Timberline – acting as the Tennessee Outdoor Club – joined with the American Sunbathing Association to ask the U.S. District Court in Tennessee to invalidate the law. The case attracted national news coverage, including a piece in the November 12, 1965 issue of Time, under the headline “Naked Discrimination.”
In Tennessee, which has had little racial trouble, the most ambitious civil rights case in years got underway last week. The plaintiffs, for a change, were not negroes. They were nudists. At issue before a three-judge federal court in Knoxville was a suit by the Tennessee Outdoor Club, which last year received a state charter to found a nudist colony. In the charter’s words, the co-educational camp was for the sole purpose of “social, sun, air and water therapy… without the confinement of clothing.” But before the project could take off, local residents persuaded the Tennessee legislature to pass a law making nudism a misdemeanor.
John and Henry Roberts (having a claim of lost employment due to the statute), the Tennessee Outdoor Club, and the American Sunbathing Association acted as plaintiffs in the case, which was decided on January 12, 1966. The decision was written by Senior District Judge Leslie Rogers Darr of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
It is quite clear that nudists have the constitutional freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas. Attached to this freedom of association is also the freedom of action which utilizes the beliefs and ideas for the assemblies, if such action is compatible with the freedom of others.
There is nothing in the proof whatever to indicate that nudism is other than an idiosyncratic, though innocuous, practice which engenders no harm or danger either to its members or society in general. In view of the fact that it lies uncontroverted in the record that the aim of nudists and nudist colonies is simply to indulge in amicable association with the purpose in view to promote physical and mental health, I can come to no other conclusion but that nudists have a constitutional right to practice their beliefs in the manner heretofore indicated.
It is my thought that the Tennessee nudism statute prohibits the practice of nudism in clear and understandable language. However, I conclude that the freedom of association and the right of privacy are each constitutional rights, which, for the purposes of this investigation, are absorbed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Applying these principles to the validity of the Tennessee Public Act, Chapter 176 (Section 39-3009 TCA), results in the conclusion that this legislation is unconstitutional as violating substantive due process.
While I believe that what has been said is sufficient to establish that this state statute is unconstitutional, I am inclined to think that this statute works a discrimination against nudist colonies and their members under “the equal protection of the laws” provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Judge Darr added this amusing addendum:
Lest I be heralded as the patron saint of nudism, let me add this hasty remark: The wiles and lures of that most peculiar cult completely elude me. It seems in fact something of a mystery why those who engage in its strange practices are willing to suffer both the stings of outraged public opinion and voracious, ravenous insects in order to pursue its illusory rewards. To my personal way of thinking the theories of nudism are not only foolish but down right distasteful and indelicate. But as such theories play no legitimate part in a judicial opinion, I shall call all personal remarks short, simply stating that in our triune form of government it is the particular duty of the judiciary to protect individuals and minorities in their constitutional rights even though their beliefs and activities may be heretical or unpopular.
By invalidating the Tennessee prohibition on nudist parks, a federal court, for the first time, established a precedent for the constitutional right of private nudist clubs to exist throughout the country.
“Hip! Hip! Hooray! For Timberline and victory!” The Roberts brothers proclaimed in a January 30, 1966 letter to Adam. As a result of the delays caused by the court case, John and Henry were unable to take on the caretaker positions at Timberline. Still, they played a critical role in the legal challenge to Tennessee’s hastily-passed 1965 law outlawing nudist camps. In letters to Adam, the twins expressed their willingness to be arrested to force the courts to confront the law. Instead, they served as plaintiffs in the precedent-setting federal case. In 1966, the brothers parted ways with Timberline to take over operations at Sunshine Park in Mays Landing, New Jersey, the club that had once served as ASA headquarters. They later relocated to Cypress Cove. In a disturbing turn of events, on Monday, March 20, 1986, The Orlando Sentinel reported that the twins were found dead in a blood-soaked motel room in Kissimmee, the apparent victims of a carefully-planned double suicide.
By the end of 1966, lingering hostilities in Knox County and threats of local legislation aimed at disbanding the club inspired the Timberline organizers to relocate the club to rural Crossville, seventy miles west of Knoxville, on the Cumberland Plateau.
Timberline’s move to Crossville
In the late 1800s, a group from Indiana purchased land in Crossville. It established the Pomona Settlement to tend to the apple orchards of the former Pomona Fruit Ranch, which had been owned by John Wood Dodge, a respected artist whose paintings can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Pomona Settlement drew the attention of Crossville and Monterey residents when it was rumored that the group’s women danced nude in the orchards each morning to encourage more abundant apple harvests. For many years, paintings of the naked dancing women were sold in area tourist shops.
It seemed fitting that Tennessee’s first dedicated nudist resort would be located nearby, leasing land off Highway 70 near Old Pomona Road. The club was generally well-received by locals, though operating as a seasonal co-op in a remote, wooded area was not without challenges. With many Timberline organizers continuing to live in Knoxville and Nashville, the club remained unattended in the winter months and occasionally suffered vandalism by locals. In the February/March 1974 issue of The Bulletin, Timberline’s co-manager Fran described one such incident, where she arrived at the camp to discover the signage had been destroyed, and her office had been broken into and ransacked.
I decided that it was time to call the sheriff, and upon reaching for the phone discovered that the receiver had been torn from it and was nowhere to be found. Luckily I was able to activate the extension in my trailer and notify the authorities. Timberline is now sporting a new metal type gate and the welcome sign will soon be remounted on metal posts.
Despite such challenges, the summer of ’74 marked Timberline’s tenth anniversary, and a celebratory luau was held on July 20. The August/September 1974 issue of The Bulletin noted that of the original 27 charter members, only one remained. Still, several made the journey to celebrate Timberline’s anniversary, including its first president from Knoxville, Adam, who visited with his daughter.
Manager Bob (also P.R. Chair of the ASA) reported in the June 1976 issue of The Bulletin that caretaker’s quarters were being added. The December, 1977 issue of the publication suggested that year-round activities were beginning to take place.
Timberline finished a wonderfully full season with a Halloween party October 22. We gathered in the club house kept toasty warm by our newly installed Franklin Stove. As the ghouls and goblins came in from the dark, we set out lots of goodies. Everyone enjoyed cream cheese dip, fried chicken and cheese straws topped off with plum cake and hot mulled cider. Imagine, if you can, a room full of people doing 13 goofy activities (jumping on one foot, making faces, shouting “Timberline” in a different order simultaneously). This was no mere mixer. This was pandemonium!
Timberline’s rapid growth was described in the January-February 1978 issue of Natural Life. “Timberline is only a seasonal club, operating from May through September. The primary reason for this is the fact that it is a small co-op situation with no resident owner or manager.” The writer observed that the Cumberland Plateau’s snowy winters made the club “hardly the time or place to dash about in the buff.” The more pressing issue continued to be that the leaders of the club resided in various distant locations across Tennessee. The club’s manager lived in Nashville, which was “a fur piece” from the grounds. Though the lack of an onsite staff remained a problem, Timberline was making great progress in becoming a full-service resort. A 30x40 clubhouse with a community kitchen and two A-frame cottages had been constructed, and a lake had been dug. In addition to the new amenities, Timberline began a greater effort to add to its 108 members through events and festivals. The July 1979 Bulletin described preparations for Timberline to host “Dixie Days,” an annual festival that rotated between several southern nudist parks, one that included volleyball and horseshoes tournaments, a royalty contest, and a watermelon seed spitting contest.
In 1987, Timberline was purchased by Glenn and Bea, who worked hard to transform the park from a rustic co-op to a full-service, year-round resort. The clubhouse added a plaque announcing, “There are no strangers at Timberline Lodge - only friends you haven’t met.” Thanks to the availability of undeveloped acreage around the park, Timberline doubled its size to 142 acres by the end of 1987. In 1988, Timberline began hosting “non-landed club weekends” to welcome clubs without their own physical spaces. In August 1992, The Bulletin included an announcement for the Tennessee Pickin’ and Jammin’ Festival. “Glenn, owner of Timberline Lodge… is no stranger to the world of music. Having received the Young Composers Award and having performed his original composition with the Knoxville Symphony when he was 11 years old, he went on to teach public school music for 16 years.” Glenn was particularly proud of Timberline’s music-themed events and its illuminated “disco” dance floor, the only one of its kind in any nudist club in the country.
“Timberline Boasts New Bed and Breakfast Inn” proclaimed a headline in the September 1991 Bulletin, ushering in a new era for Timberline by opening an impressive new two-story lodge dubbed the Treetop Inn. The inn included twelve guest rooms on two floors, overlooking the sizable inground pool. Timberline added an adjacent thirty-acre farm to its property the following March, with a farmhouse available to rent to large groups.
Timberline’s growth during the early 1990s was similar to what was happening with nudist parks around the country. Unlike in the early days of rustic campgrounds, nudists were less inclined to join a co-op club that required them to spend their weekends doing chores and making improvements to the properties. The Bulletin was moving away from promoting clubs as working communities, instead depicting them as vacation destinations or “resorts.” A description of Timberline in the February 1993 Bulletin demonstrated this shift in marketing.
The management philosophy at Timberline is simple: give nudists a first-class facility to get away from it all and not lift a finger if they don’t want to. “One thing is for sure, no one who visits Timberline will be doing any work. We’re not a co-op club, a facility where you work to gain membership,” said owner Bea. “From previous experience, we know people don’t want to come here and work… they want to play.”
By the end of the 1990s, Glenn and Bea were working harder than ever to open up Timberline to non-nudists to attract prospective new members and maintain good relationships within their community. In June 1995 the resort hosted Tennessee Wildlife Resources officers for an educational workshop on nudism. A report in that month’s Bulletin quotes an officer as saying, “I will certainly have a different attitude about nude recreationists when I encounter them.” His colleague added, “I hope that every law enforcement official in Tennessee has the opportunity to attend a training session like this.” In 1997, Timberline acquired a restored train car and opened a luncheon spot named Hobo’s Tea Room, as well as a small railroad museum in a space outside the nude area of the resort. This addition allowed both locals and tourists to meet the resort’s owners, staff, and members, and learn more about the nudist idea, in a fully clothed setting. Timberline even built a relationship with the local Mennonite community, which provided cheese and other farm-fresh goods for the restaurant and events.
Publicity nearly ended Timberline in the early 1960s, but throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Timberline’s active self-promotion made it one of the most successful clubs in the southeast and drew comparisons to Florida’s Cypress Cove. The club was featured in radio, newspaper, and television interviews and a highway sign near the park’s entrance. A van with Timberline’s information on the sides drove around nearby towns and cities. GTE Telecommunications even filmed a commercial on the Timberline grounds.
Timberline helped to make Tennessee a travel destination for nudists from across the country. It also inspired two other lodges to open within the state.
Rock Haven Lodge
The year 1967 would be an important one for nudists in Tennessee. Not only did Timberline establish its permanent location in Crossville, but a new resort began to take shape in Murfreesboro, just south of Nashville. Here, in a (very) rocky, wooded 25-acre area off Bradyville Pike, was the site founders Bob and Louise selected as the home of ASA Group #638 – Rock Haven Lodge. The May 1981 Bulletin explained that Rock Haven was organized by members of Timberline Lodge. “As so often happens, a substantial segment broke away and set up their own park at Rock Haven, and as so often happens, the offspring has more members than the parent.” July 1984 Bulletin described its inception:
A few friends hiked through the woods, cut trees, selected building sites for the pool and clubhouse, picnicked, and enjoyed friendship for several weekends. Bulldozing a road was a must! Members built a huge bonfire to send smoke signals to the bulldozer operator guiding him to their chosen site… Naturally, a meeting house with restroom facilities and swimming pool were high on the priority list. Two families borrowed money for the construction of the quality steel inground pool and somehow it was fenced. Fortunately Bob, a construction worker by trade, was not stopped by the earth of rock. Dynamite shaped the pit for the septic sewage system as well as the swimming pool.
Following the example set by Timberline organizers in Crossville, Bob went to great lengths to build good relationships with the Murfreesboro locals, helping to neutralize any opposition before it had a chance to organize.
Bob made a point of hiring neighbors at Rock Haven for his construction crews. Almost every family in several mile’s radius had worked on the club grounds, had met and become acquainted with members before the weather was suitable for shedding clothes. The neighbors were friends; they adored Bob and Louise and other members.
An ASA charter was presented to the Rock Haven owners by ASA President Bob Johnson in 1969, and the club received its first substantial coverage in the April 1970 Bulletin.
Brand new ASA club Rock Haven in Tennessee added its 50th member, appointed a club manager, had a visit from ESA President Paul Arnold and entertained visitors from the Timberline, Enchanted Fawn and Tri-State Clubs... all during the month of February. Rock Haven, located at Murfreesboro, 30 miles from Nashville and 70 miles from Chattanooga, already boasts a clubhouse and is looking forward to entertaining ASA members from other clubs going north or south.
A grand opening celebration was held on August 15, 1970, which was covered in the September 1970 Bulletin:
Saturday, August 15, 1970 is a day that will long be remembered by all who attended the Grand Opening of Rock Haven, Tennessee’s newest and fastest growing nudist club. Located in the middle of Tennessee, Rock Haven has only been in existence a little more than a year and already is showing signs of becoming a number one club in the south. Bob Johnston of the ASA, officiated at the ribbon cutting ceremony to formally open the beautiful new swimming pool. The pool is rectangular in shape and has a standard diving board and a curved aquatic slide. The weather was perfect and volleyball, horseshoes and swimming were the order of the day. Saturday evening, everyone relaxed while they viewed the new ASA film The Takeoff. Mr. Johnston gave an informal speech before and after the showing of the film giving pertinent information about the film.
On April Fool’s Day, 1972, Harold and Maxine purchased Rock Haven. Under their leadership, Rock Haven became the first nudist park in the country to be featured in a state-sponsored brochure for camping and was even listed as a “family attraction.” Ten years later, the ASA General Assembly awarded the Irwin Koch Hospitality award to Rock Haven.
In 1984, Rock Haven was sold to its third set of owners, a Czech couple named George and Nancy. At the time, they were negotiating to buy another park, Florida’s Sunny Palms, opened and managed by legendary nudists Reed and Zelda Suplee. As the November 2018 Bulletin explained, “Reed was in declining health… and put Sunny Palms up for sale. George was interested in purchasing Sunny Palms but did not act quickly enough.” Before they could make their move, Reed’s non-nudist wife accepted an offer from DuPont to buy the Sunny Palms property for use as a testing lab for its paints. Though disheartened by the Sunny Palms sale, they soon learned about the availability of Rock Haven Lodge. “We were not sure exactly where Murfreesboro, Tennessee was,” Nancy told The Bulletin. “But the next day we drove there to see Rock Haven. And we bought it that night.”
The couple quickly went about upgrading Rock Haven’s facilities and experimented with many innovative marketing approaches. In 1987, George welcomed guests from the area Chambers of Commerce, with 400 individuals from over 250 businesses in attendance, along with the mayor and local county officials. According to a report in the August 1987 Bulletin:
The highlight of the evening may have been when George, talking to the mayor, was interrupted for a phone call from the governor’s office! The governor wanted to attend the meeting, but because of the number of cars on the grounds, there was not enough room for his helicopter to land. George offered to pick him up at the local airport, but he would not have arrived at the meeting in time… As of this writing, 14 couples have returned for visits.
Nancy also began an innovative series of presentations to psychology classes at nearby Middle Tennessee State University and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. This outreach boosted the number of young adult visitors to the park, which led to special student events and discounts.
George attracted some controversy in 1994 when the Tennessee General Assembly sought to expand the definition of indecent exposure to include simple nudity. Some accused the Rock Haven owner (also ASA President at the time) of not doing enough to confront the law, as he reportedly sought no more than an exemption for the state’s private nudist parks. In his 1998 article A Hole in the Flag, originally published on the Naturist Action Committee website, Bob Morton, NAC Chairman from 1997-2017, described the 1994 law which criminalized nudity on public lands in the state.
It delivered a body blow to naturists with legislation that criminalized simple nudity on public lands and placed skinnydipping in the same category as public sodomy and bestiality. A person commits the offense of indecent exposure if that person “appears in a state of nudity” (Tenn. Code Annotated, Section 39-13-511). An exception to that law, negotiated on behalf of landed nudist resorts in the state, narrowly exempts “a private facility which has been formed as a family-oriented clothing optional facility, properly licensed by the state.”
Naturists advocating for discrete nude use of public lands believed they had a serious shot at gaining an exemption to the law. NAC, AANR, ESA, and MSA split the cost of hiring lobbyist Sharon Johnson. Johnson proposed this amendment:
‘Person’ (violating the law) does not include a naturist, who is an individual exercising a belief in or practicing clothing optional activities without the intent to offend.
As Bob Morton observed, “State law in Tennessee would recognize social nudists as an entity for the first time in U.S. history,” establishing what could have been an important precedent for the rest of the country. But when the final version of the bill was signed into law, it omitted Johnson’s suggested amendment, and kept the exemption for private nudist parks.
One of the more interesting features to be built at Rock Haven (other than its remote control car racetrack) was its railroad, described in the August 2001 Bulletin.
Rock Haven railroad was the brainchild of member P.T. and it quickly drew widespread support from a dozen other members at a meeting last fall. P.T. built sections of railroad track from the ton (literally) of rails that were purchased. Member Bambi donated a traditional caboose to the train. For George’s birthday in June, his wife Nancy bought him a brand new shiny red locomotive (65 ton switcher). On Memorial Day weekend, the official golden spike ceremony was held with the symbolic last spike of the first section completed.
On August 1, 2005, George and Nancy retired from running Rock Haven, and the park was sold to Phoenix residents Dennis and Susan, who first tried nudism while on vacation in Jamaica in 1993 and had been members of Arizona’s Shangri La from 1996-2005. Tragically, Dennis passed away just two years later, leaving Susan to run the park on her own. Susan has been featured in several local and national news stories about Rock Haven, including the October 3, 2019 issue of Newsweek, when a brush fire broke out on a nearby farm, and Susan sent the camp’s 1964 Ford fire truck to help.
A group of residents at a nudist park in Tennessee helped to contain a brush fire on Wednesday which threatened to burn down a trailer and a power pole, according to reports. Susan, one of the residents of the Rock Haven Lodge nudist park—which is located near the intersection—noticed something was wrong after seeing heavy smoke during her drive home. She called 911. “I looked out to my left and saw a lot of smoke and I thought, that doesn’t look good. I got in touch with some of my guys and said, take the fire truck and go.”
Rock Haven led to one short-lived club, Summertown’s Tsoyaha Lake, which opened in 1984 and was named after a 16th-century Native American tribe initially based in the Tennessee River Valley.
The club seems to have lasted no more than one season, despite an impressive set of amenities described in an opening season newsletter:
Now is the time to get your “uniform” in shape for ’84. The newest camp in Tennessee is now officially open. It boasts 40 acres, 12 acres in pines, the rest deciduous trees, two fishing ponds, one lake, a lovely clubhouse, fruit and nut trees, four springs, and a space beside the clubhouse for swimming pool, volleyball, and a jacuzzi.
Other short-lived campgrounds emerged in west Tennessee, including The Garden and Utopia, but like Tsoyaha Lake, they lasted for no more than a season or two, and very little is known about them.
In 1964, a state representative flying a helicopter over a nudist camp sought to outlaw nudism in Tennessee. In 1987, the Tennessee governor made plans to attend a gathering of area Chambers of Commerce at a Tennessee nudist camp, but his helicopter was unable to land in the crowded parking lot. That’s a lot of progress in just over 20 years!
Like many 1960s-era ASA nudist parks, Timberline and Rock Haven were originally organized with restrictive admission policies, and hosted traditional ASA events like pageants and sports competitions. Eventually, their owners followed the ASA’s lead in moving away from marketing their clubs as working co-ops to appeal to a broader set of consumers seeking relaxation and recreation. But in the early 1990s, a new philosophy of clothing-optional living was emerging in the United States under the leadership of free beach activist Lee Baxandall and The Naturist Society of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In 1993, it would inspire a new kind of club to open in the state, just a few miles from Timberline. This new club would be built by a group of Timberline members who were unhappy with the club's direction and shared an ambitious vision of creating a self-contained “naturist village.” But nudists in the state would soon face a new set of challenges, far more complicated and difficult to overcome than angry politicians and outraged citizens. 🪐