While Savannah, Georgia might be where the Girl Scouts were founded by Juliette Gordon Low, the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff is considered by many to be the organization’s secondary birthplace. “The Macy,” owned by Girl Scouts of the USA, is a facility filled with a rich past that has evolved into a sought-after conference center attended by people from all over the world.
“You’re moved by the history” walking the 400 acre campus, according to Dorothy Forcina, Chief Marketing and Communication Officer of Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson. Yet few even know it exists.
University in the Woods
The Macy is named for Edith Carpenter Macy, chair of the Girl Scout National Board of Directors from 1919 to 1925. Her husband, V. Everit Macy, purchased and donated land adjacent to an existing Girl Scout camp to build a training headquarters in her memory, said Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society President Karen Smith. Since that time, the property known early on as the “university in the woods” was expanded in 1962 with construction of Camp Edith Macy featuring the Great Hall, and in 1982 a modern building of wood, stone and glass officially opened as the Conference Center. Four years later, the Creedon Education Center, containing meeting spaces and a living area, was added to the complex, which now houses more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 52 guest rooms.
“[Edith Macy] was very active in the Girl Scouts movement,” Smith said, “and the international aspect of Girl Scouting. The Great Hall looks like the United Nations inside, with different flags.” Indeed, in 1926, the site hosted the Fourth International Conference on Scouting, the first international Girl Scouting event held on American soil, attended by 56 delegates from 31 countries, according to Girl Scouts USA officials.
There haven’t been many changes to the campus since, but it has remained a consistent draw to corporations and organizations – not just Girl Scouts – for meetings, retreats and events, according to Sherri Hoy, Director of Sales and Conference Planning. The appeal – and credibility – of the Macy is that it is an International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) certified conference center in a retreat setting, she added, awarded the IACC Gold Level of Sustainability in 2009 per its website.
“To have IACC certification on 400 acres of wooded property is a huge draw to Girl Scout training and retreats,” Hoy said, adding that it is an invaluable resource for Scouts locally and around the country. Hudson Valley Girl Scouts are fortunate to have the Macy so close, Forcina added, noting the hundreds of girls who visit each year. Girl Scouts and organization leaders gain invaluable experience, bird watching, letterboxing, geocaching, and exploring the ponds, getting in touch with nature.
Harnessing the Past, Embracing the Future
The welcoming center fulfills Edith Macy’s dream of an instructional facility staffed and equipped to offer high quality training and guidance for Girl Scout leaders, according to Bernice Johnson, Vice President of Procurement, Vendor Management and Properties at Girl Scouts USA.
“Being in the space, surrounded by history yet poised to impact the future, I thought to myself Girl Scouts really do ‘make the world a better place,’” Johnson added, quoting a basic tenet of the organization.
The Macy campus is run by Benchmark Resorts and Hotels, a hospitality management company based in Texas. Several longtime employees have been critical to the center’s operations; Peter Stafford has been the Director of Operations since it opened in 1982, and Hoy has been with the center for 21 years.
“I love what I do, love the property, the people that I work with, my customers,” Hoy said. “I think the longevity of the employees says a lot for the property itself. They put their heart into the work that they do and they deliver the customer service that shows how much they care about the property and our guests,” she added.
Yet still many local residents remain unaware of the gem in their backyards. Briarcliff resident and Chamber of Commerce President Mike Milano called the Macy a “hidden secret,” only learning of it when picking up a friend after he had lived in Briarcliff for several years.
“I had no idea it even existed,” Milano said. “When you think of conference centers in this area, they’re upright buildings, not tucked away in the woods. It’s obviously unique in that fashion. It’s got more character.”
Similarly, Briarcliff Village Manager Philip Zegarelli likened the Macy to a cabin in the mountains. He’s attended the conference center several times and always looks forward to it. “It’s just one of those little gems that takes you back to a different era,” he said.