Those childhood memories from the 1920s and '30s would become the germs of story ideas that launched her writing career under her married name, Jean Craighead George, that lasted half a century and produced 100 books steeped in nature, including the award-winning titles Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain.
Today the house in Cumberland County is vacant and suffering from decades of neglect. Saved from possible demolition by a small group of neighbors - most of whom have a connection to the Craighead family - the house with its sagging floors and deteriorating roof still faces an uphill battle against time.
A loosely organized Craighead House committee purchased the property from George's cousins after her death in Valhalla, N.Y., in 2012 at age 92.
Johnson Coyle, whose family ran the lumber mill near the house and was close to the Craigheads, said the group would like to see it used as an environmental education center to encourage future generations of naturalists and celebrate the work of the generations of Craigheads who lived there.
In addition to its period architecture, the house holds an unusual visual legacy of the family that speaks to joyous summertime memories and its collective love of nature.
On the walls of the kitchen is a guest book of sorts where visitors left their signatures in words and pictures over the years. Some of the most fanciful drawings of winged goddesses, owls, and other critters were by George herself.
Craighead House committee member and area resident Tom Benjey, who is writing a history of the family, says the house captures a unique place and time.
"It was a combination of surroundings - the mountains, the field, the creek, and railroad - the freedom, the kids ran wild and the nature of the people who were extremely inquisitive and born teachers," said Benjey.
George was born in Washington into a family of naturalists: Her uncle was a famed fly fisherman, her father a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist, her brothers, twins Frank and John, would introduce falconry to the United States, traveled the globe for National Geographic, and became world famous for their research on grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park.
Built by George's grandfather for his bride in 1886, the summer house still has its ornate walnut paneling and "yards of gingerbread," as George put it in her memoir Summer of the Falcon.
Some of George's books, particularly Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain - which both won Newbery Award honors - are considered classics that have influenced generations of readers, including Robert Kennedy Jr., who credits My Side of the Mountain with sparking his love of falconry, leading him to a career in environmental law.
"It's as though nature was a character in her books, she brings it so to life," said Starr Latronica, president of the Association for Library Service to Children. "She exposed children to the wonder of nature and to the nature of wonder."
Starr said My Side of the Mountain - the story of a boy who runs away from home and survives on his own in the Catskill Mountains, was chosen to represent the state at the National Book Festival.
Latronica recalls participating in an event with George at a library in the Catskills featured in the book.
"I've never seen people so emotional and so engaged with a book," she said. "The people who came to hear her speak had tears in their eyes."
Coyle hopes many of those same readers will come to the Craighead house one day to learn about George and her accomplished family, local history, falconry, and other environmental topics.
For now, however, the wild is creeping back into the house.
Coyle points out raccoon paw prints on the tub and nesting material drifting down from holes in the ceiling.
In George's old bedroom, her writing desk sits by the window, one of the few pieces of original furniture left.
Coyle pauses a moment during his tour to contemplate the view of the giant sycamore bending over the creek with the rope swing and the water meandering toward the dam.
"Jean, herself, is in the creek," he said. "Her family scattered her ashes there."
Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.