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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Going to Summer Camp

Early in the 20th century train-loads of campers arrived in the Upper Valley for summer residential youth camps established by pioneers in the industry. (Photo: Frank.J. Barrett, Jr.)
Some of the nation's earliest camps for girls were located in the Upper Valley. Anna Dodge of Post Mills was a force behind the establishment of Quinibeck on Lake Fairlee. Campers are shown here presenting a classical tableau, c. 1915. Performances of this type were prepared for camp and public audiences. (Photo: Fairlee Historical Society)

One of the earliest, if not the earliest, camp for girls was established on Halls Lake in Newbury by Julia Farwell. Riders from the camp are shown here in front of Hale's Tavern in Wells River about 1910. (Photo: Newbury Historical Society/David Kazan)

Virgil Prettyman established Camp Moosilauke in 1904 on Upper Baker Pond in Orford. In the early years boys swam without bathing suits. The photo below shows the rustic cabins original to the camp. Today the camp still uses some of these cabins and the original dining hall. It is described by the current staff as "a recess with no classes." (Photos: Camp Moosilauke)

Girls of Summer gather on the railroad platform at Ely c. 1916. (Photo:Thetford Historical Society)

Boys from Lake Morey's Camp Lanakila prepare for a camp expedition around 1926. Establihsed in 1922, it was part of the Aloha family of camps and served "the little brothers of Aloha and Hive campers." Below is a photo of Mother and Father Gulick (Luther and Harriet Farnsworth Gulick). The Gulicks and their extended family are responsible for establishing the Aloha camps, Camp Hanoum (now Farnsworth) and the Camp Fire Girls. (Photos: Aloha Foundation)

Going to Summer Camp”
In Times Past
Journal Opinion July 28, 2010
“There seems to be something almost magical in the common things of life that draw people together. Doing those things together that all the people of the world have done together; experiencing the world-old and world-common feel of the earth under one’s feet, the look of green trees, the touch of fresh water; cooking in the open; sleeping on the ground about a camp fire; carrying the pack; standing the strain of the long trail…under such conditions souls fuse.” Dr. Luther H. Gulick, 1917.

Residential youth camps have flourished in the Upper Valley from early in the 20th century. Those who established these camps were pioneers in the camping industry. This column will identify several of those pioneers and describe their lasting contributions. The impetus for this column comes from an unpublished manuscript from David R. Kazan, a summer resident of West Newbury. His manuscript describes the contributions of Julia Farwell of Newbury and the camp she established on Halls Lake.

Leslie Paris’ Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp describes the origins of the camping movement in the cultural changes of the late 19th century. As America became more urbanized there were fears that the increased leisure for youth would lead to boredom, listlessness and “unsavory influences.” Many camp pioneers worried that urban living was unhealthy and would also diminish, “a familiarity with the natural world, a slower pace, a rootedness in the land.” The first camps were established in the 1880s and served several hundred middle and upper-class Protestant boys. In the 50 years that followed, youth residential camping expanded to include other groups and by the interwar years, more than a million children went to camp each summer.

Most of the early camps were for boys and young men. A few visionaries felt that the benefits should be extended to girls. One of the earliest pioneers in camps for girls was Julia H. Farwell. Born in 1855, she grew up in Wells River and was a graduate of Mt. Holyoke Seminary, Barnard College and Columbia College. As early as 1898 she began teaching in the Castle School, a school for girls in Tarrytown, New York. During summer recess she returned to her home in Wells River.

The exact date she established “Miss Farwell’s Summer Camp for Girls” on Halls Lake is part of the mysteries that Kazan explores in his manuscript. Some sources list the date as 1905 or 1906. However, a May 26, 1909 New York Times advertisement states that the camp was in its 20th year. If the camp was established in 1889, that makes it the oldest girls camp in the nation. Even the later dates place it among the oldest. Farwell directed the camp until 1918. The camp bears her name to this day.

Of all the local pioneers, the extended family of Dr. Edward and Harriet Farnsworth Gulick receives the most credit. Known as Father and Mother Gulick, they established Camp Aloha on Lake Morey in 1905 and Aloha Club on Lake Katherine in 1915. In 1910, they founded the Camp Fire Girls and were among the founders of the American Camping Association. In 1908, Harriet’s brother, Charles Farnsworth and his wife Ellen opened Hanoum (now Farnsworth) in Thetford. Sister Ellen Farnsworth established Aloha Hive on Lake Fairlee in 1915 for girls too young to attend Aloha. In 1922, the Gulicks’ daughter Carol Gulick Hulbert and her husband Chauncey opened Lanakila on Lake Morey for “the little brothers of Aloha and Hive campers.”

At the time of its centennial in 2005, the Aloha Foundation recalled Aloha’s opening day: “On June 30, 1905, Father Gulick took the children, Leeds 13, Carol, 8, and Harriet, 6, to meet the train in Fairlee. There they greeted Aloha’s first twenty-three campers, sooty and tired after arduous travels by horse and carriage and a succession of trains. Once in Fairlee, some of the exhausted girls proceeded to Aloha Cottage aboard the Lake Morey Steamer, and some finished the journey by horse and carriage. Trunks and duffels followed by wagon up the dusty lake road.”

Another early camp was Lake Fairlee’s Quinibeck, described in the 1925 Directory of Private Summer Camps as, “one of the most successful camps for girls in the country.” Much of that success is attributed to Anna Dodge. A Post Mills native, Dodge played a leading role at the camp from its inception in 1911 until it closed in 1971. A graduate of Thetford Academy and Castleton Normal School, she was a teacher and superintendent in the Thetford schools. Dodge’s influence extended beyond Quinibeck as she served on the board of the National Association of Directors of Girls’ Camps and hosted sessions for New England camp personnel at Lake Fairlee.

In neighboring New Hampshire there are several early summer camps. In 1904, Virgil Prettyman established Moosilauke, a camp for boys, on Upper Baker Pond in Orford. He was the first headmaster of the Horace Mann School, an affiliate of Columbia College. Nearby is Pemigewasset, established in 1908 by three friends, Drs. Edgar Fauver, Edwin Fauver and Dudley Reed. They were all graduates of Oberlin and Columbia Medical School. “Pemi” is the oldest summer camp in the country under the same continuous family ownership and management.

In this period there were a number of other camps established, some of which were short-lived. On Lake Fairlee: Billings (1906), Big Pine (later Beenadeewin 1908), Shanty Shane (now Ohana, 1911), Neshobe ( later Norway 1912), Kenjocketee (1912), Lochearn (1915) and Wyoda (1916), On Lake Morey: Honomoka (1910) and Wynona (1914). On Lake Armington: Tahoma (1913); Lake Tarleton: Serrana (1916). South Strafford: Ken-Jocketee (c. 1920); Lyme Pond: Pinnacle (1916). On Lake Stinson in Rumney: Eagle Point (1905), Agawam (1919-20) and Stinson (1927); Thetford Center: Campanoosuc (1907) and Kokosing (1920). Others were established in later years.

While some of the camps offered separate age-group divisions within the same location, others created affiliated camps to separate younger campers from older ones. Boys were separated from girls and it was only later that a few co-educational camps were created. In 1915, Billings began devoting half the season to boys and the other half to girls. Shanty Shane was created as a family camp for those parents who had children encamped nearby.

Many of these camp names were taken from Indian legends or landmarks with native names. This was in keeping with the pseudo-Indian programs often carried out in the camp activities. Wyoda was a “beautiful Indian maiden of high ideals.” Passumpsic was a native word for “much still water.” Aloha, Lanakila and Hanoum came from the Gulick-Farnsworth families’ experiences as missionaries in Hawaii and Turkey. However, Billings took its name from the Billings family of Woodstock, generous patrons of the camp. Lochearn’s name reflected its Scottish theme.

The men and women who established and staffed these camps were individuals who had built careers working with young people. They were educators in public and private schools and colleges. Some were staff members in church or youth organizations. Counselors were chosen for their ability to work with children and be positive role models. Parents were assured that the personnel offered group and individual guidance within a carefully supervised and safe environment.

Camp programs were centered in the activities mentioned by Edward Gulick in his 1917 statement. Campers learned to swim, sail and canoe on area lakes and rivers. Wearing required camp uniforms, they hiked local mountains, tented in wilderness areas and went horseback riding on wooded trails. Creative fun in the form of handicrafts, nature crafts and group games made up a portion of each day. Stories, performances and group singing around a campfire rounded out the evening. Accommodations were rustic cabins or tents. For urban children, this was “fun with a purpose”, a fulfillment of the “back to the country” movement, nature up close and personal.

Some camps advertised specialized programs. Farwell “made much of archery” and horseback riding. Hanoum in 1910 tutored campers in foreign languages and mathematics augmented by toasting marshmallows and “girl talk.” Pinnacle advertisements mentioned manual training and rifle practice. Moosilauke’s early program included auto maintenance.

Interviews with local elders reflect a variety of opinions about camping experiences. Those who grew up in rural settings or were from poorer families rarely had the opportunity to go to camp. The farm or village or city streets were “camp” for many. Their summer activities, like my own, were more likely to be self-directed. Some camps operated by church or youth organizations made camping available to girls and boys of moderate means. Billings did that by keeping fees low and by establishing a scholarship fund in 1916.

Of those who went to camp, most recalled positive camp experiences, often establishing lasting friendships. One local resident commented, “It was the highlight of my youth.” But there were also bouts of homesickness and pranks. Those pranks could turn both ways. While most discount short-sheeting of a camp cot or a nightly snipe hunt as harmless, being designated the camp”goat” bordered on harassment and abuse. One elder recalls being thrown into a lake “to learn to swim” as the basis of a life-long aversion to swimming.

The summer camp industry had a major impact on the local economy. It offered summer employment to those who were available because of school and college breaks. Many were counselors and others worked in the local train stations and camp offices, kitchens, infirmaries and laundries. Maintenance personnel positions were both seasonal and year round.

During the first half of the century, campers usually arrived in special train cars from southern and eastern cities and would be dropped off at local stations. Local individuals provided transportation for campers to and from train stations as well as to churches and river docks and on mountain expeditions.

Camp advertisements often noted that fresh produce was purchased from local farmers, eventually supplemented by wholesale produce companies. Camp Quinibeck maintained its own farm and provided year round employment for its farmers. When parents’ weekend began, the impact on local hotels and restaurants was significant.

Campers and counselors purchased items at local stores. An entry in a 1910 camp diary reported that a troop of girls descended on a Fairlee soda fountain and left the young attendant quite beside himself. He was probably not the only local lad upended by these city girls of summer. Having purchased a lantern, the diary writer stated the campers, “lit up the town.”

Campers also participated in local events and often attended local churches. The Post Mills church was filled to overflowing with campers, many of whom arrived via the lake on “war canoes.” Farwell campers enjoyed attending local baked bean suppers. Camp choruses and theatre companies performed for local audiences. In 1911, campers from Hanoum played a major role in the Thetford Pageant. In 1922, Camp Moosilauke Merrymakers began a yearly appearance performing for a Fairlee church benefit.

Some of these camps have closed and others have opened. The Great Depression and World War II impacted the camping industry as did the post-war prosperity. Closed or open, many have alumni organizations. Alumni loyalty being significant, some families attended a camp over several generations. Former campers sometimes became camp staffers. Alumni visits to the local area added to the positive economic impacts.

An added benefit of the camping experience was to free parents of their children during the long summer vacation. One advertisement stated: “Thoughtful parents find in Camp Passumpsic a happy solution to the summer vacation problem.” All programs were designed to send youngsters back to their parents healthier and more self-reliant, “enriched and inspired” by a summer at camp. Therein lies the value of the summer youth camp movement; a movement that has its roots in our region.


  1. looking for camp Ken-Jocketee memorabilia for past camper

  2. I went to Camp Hanoum for about five years in the '40's and would love to hear from any fellow campers from that era! They were some of the best summers of my life and I cherish the memories.

  3. I have a book of attendee photos from Camp Farwell 1922. Does anyone have any interest in this?

  4. I quit School+went to work on the B+M RR Track Spare Gang,ae 17.I remember the Camp Trains stopping at Ely Station,disgorging scores of kids my age +younger.Really envious!I knew the names of most of the Track Gangs from Lewiston to Newbury,Bradford area.Forgotten most now.Good Days!

  5. Dear Sir, So happy to have found your site. I am a former camper and attendee of Camp Wyoda. My father was a counselor during the summers, a teacher of biology in the off season. I have enjoyed your blog site very much. We Wyoda girls are having a reunion next weekend 8/6-8/7/2016 at the former site of Camp Wyoda, now Horizon Day Camp on Lake Fairlee. Was delighted to see all the memorabilia and commentary. So grateful for all the locals who welcomed all of us "city folk" so kindly in all those years. For us it was a beautiful dream. Not all of us came from glamorous or posh lives, and Lake Fairlee, the folks of Post Mills, especially the soft serve ice cream place, hold an important and warm place in my heart. It gave me hope at a young age, that life could be good, and I have carried that goodness with me for the rest of my life. Deirdre