The Boys, and Girls, of Summer: The Pioneering Camps of the Upper Valley
Girls of summer arrive at the Ely station to attend Lake Fairlee’s Camp Quinibeck, which opened in 1911. Special train cars
carrying summer campers from urban centers stopped at stations from Thetford and Ely to Fairlee
Photo courtesy Frank J. Barrett Jr.
Camp Moosilauke in Orford originally had rustic cabins such as this one. The camp still uses some of the cabins and the
original dining hall.
Camp Moosilauke photograph
At Quinibeck on Lake Fairlee, campers are shown presenting a classical tableau, around 1915. Fairlee Historical Society photo
Virgil Prettyman established Camp Moosilauke for Boys in 1904 on Upper Baker Pond in Orford. Camp Moosilauke photo
Boys from Lake Morey’s Camp Lanakila prepare for an expedition, around 1926. Established in 1922, it was part of the Aloha family of camps and served “the little brothers of Aloha and Hive campers.” Aloha Foundation photo
Bryan Cranston, a cast member in "Breaking Bad," lifts up his champagne glass for photographers at a premiere screening to celebrate the final episodes of the television series at Sony Pictures Studios on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Residential youth camps have flourished in the Upper Valley from early in the 20th century. The people who established these camps were pioneers in the camping industry and their influences were lasting.
They inspired a period when city children arrived here by train to stay at camps with Native American names, where they shot arrows, sang around campfires, slept in tents, and even traveled to Sunday morning services in “war canoes.’’
Concerns about city life began it all. Leslie Paris’ Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp says that as America became more urbanized, there were fears that increased leisure for youth would lead to boredom, listlessness and “unsavory influences.”
Camping pioneers worried about a loss of “familiarity with the natural world, a slower pace, a rootedness in the land.”
The first camps were established in the 1880s and by the 1930s more than a million American children went to camp each summer.
Most of the early camps were for boys. 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, a native of Wells River. She taught in New York and spent summers locally.
The exact date she established “Miss Farwell’s Summer Camp for Girls” on Newbury’s Halls Lake is something of a mystery. Some sources list the date as 1905 or 1906. However, a 1909 New York Times advertisement stated that the camp was in its 20th year. If it was established in 1889, that makes it the oldest girls camp in the nation. Even the later dates place it among the oldest. The camp bears Farwell’s name to this day.
Of all the local pioneers, the 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 helped establish 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.”
Dr. Gulick’s philosophy about youth camping is reflected in this 1917 statement: “There seems to be something almost magical in the common things of life that draw people together … experiencing the ... 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,’’ it said, “souls fuse.”
An Aloha Foundation publication recalls 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 a 1925 directory 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 and local educator, Dodge played a leading role at the camp from its inception in 1911 until it closed in 1971. Dodge’s influence extended beyond Quinibeck as she promoted good camping practices nationwide.
In neighboring New Hampshire there were several early camps. In 1904, Virgil Prettyman established Moosilauke, a camp for boys, on Upper Baker Pond in Orford. Nearby in Wentworth, N.H., is Pemigewasset, established in 1908 by three friends, Drs. Edgar Fauver, Edwin Fauver and Dudley Reed. “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). In Thetford Center: Campanoosuc (1907) and Kokosing (1920). Others were established in later years.
While some of the camps offered separate age-group divisions, others created affiliated camps to separate younger campers from older ones. Boys were separated from girls and it was only later that co-educational camps were created. In 1915, Billings began devoting half the season to boys and half to girls. Shanty Shane was created as a family camp for those parents who had children encamped nearby.
Many camp names were taken from Native American cultures. This was in keeping with the pseudo-Indian programs often carried out in the camps. 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. Billings took its name from the Billings family of Woodstock, generous patrons of the camp. Lochearn’s name reflected its Scottish theme.
Those who established and staffed these camps were individuals who had built careers working with young people in public and private settings.
At camp, youngsters 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. This was “fun with a purpose,” a fulfillment of the “back to the country” movement.
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 offered manual training and rifle practice. Moosilauke’s early program included auto maintenance. Interviews with local elders reflect a variety of opinions about camping. Those who grew up in poorer families rarely had the opportunity to go to camp. The farm or streets were “camp” for many. Their summer activities were more likely 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.
Many recall positive camp experiences, often resulting in lasting friendships. One local resident commented, “It was the highlight of my youth.” But there were also bouts of homesickness and pranks. While most discount short-sheeting of a camp cot or a nightly snipe hunt as harmless, being the camp “goat” bordered on harassment.
Camps had a major impact on the local economy. They offered summer employment to those on school breaks. Many were counselors or worked in camp offices, kitchens, infirmaries, laundries and on camp maintenance.
During the first half of the century, campers usually arrived at local stations aboard special train cars from the cities. Locals 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 locally. Camp Quinibeck maintained its own farm and provided year- round employment for its farmers. When parents’ weekends began, the impact on local hotels and restaurants was significant.
Campers and counselors purchased items at local stores. An entry in a 1910 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. Campers also participated in local events. 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. Some families attended a camp over several generations. Former campers sometimes became camp staffers.
An added benefit of camping was to free parents during the long summer vacation. One advertisement stated: “Thoughtful parents find in Camp Passumpsic a happy solution to the summer vacation problem.” Programs were designed to send youngsters back to their parents healthier and more self-reliant, “enriched and inspired” by a summer at camp.
This article is adapted from one published previously in the “Journal Opinion.” Coffin has authored “In Times Past: Essays From the Upper Valley,” available at local bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org