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Out & About: Bridgewater exhibit focuses on camp life

  • The Atwood family's Camp Gunsmoke is one of many featured in a new Bridgewater Historical Society exhibit about camp life in the town. (Courtesy Bridgewater Historical Society) Courtesy of Bridgewater Historical Society

  • A group gathers at Booth Camp in 1971. The photograph is part of a Bridgewater Historical Society exhibit about camp life in the town. (Courtesy of the Bridgewater Historical Society)

  • Bruce Putnam with a deer outside his family's camp in Bridgewater. The photograph is part of an exhibit celebrating camp life at the Bridgewater Historical Society. (Photograph courtesy of Bridgewater Historical Society) Courtesy of Bridgewater Historical Society

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2020 9:42:14 PM
Modified: 9/29/2020 3:57:26 PM

Every fall, families throughout Bridgewater would take to the woods.

For around two weeks, they’d make camp and go out into the forest to get a deer.

“It’s such a big part of Bridgewater’s history,” said Polly Timken, vice president and curator of the Bridgewater Historical Society, during an interview at the nonprofit organization located off Route 4 on North Bridgewater Road.

The camps are the subject of the historical society’s latest exhibit called “Camp,” which is open by appointment by emailing bridgewaterhistoricalsociety@gmail.com.

“The families in Bridgewater provided us with a lot of material,” Timken said.

Among the many photographs, the exhibit also includes shirts made from material made at the Bridgewater Woolen Mill that are shown in advertisements for outdoor clothing sold at Woolrich Woolen Mills. There are also items that were kept at camps including wall hangings and lanterns.

“I think it was a family tradition to go to camp and people always looked forward to it. They gathered around the stores where they took the deer in to be weighed and charted,” said Jeannette Sawyer, president of the historical society. “You got to see people that way, the men did, they did a lot of comparing their deer to somebody else’s.”

While the camps varied in construction, most did not have electricity or plumbing. In the warmer months, they were often the site of family reunions and other gatherings.

“They were basic and cheap to build,” Timkin said. “You built with what you had.”

The meat was always put to good use: In days before freezers were commonplace, the meat was dried or canned.

“Deer hunting is such a part of life here because you want that deer to eat for the winter,” Timken said.

While the men would gather at camp, the women would create their own social circles.

“I think the children stayed home with the mothers a lot and the mothers would get together and sew or knit with the children, let the children play together,” Sawyer said. “As the children got older, they did stay at camp. Young children did not usually stay there.”

The women would also hunt.

“That deer provided a lot of meat for the winter and that’s why the wives hunted too,” Sawyer said. “If you got two deer to a family, that was really good.”

For youngsters, taking their first deer was a milestone that is still practiced today.

“Camp really was a rite of passage for kids to go out with dad, get their deer,” Timkin said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

 Correction

The photograph which depicts 10 m en sitting around a table full of liquor bottles in November 1971 was taken at the Booth camp. An earlier caption with this story misidentified where the photo was taken.




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