America's Oldest Boy Scout Camps
By David L. Eby
Which camp is the oldest? It appears the title belongs to Camp Owasippe in Michigan.
The date a camp was established depends on the criteria you choose to use. It should
be simple but it really is not; especially when bragging rights are involved and
you have some extremely loyal scouters for almost every camp. Do you determine the
year the camp was established by the year the land was purchased (even if it stayed
vacant for a year or more)? Do you go by the year they built the camp (even if they
didn't use it that year as a camp)? Do you go by the year they held their first
summer camp operation there (even if they didn't have ownership of the land yet)?
I can say that the criteria used to determine the date of establishment of the twelve
camps in this article varies, depending on what the particular council chose to
use. Some used the date they bought it or took ownership of the land; some used
the year they built the camp and some used the date they held their first summer
camp operation at the camp or a combination of the three factors. I don't believe
that using a purchase date by itself is a correct thing to do. If you had 40 acres
of woodlands that no one camps on for a year or two, that is not a camp. It is a
piece of vacant land, even if it is owned by a scout council. If you built a camp
and /or had a council summer camp operation going on a parcel of land then you had
a camp (my opinion anyway). I don't think if some troop happened to have a camp-out
on some land that eventually became a camp would that qualify as an establishment
date; only a true summer camp operation run by a council would.
If you visit the Treasure Island Scout Reservation website it says Treasure Island
is "America's oldest continuous Scout Camp". Then if you visit Chicago's Camp Owasippe's
website it says Owasippe is "America's oldest continuous Scout Camp" and that it
started in 1911. They can't both be the oldest since they have two different starting
dates. The oldest (known) camp by whatever definition you choose; the year they
bought it (1910), built it (1911) or held their first camp there (1912) appears
to be Camp Owasippe.
After having sent out calls for help on Scouts-L, asking for assistance in ASTAR
and visiting dozens of camp and council websites it appears that there are twelve
scout camps (and maybe more) in the country that were created between 1910 and 1919
that are still in existence. Let me caution that just because someone enters information
in a website does not mean that the information was fully researched before doing
so. (More so the unofficial sites) This became evident when I found three different
camps on the web all claiming that they were the oldest scout camp west of the Mississippi
yet their dates of establishment were 1919, 1920 and 1924. The oldest camps that
have been located and verified by way of official websites and /or written documentation
such as old camp manuals are as follows:
Camp Owasippe - located near Whitehall, Michigan - Chicago Area
Council - since 1911
The first 40 acres that became Camp Owasippe was purchased in 1910 near Whitehall,
Michigan. In 1911 a small group of scouts and workmen dug a well and built the basics
of a camp. In 1912 they held their first summer camp operation there. The camp was
originally at Crystal Lake and was called Camp White in 1912. In 1913 the name was
changed to Camp Owasippe. Since vacant land is not really a camp, 1910 would not
seem to be the start date for Owasippe. They took a steamship to get there for camp
in 1912 so it isn't likely troops were hiking in from Chicago for weekend camping
in 1911. The 1919 camp manual gave the original name of Camp White and actually
said the camp was established in 1912 (when they held their first camp). The Chicago
Council was using the 1912 date in 1972 as the Owasippe patch that year says it
was the camp's 60th anniversary. In 1961 they used a patch that said 1911 was the
start date (their 50th anniversary patch). In 1996 they put on their camp patch
that it was Owasippe's 85th anniversary (using the 1911 date). They seem to have
been undecided as to which of the two years to use. I suppose you could take your
pick (and many will) of 1910, 1911 or 1912 but I would have gone with the year 1912
since it wasn't used as a camp until then. Even though it started out with 40 acres
it eventually grew to about 14,000 acres in size. Some of it was sold off in recent
years including the original 40 acres so that the camp currently contains about
5,000 acres. This is NOT to say there were two different Owasippes in two different
locations as there was not. They didn't buy a second site, move to it and sell off
the first. The original and current acreage was all included in one massive reservation.
It is still a very large camp with a tremendous history. Their camp manual, which
is online, has an extremely interesting story in it about Chief Owasippe and his
Camp Teetonkah - located near Jackson, Michigan - Great Sauk
Trail Council - since 1913
Camp Teetonkah is located on Wolf Lake and has been since 1913. It originally
contained about 50 acres. Their 1930 camp brochure states it will be Teetonkah's
eighteenth season. It would seem that if you subtract 18 from 1930 you would come
up with 1912 but that is incorrect. If 1930 was the 18th year and you count them
backwards, their first year was 1913. Upon digging a little deeper, Teetonkah has
operated on the same land since 1913 but the land was owned privately until the
Jackson Council took official title in late 1916 or early 1917. Many early camps
were not always owned or owned right away. Some councils rented or leased the land
or simply had free use of it from the owners until they had the finances to buy
it. The Jackson Council held their first summer camp operation there (at Teetonkah)
in 1913 and continued to do so for the next eighty something years. It is now just
a weekend camp as is Camps Belzer, Miakonda and Glen Gray. A number of local deceased
scouters have had their ashes scattered at Camp Teetonkah to be part of the camp
for eternity. (Perhaps the ultimate form of camp loyalty.) I don't know if this
is something unique to Teetonkah or if it has occurred at other camps as well. The
list of those who will forever be part of the camp includes a former council president
as well as a council executive. According to a 1921 news clipping the name "Tee-Tonk-Ah"
means "Big Lodge" They had camp award patches there at least as far back as 1921.
Treasure Island Scout Camp - located near Philadelphia - Cradle
of Liberty Council -since 1913
Treasure Island has a rather interesting history. It was originally privately
owned by a scoutmaster named Oscar G. Worman who used it for his troop. Philadelphia
Council leased the island from him for six years starting in 1913 and also held
their first summer camp there in 1913. The council bought the island at the end
of the lease in 1919. It was originally called Ridges Island. A council committee
was inspecting the 50 acre island in 1913 when one member remarked that the scenic
island truly was a "Treasure" and his comment was seized upon immediately as the
name for the new camp. Treasure Island Scout Reservation is made up of two separate
islands with the other being Marshall Island. What is interesting about this is
that Treasure Island is part of New Jersey and Marshall Island is part of Pennsylvania.
When they put up a suspension bridge to connect the two islands it was deemed an
interstate bridge and required special permission. While their website says Treasure
Island is the oldest continuous scout camp in the country, it isn't older than Owasippe
which dates back to 1911 (or 1912, take your pick) and with a 1913 established date
Treasure Island is tied with Camp Teetonkah as the nation's second oldest camp.
Unless you want to disqualify Owasippe since they no longer own the original acreage
they started on which after talking to a Philadelphia Scouter is apparently the
reasoning behind the claim on the Philadelphia website. Even if you subscribe to
that line of thought Treasure Island would still be tied with Teetonkah as the oldest
two. I will let others debate and say that the three of them as a group are the
three oldest known Scout camps in the nation. My vote would still go to Owasippe
even though I would love to vote for Teetonkah which my council owns. Treasure Island
had felt patches going back into the teens.
Camp Delmont - located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania - Cradle
of Liberty Council - since 1916
Camp Delmont was named after the two counties that made up the original Valley
Forge Council, DELaware and MONTgomery. It is now one of the two camps that make
up the 1400+ acre Musser Scout Reservation in Pennsylvania. The original 35 acres
was purchased for $500.00 and included a stone house. Summer Camp was first held
there in 1916. The name "Camp Delmont" was used at other locations for summer camp
previous to 1916. The first camp of the Valley Forge Council was Camp Pequea, located
along the Susquehanna River 15 miles Southwest of Lancaster, this camp was owned
by a trolley company and was offered to all scouts from Eastern Penna. In 1913,
the Council obtained the rights to use White's Island in the Delaware below Scudder's
Falls and this camp was known as Camp Delmont. This camp was used in 1913 and 1914.
In 1915, they moved to an island in the Schulykill known as Pioneer Island. It was
used during 1915 and 1916. In 1916, the first section of what is now Delmont Scout
Reservation was purchased and used that year as a summer camp.
Yawgoog Scout Reservation - located near Rockville, Rhode Island
- Narragansett Council - since 1916
Camp Yawgoog is named after an Narragansett Indian Chief and was a 150 acre parcel
that was leased for one year then purchased by the Rhode Island Boy Scouts (RIBS)
and includes two ponds named Yawgoog and Wincheck (another Indian Chief). They held
their first summer camp operation there in 1916.
Indian Mound Scout Reservation - near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin -
Milwaukee County Council - since 1917
Indian Mound in named after a 1,000 year old Indian mound that is shaped somewhat
like a lizard or turtle and is a 291 acre scout reservation with two camps on it.
Camp Miakonda - located in Sylvania, Ohio - Erie Shores Council
- since 1917
Miakonda means "Crescent Moon" and literally is inside the city of Sylvania,
Ohio and was originally a 78 acre camp. A history of this legendary camp was published
in the December 1999 issue of ASTAR. The half circle patches from Miakonda came
in two sets, the three tree (1950's) and the four tree (1960's). Most councils were
doing very well if they owned even one camp in those early years. Toledo Council
had finances and had two camps in the teens. Because the Vineyard Lake camp in Michigan
was where they held their summer camp from 1915-1923, Miakonda didn't host a summer
camp operation until 1924 but was built and used as a camp in 1917.
Camp Belzer - located near Indianapolis, Indiana - Crossroads
of America Council - since 1918
Camp Belzer is named after the creator of the Firecrafters organization, Francis
O. Belzer, who was the longtime professional in Indianapolis. It was originally
called Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi (which meant "loud, happy place") and is a 130 acre
camp next to Fall Creek. It was renamed Camp Belzer in 1948 after the death of their
Camp Russell - located on White Lake near Woodgate, N.Y. in the
southern Adirondack Mountains - Revolutionary Trails Council – since 1918
Samuel T. Russell of Ilion, N.Y. first invited Ilion scouts to Camp Idlewhile
in 1917 and in May 1918 gave his 15 acres on White Lake to the Scouts as well as
constructing the first permanent Camp Russell camp building that year. In 1919,
Mr. Russell built and donated a dining hall and kitchen building on the Camp Russell
scout camp’s property. Expanding access to the camp, Mr. Russell helped the Scouts
form a new corporation later that year, with leaders from three different areas
of Ilion, Utica, and Rome (Herkimer and Oneida Counties), with the only condition
being that the property be used every year for at least four consecutive weeks as
a Scout camp.
Camp Russell is nationally recognized for its outstanding conservation programs
and is the only scout camp in the nation to have twice received the U.S. Department
of Agriculture’s Gold Seal Award (1971 and 1981) In 1985, Camp Russell was awarded
the Silver Jubilee Conservation Award, a one time only award from the U.S. Department
of Agriculture presented to the Boy Scout Council with the consistently best conservation
program in the United States.
Scouthaven - located near Arcade, New York - Greater Niagara
Frontier Council - since 1918
Scouthaven was purchased in 1918 but was first called Camp Crystal as it was
located on Crystal Lake; it was not called Scouthaven until 1923. It is a 400 acre
camp and in the early years Scouts got to it by riding a "milk" train which went
by the camp. It was originally owned by the Buffalo Council which was located inside
the Erie County Council until the two merged in 1949. It is rather unique as it
was a turn of the century amusement park that was converted into a Scout camp. The
dining hall is the former dance hall from the park and the Camp Rangers office is
the railroad depot that was used at the park to drop off and pick up passengers.
Camp Wakenah - Since 1918
Camp Wakenah (pronounced wauk-in-naw) is near Salem, Connecticut. The camp occupies
90 acres and has a pond/lake (50 or more acres) for swimming, boating, canoeing,
and sailing. It offers tent campsites, winter cabins and family camping for overnight
groups, an activity field for athletics and camporees, boats and canoes for overnight
groups and a Cub Scout Day Camp Program. The camp is also up for sale, but has not
been sold as of this writing (7/19/01).
Camp Agawam - Located near Lake Orion, Michigan - Since 1918
In 1918 the Pontiac Boy Scout Council in Michigan purchased 115 acres of land
on W. Clarkston Road on Tommy's Lake for $30,000. It was named Camp Pontiac.
In 1920 Camp Pontiac offered a summer camping program for the first time. In
1925 the camp expanded with construction of 26 buildings for $26, 000. The buildings
included a dining hall, administration cottage, cabins and latrines. They were of
wood construction and served for many years but proper maintenance became impossible
during the Great Depression years of the 1930's. In 1928 Pontiac Council expanded
to become the Oakland (Michigan) Area Council. In 1933 Camp Pontiac was renamed
Camp Agawam reflecting the council's expansion outside of Pontiac. Today Camp Agawam
is owned by the Clinton Valley Council and continues to be a Boy Scout camp.
It will celebrate it's 90th anniversary in 2008.
Camp Friedlander - located in Cincinnati, Ohio - Dan Beard Council
- Since 1919
Summer camp was held there in 1919 and they dedicated it on August 23, 1919.
The camp is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation. The original
41 acres was donated by Edgar Friedlander in 1919 and he donated 35 more acres in
1923. The current Dan Beard Scout Reservation which includes Camp Friedlander is
Camp Parsons - located on the Hood Canal in the state of Washington
- Chief Seattle Council - since 1919
Camp Parsons was a 165 acre logging camp and was purchased by Reginald Parsons,
the Seattle Council's first president who donated it to the scouts. The camp was
named in his honor. They held their first summer camp operation there in 1919 and
continue to do so today. The camp is the oldest continuous Boy Scout camp west of
the Mississippi and is the only camp in the west to make the list of "America's
Oldest Scout Camps".
I thought it interesting that each of the twelve camps had some type of honor
society/program attached to it's early history. Owasippe had the "Tribe of Owasippe"
in 1916. Teetonkah had the "Tribe of Keokuk" in the 1930s and for decades after.
Treasure Island has had "Wimachtendienks W.W." (the OA) since 1915. Delmont had
the "Order of the Tipi". Glen Gray has had the "Old Guard of Glen Gray" since it's
early days. Indian Mound had the "Tribe of Ku-ni-eh". Yawgoog had the "Knights of
Yawgoog Honor Society" starting in 1920 as well as the "Wincheck Indians Honor Society"
which was converted to the Wincheck OA Lodge in 1958. Miakonda was used by the "Tribe
of Gimogash". Belzer was the birthplace of "Firecrafters" and and Scouthaven had
the "Tribe of Wokanda" from about 1923-1949. Camp Friedlander was the birthplace
of the Tribe of Ku-ni-eh. Camp Parsons had the "Order of the Silver Marmot" as a
honor society in the 1920's and beyond.
Some information that is on the websites can be quite interesting such as who
is the biggest council owned camp in the country to who is the newest camp in the
country or at least that is the claim that was made. One camp had moved it's location
four times this century. If there are other camps out there that were established
between 1910 and 1919, ( and there probably is) I was unable to find information
on them. Many websites do not give starting dates for their camp. It appears that
a number of camps that would have made the list have been sold off in the last five
or six years. For now this seems to be all of the nation's Boy Scout Camps that
are deserving of the title "America's Oldest Scout Camps" with the criteria of being
established in the 1910 to 1919 era and still being in existence. Whether the term
"established" means the year it was purchased, the year it was built or the year
they had their first camp operation, it will determine what the year of establishment
would be as far as to a particular camp. Regardless, all the camps listed in this
article have a lot of stories to be told. There are also MANY camps out there that
were established in the 1920's that are still going strong. If you are going to
research camps I believe the most reliable information will come from documentation
from the 1920's-40's as it seems facts can change over the years and once something
is published people presume it is indeed fact. It is not always the case.
Camp Conewago - Since 1919
Camp Conewago (pronounced con-a-woga) was purchased in 1919. The camp is 25 acres,
bordered on two sides by creeks. It is located near New Oxford, PA. Summer Camp
was last held there in 1948. The camp is unique in that it was set up at to be owned
by a trust independent of the BSA. It cannot be sold by the BSA, only used by them.
The York-Adams Council has control of the camp but does not technically own it.
The trust contains an endowment to provide funds for materials for maintenance.
Scouts supply labor. Camp Conewago is used year-round and provides tent camping
opportunities as well as cabins available for rental. Cub Day camp is also held
A special thank you to Mike Bowman, David Gottshall, Paul Freitag, Jack Simon,
Cary Sitarz, Fred Lang Jr., Paul Myers, Bob Sherman, Dave Minnihan and the dozens
of subscribers to Scouts-L who sent information pertaining to camps in their area.
More Information on other "Oldest Camps":
Camp Bonnie Brae - Since 1919
Camp Bonnie Brae is the oldest continuously operated Girl Scout Camp in the U.S.A.
It is located at the northeast shoreline of Big Pond in East Otis, Massachusetts
which is in the Berkshire Mountains about 30 miles west of Springfield. Camp Bonnie
Brae is situated on over 200 acres and is owned by the Pioneer Valley Girl Scout
Camp Tamaracouta - Since 1912
Canada's oldest Boy Scout Camp. Located 60 kilometers from Montreal in the Lower
Laurentian Mountains, this 1000 acre site encompasses Lake Tamaracouta. It is owned
by the Quebec Provincial Council of Scouts Canada. The camp has a honor campers
organization called the Knights of Tamara Society. which was founded in 1933.