Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:
Stories from Camp Read's Past
A Brief History of Camp Read
Bill Langham - Rye, NY
This article appeared in the Brant Lake Association’s Spring 2023 BrantLaker Newsletter.
The Boy Scouts of America is over a century old. Established in 1910, chartered by Congress, Scouting spread throughout the United States based on its mission of character development, good citizenship, self-reliance, and promoting the benefits of outdoor life. A key ingredient of accomplishing these goals is summer camp, originally espoused by Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the World Scouting Movement in 1907, at his camp at Brownsea Island in Britain. The Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation (CSR), on Palisades Road at the north end of Brant Lake, is an exemplar of the traditional Scout summer camp.
The history of the property goes back to the mid-19th century when it was the site of five family farms in a valley surrounded by several mountains. Life on one of these farms, the Roberts family farm, is described in Bears, Bibles and a Boy*, a book by Jesse David Roberts, the third son of the family. The land was eventually sold to Clarence Lyman Collins, a Wall Street cotton broker, in 1885 for $14,000, whereupon “Colonel” Collins built his $200,000 “Adirondack Camp.” The Hermitage included a large lodge, horse barn, several out-buildings, and a private 1/4 mile racetrack where he could race his beloved “driving horse” Lookaway with his friends, who included New York politician Al Smith. A monument to Lookaway is located at Camp Read in the infield of the almost completely overgrown racetrack.
The next owner of the Hermitage was Fred Stone, a popular actor, dancer, and comedian who played Scarecrow in the original 1903 Broadway Production of The Wizard of Oz. Fred Stone went on to stardom in silent films and theater. Stone purchased the Hermitage 1923 for $75,000. The property remained in the Stone family until after World War II.
Colonel Collins' Hermitage Lodge was later named Lester Lodge in 1948 when the Scouts acquired the property.
For more information on historic Camp Read buildings, click HERE.
Camp Read is named for Curtis (Curt) Seaman Read, son of William A. Read and Mrs. Caroline Seaman Read. An Eagle Scout from Purchase, NY, Curt Read joined the Yale Aero Club. This became the “Millionaire’s Unit” when club members dropped out of Yale and became part of the Naval Air Service that was subsequently attached to the British Naval Air Service in England.
Ensign Read died in the crash of an experimental seaplane at Dunkirk, becoming one of the first American aviators killed in WWI. Read was buried at Dunkirk with full military honors. Mrs. Read provided funds to start a Boy Scout camp named in memory of her son. His name lives on at the Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation on Palisades Road.
The White Plains, NY Fenimore Cooper Council (now the Greater Hudson Valley Council) held its summer camp, the original Camp Read, at Long Pond in Mahopac, NY beginning in 1920 and later contracted to use Camp Siwanoy, in Wingdale, NY as their summer camp.
A search party identified the 750-acre Brant Lake property. Realizing the site’s potential as an ideal setting for a new, larger camp, the Council purchased the Hermitage property and started development using the original Collins buildings for a dining hall, activity center, nature lodge, trading post and camp offices. Chub Pond (also called Rogers Lake) became the site for waterfront activities.
Council executives Fred Smith and Joe Cooke, legends to old-time Read staff and generations of Scouts, acquired the property in 1948. John Farley and Bob Johnson describe their first visit to camp as follows:
"Fred Smith told us to take the old Siwanoy Camp Truck for an all-day adventure up Rt 9. We loaded it up with cots, tents, equipment, and lashed a canoe on top. We arrived at dusk and turned up the rutted camp road. Upon reaching the old stone entrance pillars, we honked the horn and shouted, 'Don’t give up hope,' eventually reaching the lodge about two miles later."
More on this adventure HERE.
Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation began operating in the summer of 1949. Today CSR comprises four distinct camping experiences: Camp Buckskin, a traditional Scout summer camp with its 300-seat Newton Dining Hall, named for legendary Camp Ranger Bob Newton; Camp Waubeeka, at the southern end of the reservation, where campers cook for themselves; Summit Base, at the foot of Stevens Mountain, where high adventure week-long trekkers explore the charms and challenges of the Adirondack Preserve by backpacking, canoeing, and bicycling. A fourth camp will focus on skilled trades, STEM, maker arts, and equestrian studies.
The reservation is under the full-time care and management of Kris O’Connor, the latest in a long line of Camp Rangers. Art Boland served as Ranger from the camp’s inception in 1949 until his retirement in 1967. Art Boland not only managed the property, but was also tremendously influential in developing many areas of the camp’s slate of program activities for campers, including the institution of the camp-wide August game. From a description of Art in For Joys We’ll Never Forget** (FJWNF): “... an integral part of the camp’s program as a storyteller, songwriter, inspiration of campfire skits, songs, and gags,” Art Boland was revered by staff and campers alike. Many of his innovations are still in place today at CSR. Of note, Art served for many years on the Horicon School Board, Town Board, and acting Town Supervisor.
Art & Shirley Boland
Bob Newton became the second long-term Camp Ranger in 1969. Born in 1935 in the Brant Lake area, “Newt” served as Ranger until his retirement in 1997. According to FJWNF, his example of hard work, pride, leadership by example, integrity, and good humor inspired hundreds of camp staffers. A collection of Newt’s hill-country phrases including “You know what to do, just use your judgment” and “Daylight’s a burning” can be found on the Camp Read Association's website. For 27 years, Bob Newton was the gentle and guiding force behind the growth, development, and ongoing operations as CSR grew from its modest beginnings into the widely praised and accredited premier camp it is today.
Bob & Gert Newton
Camp Read offers year-round activities. For six summer weeks, CSR is home to upwards of 1800 young men and women under the guidance of a superb staff. Work weekends in the spring bring many former staffers and Scouting volunteers back to set up camp for the summer. The Camp Read Association sponsors a Fall Hike each autumn and in the winter, the heated Log Cabin and old Heller Farmhouse host ski and snowshoe parties.
The future seems bright for the Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation. Traditional Scout camp summer attendance is experiencing a resurgence as Covid relaxes its grip and people seek outdoor experiences that only the Adirondacks can provide. The STEM Ranch is a very exciting project and is expected to provide new and engaging activities for youth. Situated in the valley defined by the three Brothers Mountains in the east and Stevens Mt. and Little Stevens in the west, with two lakes for waterfront activities including swimming, fishing, canoeing, and small-boat sailing, horse trails, hiking, mountain biking, and field sports, Camp Read will continue to provide memories for years to come.
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* Bears, Bibles and a Boy is available at the Horicon Town Library.
** For Joys We’ll Never Forget is available in the Horicon Free Public Library or for purchase at the Camp Read Trading Post.
For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!
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