Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:
Stories from Camp Read's Past
We welcome you to Old Camp Read
We’re mighty glad you’re here…
We’ll set the air reverberating
with a mighty cheer!
- Old Camp Read Song
CSR in the Adirondacks: the First Ranger and Original Buildings
July 27, 2021
A little history from Jim Smith, former Staff Member and Camp Tomahawk Director, for those who did not know, but have often wondered....
With some input from Peter Scott Oberdorf, Tom Dietz, and Bill Daley. Mostly from memory with reference to Art’s book and the CRA Historical Guidebook.
In 1948 the Fenimore Cooper Council serving White Plains, Bedford and Brewster areas, purchased the property, the original Adirondack Great Camp of C.L. Collins. The property, known as The Hermitage, at the northeastern tip of Brant Lake became Camp Curtis S. Read. The original Camp Read, given in Curtis S. Read’s memory by his mother, was located at Long Pond in Mahopac, NY. It was sold to the Town of Carmel for a town park. The proceeds, and a substantial gift from Sarah Lester of Scarsdale Troop 1 were used to buy the new property at Brant Lake.
Fred Smith, Council Scout Executive, was checking out the new property and looking for a Ranger to manage the property year-round. It was a stroke of luck that Art Boland, who had been working for the Heller Farm nearby, met with Fred for an interview. Art’s Scouting background helped him land the job. Fred made a choice that would turn out to be very fortunate for hundreds of future staff members and thousands of future campers that would follow. For Art became not only the Ranger, but a major contributor of program ideas that set the tone for what would become the "magic" of Camp Read. (This is a story in itself, so stay tuned for future additions to our story page.)
The new property included 750 acres of land bordered by the Adirondack Park and grew to 946 acres with the purchase of the Heller Farm Property (now the STEM Ranch). The original property had one small pond (Chub Pond or Rogers Lake - now Buckskin Lake, as we know it), and several buildings. It had been a Great Camp in the 1920’s called The Hermitage, owned by Col. Clarence Lyman Collins. There was no Ranger’s House or garage when you first came into Camp. In fact, the original entrance to the property was closer to the shores of Brant Lake where stone pillars still stand as the entrance to the Hermitage property. The second set of stone gates are just before the Ranger’s House and the third “gates” were inundated when the Waubeeka Dam was created and are now in the middle of Waubeeka Lake. On the top of the third stone pillar “gates” was a sign engraved: “Don’t Give Up Hope” designed by Hap Simmons and placed there in the early days of camp.
The sign originated from the fact that in those days the ride up the Camp road was through dense forest for almost the entire two miles. The 3rd gate and "Hope” sign was about a third of the way up the camp road and just when you thought you’d never get to the end, you’d arrive at camp. Hap also made the signs on the inside of the latrine doors: “Now to the Washstand, … Just Like at Home”. But those came later.
The first structures you came to after the “Don’t Give Up Hope” Gates were in a clearing on the left side of the road. A log cabin, originally known as the “old farm house”, was the first residence for Ranger Boland and his wife, Shirley. The cabin was dedicated to the Bolands in 1999, and renamed “Boland Lodge”. There were also two old barns, one of which is still standing. Once the Ranger’s House was built where it stands now by the shop, the old farm house was used for pre-staff lodging. Meals were served courtesy of Shirley Boland at the Ranger’s House.
As you continued up the camp road, the next structure was a little house on the left just past the road on the right that leads up to the Butler Building, Climbing Tower and the primitive camp sites that are all that remain of the original Camp Tomahawk. This house was built by the Lesters as a “doll house” for their daughter. It was 1½ stories high with 2 sections downstairs and a sleeping loft upstairs. The doll house was converted to become the first Health Lodge with an examining room and another section with beds for sick campers. When the dam was built to create Lester Lake, (the zip line pond, as it is known today), the Waterfront Staff used the “doll house” for living quarters until the new cabin (now mountain bike wash and storage) by Lester Lake was built. The “doll house” then became the Cook’s Cabin for the Tomahawk Kitchen Chefs.
Just a hundred yards or so up the road on the right was the main Great Camp Building, Col. Collins' old summer residence, which later came to be known as Lester Lodge. The stone wall that enclosed the rose garden still remains and surrounds the Bill Brucker Sr. Office (Summit Office, formerly Camp Tomahawk Office). Lester Lodge was the original Camp Read Office and had a large room that became the Staff Lounge, complete with a window to the Trading Post. A large porch ran across the building’s front offering wonderful views of Mt. Stevens. Living quarters for the Camp Director and his family were on the second floor. The other side of the main floor was used as the Nature Lodge. Butch Smith, Fred’s son, was the first Nature Director.
The Lodge was used for many years, but time took its toll. When Camp opened each season, someone had to crawl under the Lodge to hook up the plumbing. Each year, as the building settled into old age, the opening got smaller and smaller until it was no longer accessible. Regrettably, in 1963, its condition had deteriorated so much that it had to be demolished. But the stone wall remained. Many camp and campfire program was created on the porches of Lester Lodge and resulting Camp Offices.
Across the road from Lester Lodge was the Carriage Barn which was to become the Tomahawk Dining Hall. This building stood at the base of Stevens Mountain and had a full footprint storage area underneath. This basement area eventually became the Quartermaster's Shed. Originally, the basement had stalls for horses or cows, and the main floor of the Dining Hall was used for carriages with loft space above for hay.
The Dining Hall was a quite a grand structure, with a fireplace on the South end and a large picture window with a magnificent view of Mt. Stevens on the North. One of the great things about the Dining Hall was its acoustics. You could stand at the South end, talk normally, and be heard very clearly at the North end. This was great for announcements and leading songs, and for rainy day indoor campfires when needed. The fireplace was dedicated to Andrew Kalmykow III, a former staff member who passed away while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Heavy snows and high winds on March 24, 2001 resulted in the Dining Hall's collapse. The only thing left standing was that fireplace, chimney and mantel, complete with dedication plaque intact.
Standing on the Lester Lodge front steps facing North, you would have seen a Bird Cage to the left of the Dining Hall (now Summit Base Gazebo). This Birdcage was re-created by Camp Staff (Dick Trier, Bill Brucker and Rich Lutomski, among others), as a gift in the late sixties, and is still standing. Dedication Plaques from structures no longer with us are displayed in the Birdcage. It is also used as the burial site for the Camp Read Association time capsule.
A large barn and small outbuilding were located across the road and east of the Dining Hall, towards the foot of Third Brother, near the trailhead to Spring Hill Pond and the Essex County line. The outbuilding was used as a tool shed for the maintenance crew and later served as Tomahawk's Trading Post. A “root” cellar was located to the left side of Lester Lodge, which is now gone.
The Butler Building now stands over the original Hermitage tennis courts. The Race Track and the Lookaway monument were all features of the original Collins Great Camp. Lookaway was Col. Collins’ favorite horse and apparently quite famous in its day, racing as far away as Providence and Delhi, near Albany. The Butler Building, which was added later, was so named because it was built by a company named Butler. In the sixties, this structure was home to the handicraft area and was also used for camp fires. Summit Base uses this area for Friday night meal prep for the scouts departing and returning from their treks, canoe trips and other high adventure activities.
When Art Boland started in ‘48, he cut acres of trees with a 2-man buck-saw (he had some help). The logs were transported to a saw mill in Chestertown where they were cut into 50,000 board feet of lumber for building tent platforms, dining hall tables, benches, wash stands and outhouses. Volunteer scouters came up on weekends in early June to do the work. These weekends were the “original” Eager Beaver Work Weekends and four campsites were built so that camp could open in 1949.
Well, I hope this helps to fill in some of the blanks, and to preserve some of the history of Camp Read.
Yours in scouting,
Former Staff Member and Camp Tomahawk Director
Pictures and descriptions of the original buildings and structures mentioned in this story can be found in the Historical Guidebook published by the Camp Read Association. This book is a field guide of the Memorials, Dedications and Landmarks at Camp Read. It can be purchased at the Camp Read Trading Post or via the CRA Web-site: Campread.org.
The picture above is one of Shirley Boland’s sketches, featured in the book written by her husband, Art: "From Early in the Morning; The Life and Times of Art Boland."
(The Red Fin Press; P.O. Box Six; Adirondack, New York, 12808)
The sketch depicts Lester Lodge, the original residence of the estate, and was used for the first 14 years as the camp office and residence for the senior staff.
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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