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Yesteryear: Unusual Lakes Region Summer Camps

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - July 22, 2013

Summer Camp

Attending a summer camp in New Hampshire.

Summer camps abound in the Lakes Region. Children come from all over the United States and beyond to enjoy swimming, campfires, crafts, hiking, horseback riding, tennis, and much more at a wide variety of camps.

Beyond the standard children’s summer camps, there have been other, lesser-known camps for all sorts of purposes. In the early 1900s, Harvard University established a summer camp of a different sort on Squam Lake in the Holderness area. The Harvard Engineering Camp had about 300 acres near Squam Lake with sprawling land including shoreline, fields, and mountains. In other words, the property was an engineer’s dream.

The Harvard camp had four two-story connected camp buildings with a covered porch. The camp was a dream location with a large, central living room showcasing a huge open fireplace and a lecture room. The camp building also had a large dining room, kitchen, and servants’ quarters. Dormitories accommodated up to 40 persons. Drafting rooms and storage rooms served as classrooms with a rustic decor.

Tented sites were added to accommodate more engineering students. The area was called a “tenting grove” with room for 200 students. The tents could sleep four and had wooden floors and canvas tops and sides. For city students, it would have been pure heaven to sleep outside and most preferred the tent grove to the indoor dorms.

Getting to the engineering summer camp was a long trip in those days, with travel by crude roads and over the water. (The Harvard-educated, city-bred young men must have wondered what sort of wilderness they had sign on for!)

Once at the camp, engineering students stayed for six weeks of land and topographical courses and two further weeks with geodetic study. This was the age of railroad travel, long before planes became popular, and surveyors and engineers were still needed to maintain and design new rail lines. Thus, three weeks of railroad survey training also was included.

The vast land that encompassed the camp was perfect for the observations and calculations, mapping, surveying, computing, and field work for the students. The naturally rocky, mountainous land provided lots of obstacles which also was advantageous for on-the-job student training.

The day began for the student-campers with a blasting horn at 6 a.m. In the 20 minutes before breakfast was served, students wanting a bath dove into icy lake waters for a quick wash. The class and fieldwork began by 7 a.m. Lunch was makeshift, eaten at whatever outdoor spot the students were working. The class day ended at 4 p.m., at which time another dip in the lake to clean up was in order.

After dinner, students were left to make their own entertainment in the country. They could do swimming, fishing, rowing, hiking, or exploring nearby mountains. Gathering around the campfire was always a popular evening pastime.

Over the years, the tuition for the engineering camp climbed to $11 a week; advanced engineering classes had a higher fee of $48. (While these fees are a pittance by today’s standards, they were in line with tuitions of the time period.) The fee included board, tent lodging, lab charges, and instruction. Men only were admitted to the engineering camp.

Another type of instructional camp was offered in Holderness when Life Magazine photographer-editor Harold Fowler purchased the former private summer residence called the English Manor in the mid 1940s. He converted the large summer home into the Holderness Photographic Colony. The beautiful and peaceful setting of Squam Lake was an ideal place for a photo school that welcomed both amateur and professional photography students. Little is known of the photo camp; it did not run for long and soon was turned into an inn. Today it is known as the Manor on Golden Pond.

Water sports have been popular for years in the Lakes Region. On a hot and humid summer’s day, who can resist swimming and boating on Winnipesaukee and other area lakes? In the 1940s and ’50s, waterskiing was becoming very popular in the area but it wasn’t easy to find instructors. (Lakes Regioners were enjoying winter skiing, but summertime waterskiing was just coming into vogue in New Hampshire.)

In the late 1940s, a waterski school opened in Wolfeboro. Bruce Parker operated the school at the Northeast Marina near downtown Wolfeboro. Not many knew how to teach waterskiing in New Hampshire at the time, so Parker hired instructors from Florida. Those who wanted to learn waterskiing could do so for a $3.50 fee.

Waterski school pupils ranged from elementary students to senior citizens. The school ran for a few years until hotels and resorts began to offer their own private instruction in waterskiing for vacationers.

On Newfound Lake, Mowglis Camp for Boys opened in 1903 and was a companion camp to Onaway, a summer camp for girls located just up the road. Mowglis’ founder was Elizabeth Ford Holt who purchased a farm on the shores of Newfound Lake. She was camp director from 1903 to 1924 and is remembered by those who knew her as “quietly dominant in bearing and character”, While always dressing simply and wearing a “dejected” old straw hat, she commanded respect from the boys under her care each summer.

Early on, Holt obtained permission from author Rudyard Kipling to borrow names from his Jungle Books and named the Mowglis buildings Toomai, Baloo, and Akela, among others. Kipling corresponded with Mrs. Holt and maintained an active interest in Mowglis.

The buildings have a rustic, yet appealing look, as they did so long ago. Kipling’s Jungle Book names still mark various Mowglis buildings and campers come from around the world to spend a summer on Newfound Lake.

Imagine strumming your guitar while sitting on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Further, imagine being surrounded by fellow musicians and great professional acoustic musicians.

The desire to improve musically has been bringing musicians to Geneva Point Center in the Moultonborough area of the Lakes Region for 17 years. Each summer, the annual WUMB Radio Summer Acoustic Music Week (SAMW) offers a retreat and a chance to work on and play music with some of the best folk musicians and teachers in the country.

Sponsored by WUMB Radio in Boston, SAMW features a week of intensive instruction, jamming, workshops, dancing, and musical collaboration with instructors attuned to the needs of each student. Class topics include Flatpicking and Fingerstyle Guitar, Fiddle, Banjo, Mandolin, Voice, Blues Styles, and Songwriting. Dancing is offered as a “playful” component of the program.

Musicians love the private Geneva Point Center atmosphere, with 200 acres of woods and green spaces. When not taking music lessons or collaborating with other musicians, participants can hike wooded trails or stroll the shoreline.

Lodging for the music camp is offered in a rustic country inn (two to a room) and in bunkhouses (four to a room) scattered around the property. Tent sites also are available.

The description of the music camp, although years away from the early Harvard engineering summer school, is similar. Students have found the biggest draw of each camp to be not only the class instruction but also the beautiful surroundings of the lakes and the mountains. 

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