The Girl Scouts’ Camp Townshend

 

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One of the remnants of Camp Townshend cabins

Beyond the White Memorial Foundation, Alain and May White contributed money and land to dozens of other ventures that have greatly impacted the Litchfield County landscape.   Among these are the Connecticut State Police barracks in Litchfield, Community Field, the land for Litchfield Intermediate and High Schools, Wamogo Regional High School, and the Bantam Civic Association.  They also donated 5,745 acres to 14 Connecticut state parks, most in northwestern Connecticut.

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A latrine

The Foundation supported the Boy Scouts by leasing Camp Boyd, adjacent to Sandy Beach (the cabin burned in the 1970s) and the Girl Scouts through Camp Townshend, located along Alain White Road in Morris. Townshend opened in 1940, and by the end of that decade over 700 campers visited the property. The property could house 100 campers and 28 staff members for each two-week camp session, which began in late June.   In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mrs. Barbara Cutler served as camp director, and the facility was overseen by a 22-member Budget, Planning, and Maintenance Committee.

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The interior of a cabin. The writing on the wall says “Cloud, Lightning, Sun, Moon, Star, Rainbow, Rainbow, Bean Sprout, Corn, Blossom, Warrior Mark, Mark of Some Offices”

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Remnants of old telephones?

While Camp Townshend closed in the mid-1970s, and was utlized by the Morris and Litchfield fire departments for  training exercises, a walk through the remains of Camp Townshend has the feel of visiting a Wild West ghost town. Even in the darkest days of fall and winter, it is easy to imagine the sounds of summer coming from the lake.

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The Camp Townshend shore line

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Sandy Beach Memorial

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An earlier post examined the memorial to Alain and May White that stands near the Plunge Pool.  That monument, an inscribed boulder in the woods, was erected in 1980.  An earlier monument to these great conservationists stands at the entrance to Sandy Beach.

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In 1953, the White Memorial Foundation dedicated this monument.  It was designed by James Kip Finch, who served on the Foundation’s board of trustees from 1925 to 1966.

Sandy Beach, c. 1930.  (Courtesy Litchfield Historical Society)

Sandy Beach, c. 1930. (Courtesy Litchfield Historical Society)

 

Sandy Beach is an appropriate place for such a memorial, as one of the goals of the Whites was to make Bantam Lake’s shoreline available to local residents.  The Whites purchased the land in the 1920s from the Wadhams family, who farmed the area.  By 1929 Sandy Beach sported 30 bathhouses as well as a concession stand and a float in the lake.  Sandy Beach was widely popular from its inception.  It hosted nearly 650 visitors on a single day in 1929, and 30,000 people utilized the beach in 1930.  The beach offered cheap entertainment to a region facing the Great Depression.

Photo courtesy of litchfield.bz

Photo courtesy of litchfield.bz

The Whites established the Sandy Beach commission in 1928, which worked with the  Foundation to manage the site.  In 1976 stewardship of the beach passed to the towns of Litchfield and Morris.  After more than 80 years, however, Sandy Beach continues to serve its original purposes of offering local residents a refuge from the summer heat.

Hidden Nearby: Camp Columbia State Park in Morris

DSC_0194This post is the third in a partnership with the Litchfield.bz website.  Litchfield.bz is posting video tours of some of the sites visited by this blog.  To see our video tour of Camp Columbia, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65RY3vqdJ4Q

Camp Columbia State Forest stands as something as a ghost town along Route 109 in Morris.  For nearly 100 years – from 1885 to 1983 – Columbia University held engineering and surveying classes on the more than 500 acre campus, which at its peak occupied nearly one square mile from the shores of Bantam Lake to the Morris/Bethlehem town line.  Here, engineering breakthroughs such as the concrete roof that would later top Madison Square Garden were pioneered.

A 1934 aerial view of Camp Columbia.  Courtesy of the State of Connecticut.

A 1934 aerial view of Camp Columbia. Courtesy of the State of Connecticut.

Land purchases began in 1903.  Prior to this the university had rented land from Mrs. Everett Waugh.  Mrs. Waugh’s farm would become the heart of the property, which soon would feature dormitories, a YMCA building with billiards and ping pong tables, a mess hall, and an astronomical observatory.   Columbia paid $10,000 for the 1903 purchases.

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Officer candidates participating in a World War I training program held at Camp Columbia. Photo courtesy of Columbia University.

In the years prior to World War I, a boathouse was built on Bantam Lake.  Future expansion was halted by the coming of war, and in 1917, officers’ training for the United States Army took place on the property.  Trenches were dug near Munger Lane, and mock infantry assaults swept the camp.  In 1918, the university issued an informational packet for those interested in a second round of training at the camp, which stated that the purpose was to offer “an officers’ training course for men who may be called to the National Army and desire to fit themselves for officers of noncommissioned officers in Government Service.”  The packet stated that the program was conducted by the university, not the Army, but that  it had “the approval and endorsement of the Secretary of War, and the record of the men who attended last summer shows that the course has been effective in preparing men for officers’ rank, real usefulness, and rapid advancement.”

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A 1940s image of the Camp Columbia tower; the tower is still standing but no longer has the hands on the clock. Photo courtesy of Columbia University.

In 1934, a fieldstone dining hall was built and eight years later the central feature of the camp, a 60 foot cylindrical water tower with an observation platform made of local stone was presented to the camp by the Class of 1906.  A 1952 Columbia University press release describes the tower as a “land-locked lighthouse, or the battlement of a feudal castle.”

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Dwight Eisenhower as president of Columbia University.

 Columbia engineering students blasted and leveled the hilly terrain to create a softball field and football field.  In the late 1940s, the Columbia Lions football team held their early season practices here under Coach Lou Little, who paced the sidelines at the school for 26 seasons and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1960.  Little was supported in his efforts by the then president of Columbia, Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Ike is reported to have spent time at the camp watching practices and hunting on the grounds.

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The Instrument House, one of two surviving structures.

Still, the primary purpose of the camp was as a field school for engineering students, and by the early 1950s the summer program was mandatory for these students.  Courses taught at the camp included Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Technology & International Affairs.  Additionally, the Columbia University American Language Center offered classes for those international students who wished to apply to American colleges.  The presence of the 60 or so international students in 1952 – from Korea, China, Japan, Malaya, Norway, Sweden, Colombia, Greece, Canada, Brazil, Engalnd and Italy – allowed the university to declare that the camp was “a veritable United Nations in microscosm, the youngsters live together and work together with no more friction than one would find in any other college class.”

Remains of the old flag circle at Camp Columbia.

Remains of the old flag circle at Camp Columbia.

By the mid-1960s, declining student interest in the camp experience and changes to the engineering curriculum brought an end to the Engineering Department’s use of Camp Columbia.  The university maintained the grounds for special programming until 1983 when it was closed.  While the university struggled to find a buyer for the property, the buildings slowly deteriorated.  In 1989, the Town of Morris declared several buildings to be a public hazard and they were utilized in a controlled burning training exercise.

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Remains of an old fountain at Camp Columbia.

In 2000, the State of Connecticut agreed to purchase the grounds for $2.1 million and began to remove most of the buildings.  Today, only the boathouse, tower and instrument house still stand.  Still, for the explorer willing to walk the grounds, hints of foundations and clearings in the forest provide a glimpse into what was once a thriving intellectual community.

Hidden Nearby: The Throop Family Enterprises Marker in Morris

IMG_3401In the last post we examined the Loveland/King grist mill that once stood along Route 109 east of Morris.  This marker, a plaque attached to a millstone, sits along Route 109 west of Morris and denotes the site of another industrial operation.  Here the Throop family engaged in a variety of enterprises, most centered around milling.

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The Throop Mill, located on the south side of Route 109, where its foundation is still visible. In addition to cider, the mill made shingles and operated as a grist mill for flour. Courtesy Morris Historical Society.

Little information is available about the Throops.  This marker, however, gives an insight into an interesting aspect of Connecticut’s early economy, cider making.  Cider was an important outlet for farmers to turn a perishable product into a lasting one.  Once it was barreled cider was also easy to transport to markets.  Recipes for cider were widespread in the 19th century, with most farmers having their own method.  Some advocated cleaning the press, others recommended using the residue from previous batches to add flavor.  While some recipes called for unripe apples, others used rotten apples.  Some even called for grass to be mixed with the apples.  Cider in the colonial era and the early republic was nearly always hard, and as the alcohol level was quite low was enjoyed by children and adults alike.

wpressx Apples were ground before pressing.  These ground apples would be placed in a bucket, underneath a wooden disc attached to a screw.  By turning the screw the disc would exert pressure on the apples, turning them into liquid and pulp.  Often the press would double as a cheese press.

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Mill Pond, also known as Throop Pond or Jones Pond. The water from this pond was used to power many of the small industries operated by the Throops. Courtesy of the Morris Historical Society.

Cider making was immensely popular on Litchfield County farms.  Records from Torrington indicate that in 1775, the population of 843 people produced approximately 1500 barrels of cider.  There were two cider major cider producers in Morris (then South Farms) – the Harrison family in addition to the Throops.  Litchfield County also had 103 distilleries in 1810, many of which made apple beverages of higher alcohol content.  By means of comparison, New Haven and Tolland counties together had 101 distilleries.

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The Throop house, which burned in 1914. Courtesy of Morris Historical Society.

In recent years small batch production of agricultural products has once again become fashionable.  Syrup, honey, and jams are mainstays at farmers’ markets.  The popularity of these items harkens back to a time when local production of items like cider was not simply in vogue, but rather a way of life.

For information on cider making in early New England, see “New England Cider Mills, Distilleries, and Breweries, 1790–1840” by Roger N. Parks and Sylvie Turner.  Available on the Old Sturbridge Village website, http://www.osv.org/explore_learn/document_viewer.php?Action=View&DocID=1005

Hidden Nearby: The King Grist Mill Marker in Morris

IMG_3281This monument, difficult to see as cars speed along Route 109 in Morris, marks the site of the King Family Grist Mill.  The grist mill was once a vital part of New England communities.  While we usually associate grist mills with grinding wheat into flour, that was not typically the case in New England.  Here, with our rocky soil, it was far more common for farmers to raise rye, corn and buckwheat to be milled.  In fact, white bread was considered to be a luxury.

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An undated image of King’s Grist Mill. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

This particular grist mill, likely built in the 1830s, was initially run by the Loveland family, who operated the mill in Morris (then called South Plains) for nearly fifty years before it was taken over by the Kings.  In addition to grinding grains, the families also utilized water power to saw timber and for the fulling (cleaning)of cloth.  The mill was described by Marilyn Nichols (who wrote its history, likely around 1905) as being “one of the old landmarks and one of the more generally known throughout Litchfield County and other sections of the state.”  Nichols described its location as being “in one of the most romantic and beautiful valleys of Connecticut.”  In fact, Nichols wrote of one local artist who gained distinction – and $400 – by selling a painting of the mill at a New York studio.

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Diagram explaining the workings of a grist mill. Courtesy of National Park Service.

The Loveland/King mill utilized two circular stones to grind.   Traditionally, both stones would have grooves cut into them to act as teeth.  The grains would be poured over the bottom stone while water power was used to turn the top stone, grinding the grain into flour.  One bushel of grain typically yielded 35 pounds of flour.   Johnnycake was the most expensive product of the mill, as it required a special bolt made from silk, and it was a particular target of hungry mice.

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The milldam for the Loveland/King grist mill was destroyed to help create the Wigwam Reservoir for the city of Waterbury.

Farmers would bring their grains to the mill, and the milling usually took place while the farmer waited.  The Lovelands were known to operate their mill until midnight to accommodate the farmers.  Millers usually received a percentage of the grain as payment, and mills often served as commodity houses where grains and flour were traded.

IMG_3282Elijah King took possession of the grist mill sometime before 1874, and while he ran it successfully for some years, changes in farming techniques and the decline of old milling practices left him bankrupt.  In fact, the prevalence of wheat flour from the Midwest and the advent of gasoline-powered engines to mill grains on the farm for animal consumption prompted Nichols to write, “obsolete is the old grist mill in Connecticut.”  Few remnants of grist mills are visible in the state, and the only trace of the Loveland/King mill, once a vital part of the local economy in Litchfield County, is the marker placed by the King family along Route 109.

Update:  Below are two maps depicting the mill.  The first is Clark’s 1859 map designating the mill as Loveland’s mill.  The second is Beers’ 1874 map, showing that King owned the mill at that point.  Note also the numerous structures in the area compared to today.

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Clark’s 1859 map

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Beers’ 1874 map. Thanks to Linda Hocking of the Litchfield Historical Society for supplying the images of these maps!

Much of this information came from Marilyn Nichols’ lecture, available at:  “Old Grist Mills Cease” (2010-367-0) Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library, P.O. Box 385, 7 South Street, Litchfield, Connecticut, 06759

Hidden Nearby: The Morris Academy

Morris monument

This small marker and the remnants of the foundation mark the location of the Morris Academy, a landmark co-educational institution.

James Morris

The Academy was the brainchild of James Morris III, who was born on January 19, 1752 in South Farms (which, in 1859 was renamed Morris in his honor).  Morris’ father James was a deacon, and the son harbored hopes of entering the ministry.  An enthusiastic reader, young James routinely traveled to Bethlehem to borrow books from that town’s library.  His education, which began with these library books, was guided by three remarkable teachers.

Nathan Hale

At eighteen, Morris began studies under Bethlehem’s Dr. Joseph Bellamy, one of the leading theologians of the late 18th century.  It is reported that Morris also studied under Nathan Hale, before enrolling at Yale.  While at Yale, Timothy Dwight, later president of the university and one of the leading figures in American educational history, served as Morris’ tutor.

The Battle of Yorktown

Following his graduation, Morris returned home to help on the family farm, teach students in Litchfield, and ponder a future in the ministry.  The Revolutionary War, however, got in the way.  He served first in the Connecticut Militia, then in the Continental Army, fighting on Long Island, at White Plains, and at Germantown, Pennsylvania, where he was captured.  Upon receiving parole, he hurried to Yorktown, Virginia, where he served Alexander Hamilton during that climactic battle of the Revolution.

After the war he returned home and married Elizabeth Hubbard, with whom he raised five children.  His fellow townspeople elected him both justice of the peace and a selectman.  By 1790, however, when children began regularly showing up at his door, Morris put aside his ideas about the ministry and looked instead for a career in education.

A typical scene in an early co-educational school

Rare for his time, Morris accepted both boys and girls as students.  This sparked significant discussion, as many believed that education would cause women to lose sight of their more traditional roles.  In 1794, a town hearing was held about the situation, and any charges against Morris were dismissed.

The foundation of the Morris Academy

The foundation of the Morris Academy

By 1800, Morris’ school had grown so large that a formal structure was needed.  Wealthy subscribers were enlisted from the area to subsidize the $1,200 cost of the building, which opened on November 28, 1803.  (The building stood on the property where the James Morris School stands today)  By that time, Morris had educated students from all of the New England states except Rhode Island, as well as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and the West Indies.  He averaged between 50 and 75 students a year.

While Morris died in Goshen in 1820 (he is buried in East Morris), the school remained open until 1888.  As Barbara Nolen Strong wrote in her 1976 book on the Morris Academy, “The Morris Academy is entitled to be called a pioneer institution because of its ‘open door’ policy in coeducation. It was not the first in the United States, not even in Connecticut, but none of the other early academies opened their doors as wide and kept them open as long. No other coeducational academy spread its influence so far.” In a fitting gesture to the impact of James Morris on the community, the town of South Farms changed its name to Morris in 1859.