Sunday, July 12, 2009

Camp Memories?

I was wondering if the camp I went to in 1960-1961 still existed. It was Camp Hillsboro in New Hampshire. I thought maybe it had been turned into an artists' colony, or a Christian retreat. One of the camp songs we sang (in the middle of the Cold War) was

"1-9-6-1 at Hillsboro Camp-
No other year the same-
Every girl a comrade true-
Ready to die or do-o-o-o-"

I think I threw out my camp photo album just this year. Then I learned somehow through Facebook, that though the camp is long closed, they stage a reunion for the old girls each year where they come back and stay in the original cabins- I remember mine was named "Nut House"-- and eat in the dining hall and sing the songs, including the one about the comrades. Then they paddle on the lake.

I went to the camp by myself, on the train, from New York City.

I even found an article about someone who went to one of the reunions. The Sally in the article isn't me.
It got me wondering about the camp my sister went to, which sounded grander, out in Easthampton, Long Island. She made two life long friends there. I was trying to remember the name. My mother said, "something about fire or fireplace". We laughed because it didn't sound quite right. But it was right. It was Fire Place Lodge. A little about it here. Condensed, here:

Fire Place Lodge became a girls' camp in 1936, when Adelaide Mershon Purcell, the proprietor of a private music school in Montclair, N.J., took over. Mrs. Purcell had a local connection through a grandfather, the Rev. Stephen L. Mershon, who was minister of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church in 1854.

"It is the aim of the Fire Place Lodge to combine with a full out-of-door camp life, a greater love of the artistic through music, pageantry, nature, and song," she told prospective parents.

Campers aged 5 to 20 came for eight-week sessions, which cost $275 in 1941, and local children from 2 to 4 years old were invited to attend "Little Miss Muffet's House," a kind of musical nursery school.

Instruction in "aesthetic dancing," pageantry ("dramatic interpretation of the lives of famous composers and their compositions"), crafts, and fine arts, including a visit to the East Hampton Art Gallery, was balanced with hikes along "old Indian trails," nature study at "The House of the Seven Dwarfs," sailing and navigation in "Davey Jones's Locker," astronomy, and instruction in signaling and semaphore, taught by Capt. W. Barnes of East Hampton, a former chief of the Georgica Coast Guard station.

William Woolnough, riding master at the East Hampton Riding Academy, where the young Jacqueline Bouvier learned to ride, gave lessons. Members of the "Isaac Walton club" went fishing, crabbing, and clamming. Cows and other livestock were cared for at the camp farm. Many local people were employed at the camp.

Along with "the music of nature as interpreted by the sea, the wind, the trees, and the songs of the birds," there were lessons in singing, piano, and woodwind and stringed instruments. Campers staged an operetta at the close of each summer session.

Sounds pretty nice, don't you think? Do you have good camp memories?


Mean Jean said...

Your sister's camp made me think immediately of "Marjorie Morningstar", one of my favorite books.

I went to Girl Scout camp in Oklahoma. On my first day a counselor was bitten by a copperhead. We sang every night by the campfire. One of the counselor's played the guitar. Our song list included Scarlet Ribbons, Kumbaya (of course), Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Sally said...

I remember I loved "Marjorie Morningstar" too, Mean Jean. I was surprised how long ago and far away all these activities sounded-- and so refined.

What happened to the copperhead counselor?

Another old one we sang was
"10 more days of vacation,
then we're off to the station,
back to civilization,
the train will carry us home."

then it got sad about who was at home, maybe was a civil war song? no, train references would be too early for that.

Linda said...

I went to Camp Ocoee.
My favorite activities were:

Mess Hall

Mail Call (precursor to e-mail and facebook)

Canteen (open after dinner; you stood in line and could buy candy and ice cream.)

Jane said...

My camp was Vade Mecum in the mountains of North Carolina. The first summer I went, I was nervous on the drive there, (didn't know anyone) and chewed an entire pack of Dentyne gum. I complained of a sore throat as a ruse to get to go home with my mom, and the camp nurse took a look. Sure enough my throat was beet red--from the Dentyne!! So, that first year I spent a week in the infirmary, all by myself. Didn't try that one again.

Sally said...

Jane, that story is hysterical!

Anonymous said...

tell your sister the fire place lodge girls are starting to gather on facebook. shannon cunniff's page had fire place lodge alums group-she will ok them and they cab get in the site

Anonymous said...

Hello Sally, I am a Fire Place Lodge Alum and stumbled on your reference to it. Even funnier,we are planning a big reunion next year on the old campgrounds. Would you like to pass that along to your sister and have her visit the Fire Place Lodge Alums facebook page so we can welcome her and get her in the loop for reunion. We intend to invite alums and their guests -maybe we will see you and compare (I just typed camppare!!) camp experiences. Thanks so much, Liz Johnson Hanson *FPL 1970-71*

Tim Gibbons said...

I can't believe I found this site and even learned the name of the head of the camp I could never recall, Mrs. Purcell! I attended Camp Fire Place Lodge in 1957. I learned to love nature, camp, have breakfast for the first time out of a cereal box that you split open and poured milk into, had fantastic meals with my favorite being corn fritters and maple syrup, learned to pick blackberries, and most of all, learned to be by myself and love nature! I was 7 years old, and it was life-changing! Jayne Lisbeth

Shannon Cunniff said...

I hope all Fire Place Lodge Alums will come visit our Facebook page and get reunion info (and attend too). We'll be dining, singing songs, visiting the old campgrounds, even taking out one of the old red canoes.

Vicki C said...

I went to Fireplace Lodge too when I was 12 or 13 yrs. Old. I really learned to ride a horse swim like a fish paint sail canoe and so much more. What a wonderful camp. Vicki in Georgia.

Shannon Cunniff said...

Fire Place Lodge has a Facebook page with folks from the 50s - 70s participating. We've got over 100 former campers and staff on an email list too. If you went to Fire Place (Jayne via Tom and Vicki C in Georgia!), please come visit us at We'd love to have you join us, share memories, find more alums, etc.

Fred said...


Update in Hillsboro Camp extracted from a document that one of my cousins is putting together.

History of Hillsboro Camp, Hillsborough NH

Hillsboro Camp came into being as an offshoot of the Posse-Nissen School of Physical Education in Boston. It was founded by Hartvig Nissen, a Norwegian, who emigrated to the U.S. in February 1883. A year later he married a Swedish girl and subsequently built the health school in Boston and Hillsboro Camp in N.H. His son, Harry, was born in 1890.

Jane Hebert Churchill grew up in Kansas but came to MA in 1913 to live with her mother's family. She met Harry Nissen, married him in 1916 and
they went back to Kansas to farm with her family from 1916-1922. While there, three daughters were born, Helen, Harriet and Ruth. Then they moved back to the Boston area because Hartvig wanted Harry to take over the Boston school. Another daughter, Priscilla was born and a son who died at birth.

Harry inherited the school and the camp in 1924 when Hartvig died. In 1937 Harry retired from the school and he and Jane moved to Hillsboro Camp permanently, continuing to run the camp for girl campers.

All the family worked at the camp in various capacities. In the early 1940s
Harriet was camp cook, Ruth was swimming instructor and Helen taught horsemanship. Later Priscilla took over as camp cook and Harriet administered the camp. Later on Jane and Harry’s grandchildren, the Crims, Vogts and Donaheys also worked or helped with the camp. Many cousins attended as campers or later as counselors.

Harry Nissen had died in 1955, Jane Nissen continued with the camp and turned over administration to her duaghter Harriet in the late 50’s. Jane died in 1975.

For several years from the early 90’s (about 1993) Priscilla and Bob Donahey ran the place as a family camp, renting the cabins like cottages for families and small groups such as the Scottish Dancers.

Harriet Nissen died in 1995, Helen (Nissen) Crim in 1996 and Ruth Nissen Vogt in 1999.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Puffy, Priscilla (Nissen) Donahey, still live in the Crim house. Billy [William Donahey - son of Puffy and Bob] and his wife Tracy built a house on the south side of the lake where the “new tennis” court was. They have two children, Matthew Wiliam Donahey, 26 Nov 2007.
Daughter, Emma Jeanne Donahey, 4 Jan 2006.

The cost of increasing taxes and new state regulations has forced the operations of the camp to cut back dramatically the last few years. Uncle Bob is in poor health and it is a full time job for Puffy and Tracy to look after him.
Please see the link Hillsboro Camp 90 Years

Sally said...

Fred, Thank you so much for posting this interesting history of the camp. I really appreciate it.