Wednesday, August 15, 2012

At Camp

At Camp: Charles Halsey 1916

At Camp

At Camp: Freckie, Honey, and Helen Halsey with Helen and Alma Bishop | Whalebone | c1918

When Summer Camps Were For The Whole Family

Bishop's Tower at Shinnecock
The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
The word “camp” is more often used to describe a place where parents can send their children during the summer to enjoy various activities away from home.

However, in the early 1900s there was an entirely different meaning of the word “camp” for many Southampton residents. At that time, it was fairly common for local businessmen, farmers and other middle-class families who lived in the village to build small, simple structures close to the bay, which became a sort of summer escape, a camp they could enjoy with their families.

The Southampton Historical Museum will present an “Escape to the Bay: Family Camps in Southampton” exhibit, featuring several of these historic camps, opening on Saturday, August 18.
Exhibit curator and museum advisory committee member Hilary Woodward said she took up an interest in the history of these camps about seven years ago.

“I felt that this was a story that should not be forgotten,” she said during a telephone interview last Thursday. “The history was being lost and I really wanted to document it before it was too late.”
Ms. Woodward’s vested interests in the history of these camps may have something to do with her own fond memories of summer days spent on the bay.

“I’m a Herrick and my family was one of the families that owned a camp, so this was a culture I knew about,” she said. “I remember enjoying scalloping, clamming and having clambakes on the beach. It was a real simple, fun way that people spent their summers and the exhibit really celebrates that.”

Ms. Woodward’s family camp was called “Whalebone” and was built by her grandfather, John Austin Herrick, the second generation owner of Herrick Hardware on Main Street in Southampton.
The Herrick camp, located on Noyac Bay, was sold in 1959 to Justice Robert Kendrick and his family when Ms. Woodward was just 5 years old. The Kendricks sold Whalebone just a few years ago, and according to Ms. Woodward, it was just recently torn down.

At the start of her research, Ms. Woodward visited a few other original camp owners and heard stories about their experiences.

“Those who could remember being children spending their summers in the camps during the 1920s were in their 80s and now, several of them have passed away,” she said. “Their stories and their reminiscences of the camps were disappearing.”

While Ms. Woodward spent time with the families, she was able to gather photos and hear stories about their escape to the bay. She learned that some of these camps were in fact still being used by the families. Others were being sold and would eventually be torn down to open up the land for bigger houses to be built.

According to Ms. Woodward, each of the camps she had the pleasure of learning about had a significant name and were built in such a way that reflected the personality of the owner.

For example, the Halseys’ camp on Peconic Bay. According to Ms. Woodward, Jesse Halsey was a minister in Cleveland and the church was doing renovations, so he brought the doors from the church to Southampton and used them to build his camp in 1946.

The Halsey family’s camp was called “Shiconnic.” Ms. Woodward reported that the family was happily using it up until a few years ago.

Other camps included “The Tower,” a three-story camp built on the highest spot of land owned by the Bishop family. True to its name, The Tower was a strategic structure that allowed the family to see views of the bay and the ocean.

Another, owned by the Alexander family, was built from timber left from Camp Upton, a Long Island-based induction and training facility for new soldiers who were to fight in World War I. The camp, still standing, is appropriately called “War Timber.” It has not been changed since 1918 and the family still uses it, according to Ms. Woodward.

Another family that has no plans to surrender their camp is the Corwin family. According to Susan Corwin Mitchell, her family’s camp has three separate buildings and is located off Millstone Brook Road, at the end of a long driveway, which was originally dirt but is now paved with crushed clamshells the family acquires from their days on the boat.

During a telephone interview last Friday, Ms. Mitchell explained that her grandparents, who lived on North Main Street, built the main camp in 1902. Two other buildings followed later.
When Ms. Mitchell was born, she and her parents lived at the second building on the property, she said. Approximately five years later, they moved to Big Fresh Pond Road.

At that time, the camps used only firewood for heat. So, according to Ms. Mitchell, her father had to dig out an area under the camp for a heating system, in preparation for the family’s arrival. Over time, more improvements were added, including indoor plumbing and electricity. But Ms. Mitchell said she still remembers the time when outhouses and a hand pump were the way.

“I remember my grandpa keeping a jug of water next to the water pump so that if we had to prime it, we could,” she said. “And I remember there was a hurricane one summer but we had gas for the stove and water from the pump, so we could still cook.”

Now living in Florida, Ms. Mitchell said that she makes sure to come up and spend time at the camp several times a year.

“I thought having a camp like that was normal,” she said laughing. “We just walked out the door and went to play in the woods, making tree forts, discovering things and going on the boat clamming and crabbing. My grandpa taught us how to sail there. It was a wonderful experience growing up. We enjoy our camp and plan to have it for generations to come because we feel blessed that we’ve been able to hold on to it this long.”

The exhibit will feature original photos and stories from all of these camps but there will also be a scrapbook wall. According to Ms. Woodward, there are most likely many other families in the area who have a family camp history or memories of a childhood spent on the bay. For that reason, she said, she encourages the community to come in, view the exhibit and bring along any photos they have of having fun at the bay, even if it wasn’t at a camp.

The “Escape to the Bay” exhibit will be on view at Rogers Mansion in Southampton from Saturday, August 18, opening at 4 p.m., through Saturday, November 3. Exhibit hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Entrance to the exhibit is $4 for adults, and free for members and children. For more information, call 283-2494 or visit