2017-07-13 / Front Page

Kids at Camp

My Days at Camp Wihakowi 1947-1952
John Cruickshank
The Northfield News

My mother got the steamer truck down from the attic. For at least a month, she had been sewing name tags into my camp clothes. Everything from shirts to pants to underwear needed to be tagged. I was seven years old, going on eight and excited about being sent off to camp at Wihahoki just up Bull Run. It was the summer of 1947 and it would be the first time that I had left home and would be at camp for two months during July and August. It became a two month annual ritual that would be repeated every summer for the next six years.


During that time, there were two summer camps for kids in the Northfield area, Wihakowi which was for both girls and boys and Tella Wooket in Roxbury which was a girls only camp.


Dean and Mrs. Arthur Winslow with Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Clark from Northfield started Wihakowi for Girls at the Northfield Fairgrounds in 1921. Dean Winslow was academic dean of students at Norwich for many years. Later, they moved the operation to Bull Run where they constructed buildings and dammed Bull Run for a swimming pond and rowing lake.  They sold the camp after it had been closed for a few years during the depression to two couples from Baltimore, the Andersons and the Walkers who ran it for the next 30 years until it was sold in 1957 and became a church camp. The Andersons and Walkers welcomed both girls and boys. There were ten cabins for boys and eight for girls, the boys cabins on the West side of the camp and the girls on the East side of a central quadrangle. 


Days began with reveille, calling everyone to the central flag pole in the quadrangle where each cabin group of between 8 to 10 boys would assemble in military order for the day’s announcements before breakfast. Days ended with the playing of taps by the camp bugler. Activities at the camp were expansive, from horse back riding to tennis, to swimming, rowing, archery, qualifying in rifle where you could earn NRA badges, all sorts of team sports as well as arts and crafts, just to name a few. I recall making a lanyard from beads and a copper ash tray that I hand hammered. I still have the ash tray. The lanyard is long gone. Over the years, at camp, I earned my Marksman, Pro-Marksman and Marksman First Class in junior rifle.


The boys and girls were grouped by age as juniors, ages 8 to 10, intermediate, 11 to 13 and seniors, 14 to 15. There was a central bathhouse where all of the boys cleaned up, a great hall where plays were put on in the evenings and a massive dining hall.  The great hall had a stage and on one side a huge stone fireplace which would be lit on colder evenings. The walls were covered with plaques attesting to the achievements of campers from past years for excellence in the many sports offered at camp. I longed to have my name on at least one of them and did at sometime around 1950 when I won first place in rowing. There was a cabin where the camp store was located and everything of necessity could be purchased from candy to tooth brushes or a new tennis racket.


Mr. Strong was the head counselor for juniors and ruled his domain with an iron hand. He was also the head swimming coach.  Only the highest achieving boys were privileged to have the right to live in Mr. Strong’s cabin. During my first year, I was in Cabin No. 10 which was two doors away from that august residency. My first year was problematic. I got homesick and at one point refused to take a shower which led to serious consequences. Mr. Strong forced me into the shower and scrubbed me with lava soap and a brush. If I didn’t want to have it happen again, I’d voluntarily take my showers on a daily basis.  Parents were not allowed to visit except on Sunday so for a seven year old, the days between one Sunday and the next sometimes became unbearable.


For the most part, campers were kept to busy to worry about being away from home.  I wasn’t very good at team sports, baseball, basketball and the like. However, I seemed to excel in activities where I was competing against myself, riding, rifle, archery, rowing and swimming. Baseball was played on a field below Bull Run road north of the dam. I was so bad at it that my campmates began to call me the statue when I came to bat. To hit at a pitched ball was seldom and if I tried, I usually missed.


At the time, there was a large horse barn down below Bull Run road across from the tennis courts and an expansive riding ring where young riders could practice before being allowed to go off on trails around the area.  The barn would accommodate about 20 horses.  Today, there is a swimming pool where the riding ring was.


It was during my first year at the camp when I was thrown by a horse in the practice ring while cantering. My coach had to quickly pull me out under the fence so I wouldn’t be trampled. I wasn’t hurt and wasn’t fazed by the experience except that the wind was out of me for a short time.


There is another story about Mr. Strong that must be told. I refused to dive into the pond from the diving board. He had other ideas insisting that I must learn to dive. One day, he picked me up by my ankles and held me out over the dock and dropped me upside down into the water. That worked. I lost all fear of diving and from then on, began using the board regularly.


The food at Wihakowi was really great. We ate at long tables set up in the dining room, served family style with waiters who were older boys at the camp who would bring everything on huge trays.  The cooks were African Americans that the Andersons brought every summer from Baltimore.  All baking including bread, rolls and cakes were made on premise on a daily basis so it was exceedingly fresh and delicious. They even made their own ice cream which was a special Sunday treat.  After an early breakfast, dinner was around noon and supper in the evening. Cabin mates ate together with their counselor who saw to it order was maintained.


Next week, Mrs. Walker and her culottes as well as Capt. Kidd and the English Navy, the week long capture the flag game that tested all of us.



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