Camp Askenonta

Camp Askenonta, an 11 acre holding on Moose Island in Lake Placid, was the summer home of `Mr. Eugene J. Schwabach, a New York City stockbroker, and his wife. In the summer of 1947 the main house burned and Mrs. Schwabach, confined to a wheelchair, lost her life in the fire. Left standing were the caretaker’s house, two boathouses and the dock.

It was first offered to the Adirondack Council, then to the then Region II, and through them to various councils in the region. Onondaga Council Program Director, William Wadsworth recognized its value and the Executive Board acted quickly to accept the gift. During the Fall of 1949 the Senior Staff from Camp Woodland worked to remove all evidence of the fire. Bill also established contacts with the Shore Owners Association and with the Moose Island neighbors to gain their friendship and to outline his plans for the property.

The Beaver organization, led by Jerry Cummins, spent numerous Beaver weekends, in the spring and summer of 1950 establishing camp sites, setting up a water tank and tits lines, installing electric service, building a walk-in cooler, repairing the three power boats, rebuilding the dock, and building dining platform and fireplace adjacent to the caretakers house, which was converted to a first-aid lodge. Much of the physical equipment was acquired from Army surplus at Camp Drum and the Rome Depot. A surplus truck made it possible to bring this material to Lake Placid and a borrowed barge brought it to the island. Our Beaver organization is one of the earliest, possibly the very first, on record. The concept and its execution was a result of Bill Wadsworth’s idea and Jerry Cummins’s ability and diligence in implementing the idea. Much of our camping success has been due to this Beaver Organization.

The first campers came in July 1950. In November of 1950 the hurricane hit and wiped out much of what had been accomplished, but during that winter and the next spring the damage was repaired and campers were back in July 1951. As a neighborhood project our scouts cleared the island trails of the fallen trees. This “Good Neighbor” policy led to the gift of additional, much needed, 142 acres by the Shore Owners Association.

In 1950 our staff entered and won the Fulton chain canoe race. The prize was a pair of water skis. Therefore, water skiing became a part of our program in the summer of 1952. This was the first scout water skiing program in the United States. This program was aided by the donation of a jumping ramp and the use of an excellent Chris Craft tow boat by Mrs. Cone, an enthusiastic neighbor who owned the factory which made the blue denim for Levi’s.

From 1952 to 1958 the camp prospered. Many physical improvements were made and many innovations came to the program. Mountain climbing, canoe trips, fishing trips, and sailing became a part of the day to day activities.

Askenonta program was developed to encourage individual development and group responsibility and community awareness. Hopefully, it would provide challenges for scouts who had acquired “basic skills” in local troops and summer camps and thus encourage continued participation as Explorers (14 years and over) in summer wilderness (primitive) camp as well as in Local B.S.A. Council posts. Troops and Posts were encouraged to participate as a group, establishing their own crews, providing their own leadership (supplemented and assisted by trained camp advisors), determining their own overall objectives and daily programs while in camp. Example: The Great Range Mountain Trip (3 days) had to be preceded by several smaller mountain climbs. Special food selection and light weight gear, which differed from a 3 – 4 day canoe trip preparation, were developed by Director Bill thus “Bird Seed” (a mixture of dry cereal, raisins, and m & m’s) became the forerunner of what is used under various names as trail food and commercially prepared. “Deep Six” became an everyday expression following a canoe trip in which improperly stowed gear sank.

In 1955, probably the greatest innovation In Boy Scouting occurred. GIRLS camping in a Boy Scout Camp!!! This the first recorded occurrence of co-ed camping and is undoubtedly the basis for co-ed exploring as we know it now. It was a huge success and being observed and approved by Wes Klusmann, National Director of Camping and Ray Logan, Regional Director of Camping, was approved by National as an experiment. Some of the campers of 1955 thru 1958 still hold a yearly reunion. These girls were members of the Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls and furnished part of the female staff. Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Borland of Syracuse helped start this “coed” experiment.

For several years, Bill and Bobby led a post-season canoe trip for the staff of Askenonta, Woodland and Sabattis into the deep Canadian Wilderness. This was a reward for a “job well done”. This trip for older, better trained and more capable boys is the basis for our present “High Adventure” program.

Due to being on an island the program was centered on camping and aquatic skills. Many competitive events were developed to sharpen these abilities and to entertain the visitors and parents who were encouraged to come on the middle weekend of each two week period. Intracrew dinner invitations sharpened cooking and baking skills. The girls were not always the best cooks. One of our Moose Island neighbors, Kate Smith, would visit the campfires once or twice a summer and sing with the campers. No one will ever forget her lovely voice drifting over Lake Placid in the moonlight.

Bill and Bobby Wadsworth were a natural magnet for kids of all ages and they came, and came, and came, until again we were outgrowing our facilities. Onondaga and Oswego Councils had merged to form Hiawatha Council and more room was needed. This resulted in the purchase of about 5,000 acres at Sabattis. As this camp was made operational, Askenonta became less needed until, in 1962, it was no longer advantageous to operate it and it was closed.

The deed from Mr. Schwabach was unrestricted, but that from the Shore Owners Association stipulated that if the area was no longer used for camping it should “revert to the State of New York either with or without remuneration.”

During the years of 1964-1972 many proposals were made for the disposal of the property which had been appraised at $160,000, free and clear of any restrictions. We were unable to meet this condition and it was felt that the litigation necessary to attempt to remove the stipulation would be harmful to our Council, the Adirondack Council and Boy Scouting in general. Accordingly, on December 26th, 1972 it was voted by the Executive Board of Hiawatha Council to accept the State of New York’s offer of $85,000, the property to remain “forever wild”.

And Askenonta passed into history.

Written by Newt White and Bill Wadsworth for the Hiawatha Council History, 1913 – 1980, published in 1980.