Camp Syracuse

Camp Syracuse

Onondaga-Cortland Council

1923 – 1939

Adirondack Mountains

Seventh Lake and Brown’s Tract

Part 1 – Seventh Lake

For well over half a century, Central New York scouting has pioneered “primitive” camping, not only in our area and state, but nation wide. It started here in the summer of 1923 when Fay Welch, director of Camp Loyalty that year, organized and conducted the first council sponsored Adirondack canoe trip. Eleven of the camp staff, with Fay and his father “Daddy”, an old time Adirondack guide and hunter, started from Old Forge in rented 80 lb. canoes (seemed like 180 over portages) and went to Blue Mountain – the top that is – and back. With this taste of woodlore and adventure, and with the smell of pine trees and outdoor-cooked bacon in our nostrils, how we did respond when the next summer came around and Fay set up and directed Camp Syracuse on the north shore of Seventh Lake.

Accommodating some 20 boys during each of two three week periods, the camp operated somewhat on a patrol basis with the boys divided into three groups, each with a staff leader. Campers lived in Baker tents, with two boys to the tent. They made their own “bough” beds on the sandy ground with no fear of improper drainage in the sand. A central commissary distributed the food which was prepared and then cooked over open fires by the campers. Sunday was an exception as a camp wide dinner was prepared and ready when the boys returned from church service in Inlet. Of course there were unexpected incidents such as finding a deer mouse adrift in the 25 pound peanut butter pail. (He was cleaned and dried as best we could and then set free), or the night “Bugs” Donaldson cracked his knee on a tree stump in the dark (Doc Hasick looked him over and told him he would live to run again. He did.). All in all each day was different.

Nearby Black Bear Mountain was, at its summit, a most wonderful source of blueberries and we had them ‘aplenty – muffins, pancakes, bread, biscuits, with milk and most any other way a scout’s fertile brain can concoct.

Camp Syracuse was quite a bit more primitive than modern day Sabattis, and so attendance was restricted to somewhat older boys than attend Sabattis. One must bear in mind that boys joined scouting at 12 in those days rather than the present 11. The program was pointed more toward an Adirondack deep woods experience with all that the words imply. Although definitely not neglected, scouting advancement was not stressed too greatly. Awards fell in the camping, cooking, canoeing, rowing, forestry and kindred areas.

Trail clearing and improvement was a major activity. Under the guidance and direction of the local forest ranger (we were camping on state owned land) we worked on the trails to Black Bear Mountain and along the Seventh Lake shore as well as over to the old J. P. Morgan Uncas Road and then up it to Bug Lake and down it to Eighth Lake. It is of interest to note that the campers of Camp Syracuse played an important role in fighting a forest fire on top of Black Bear Mountain during that summer of 1924. The big “blow down” of the mid 30′s practically obliterated the interesting and historic trails we worked so hard to put in shape.

Canoeing was also stressed and each camper was on his mettle to acquire the necessary skills and stamina to allow him to participate in two trips, first a short one, perhaps to Old Forge and back, and then a longer one to a more glamorous destination such as Saranac Lake. Of course trail cooking, sleeping, back packing and all the rest of “smoothing it” rather than “roughing it” provided many an unforgettable experience. One must bear in mind that in those days the central Adirondacks were far less populated and offered much more of that”alone in the deep woods” than is the case today.

A boy near water cannot live without swimming in it, and this was the case at Camp Syracuse. A morning dip (skinny) and one or two swim periods were normally in each day’s program unless we were on the trail. A prerequisite to attendance at camp was the ability to swim and contests with and without canoes were frequent waterfront activities. We had a small dock, not large enough to hold the entire camp but at least a place from which to enter the water. We also had a most marvelous sand beach at the head of the lake and it was not uncommon for the whole camp to paddle the two miles to it for an hour or so’s fun.

The campsite, being on state land, could have no permanent buildings, and so everything was under canvas. All camp gear was stored across the lake at the camp of Carol Savage who was then chairman of the council camping committee. This meant that tents, canoes, cooking utensils, paddles and even an army field stove, had to be taken by rowboat or canoe over the water. The nearest road was some 2 ½ miles up the trail. By the same token everything came into the camp by water. And along this line a most welcome visitor to our dock was the cc pickle boat” bringing staples for the commissary and candy for the campers. We also made a mail boat most royally welcome.

In a paragraph by itself, at least in this writer’s mind, stands the famous steel boat, the Bath Tub. Brought from Camp Loyalty, where its broad beam earned it its title, it served mainly as a means of supply transportation from Sixth Lake dam to camp. The supplies were brought by land from Syracuse via truck or from Inlet via shank’s mares, to the dam and if all went well, a small outboard motor brought them to camp. Neither hot sun nor cold rain, nor a fog in the channel seemed to have any effect in arousing that monster’s better nature. It was perhaps coincidental and perhaps, no certainly, an act of justice that this little Evinrude worked loose from the boat in the middle of Seventh Lake on the last trip to Savages at the close of camp. R. I. P.

We would be remiss is we did not name some, and only memory prohibits naming all, of those who contributed to much in getting Hiawatha Council started toward the pinnacle of Scout camping on which it now rests.

One must start, of course, with Fay and Daddy Welch and subsequent directors, Ken Rutherford, George Morton, Harold Kotz and Bill Lawrence. Others include Palm Liddle, Vic DeWald, Marsh Livingston, Paul Traub, Ed Lamb, Jim MacFarland, Per Lee Noxon and on and on.

We should also give credit to some others who, while not actively at camp, did yeoman work to get us going. In this capacity one thinks of Carol Savage and Fred McKibben of the camping committee and of Scout Executives Harry Reichard and George Morton. There were many, many more, of course and it was definitely their hard work and forethought that we even got started.

by Per Lee Noxon

Part 2 – Brown’s Tract

As the season started, I had been hired to be cook, and Jr. Leader Executive Clayt Ingison, Director of a night camp, to be somewhere between the end of the carline at Nedrow and the Indian Reservation for boys who were working and came out to camp for the night. It fell through and Clayt and I ended up as cook and assistant at Loyalty, as Mert Hatch was not available during July to be cook. He took over in August, so Clayt and I were sent to Camp Syracuse. I am sure this was its first year. (I think it was 1923). Fay Welch was Director, Clayt quartermaster, along with Dr. Pansone (a dentist or M.D. in Utica), and a brother, Micky, who was one of the campers (he later became a dentist).

I am not sure what my capacity was as the Junior Leader – Cook? Crew Leader? or what? I was stationed in the center camp with Fay and shared a tent with him, while Clayt was in the other camp and Dr. Pansone, the third. I think there were no more than 8 in each camp and they were about 100 yards apart on the north shore of the east end of Seventh Lake on state land. The camp sites had already been established by other campers. We got there by the mail boat that started out from Sixth Lake landing. It had a small supply of staples and candy, etc., if anybody had a hankering to spend money. I believe it also brought the supplies Clayt purchased.

As I remember, we ate pretty well. I think I did, or bossed most of the cooking in our camp. Our camp fires were on the ground, but we did have reflector ovens for biscuits or pies when the boys would pick blueberries or raspberries. The table at our camp was right back of the fire, so I would deliver flapjacks by tossing them over my head and the boys would catch them on a plate. From this came Fay and my demonstrations of tossing flapiacks over a leanto.

I remember the White 45 lb. canoes (White was the name of the manufacturer). No one dared step in one unless it was afloat, and NO running up on beaches. Much time was spent in canoe training and then trips to Old Forge, Eighth Lake, Racquette, and Blue Mountain Lake. We always climbed Blue Mountain.

It was coming home from Old Forge that we camped on either First or Third Lake and on starting out in the morning, we saw the column of smoke rising from Black Bear Mountain. We paddled Fourth Lake and Fifth as fast as we could. Made the carry to Sixth in record time and paddled home. We ate some sandwiches as we started out to climb Black Bear. Fought the fire until dark returned to camp and were up at the crack of dawn to go back again. I think the fire was out by noon or shortly thereafter. We all got medals from the state that fall. I see the newspaper accounts give us 5 days on the mountain. Also going to the fire from a 16 mile hike – it was really a paddle, but about that long.

We also did a lot of trail repair. The Old Uncas Trail ran from the railroad down between Seventh and Eighth Lakes and we cut all the brush out of it and built bridges over gullies and streams for several miles so that fire fighters could use it. Their equipment was either back packed or hand drawn so these bridges had only one hand rail.

We also had Baker tents with 2 in each and each camper made his own bough bed and looked with disdain at anyone that he did not think was as good as his own. It was before the days of sleeping bags, but everybody had their own bedroll with the Poncho as the starting point. Everybody had half a pup tent, but I used to like to turn over a canoe propping one end on a stump and sleep under it if it rained – otherwise it was under the stars.

After Camp Loyalty closed so did Camp Syracuse. Several of the Junior Leaders came up on trips for a canoe trip, through Eighth and Racquette to camp on Forked. I remember Marsh Livingston had been one of the end men at the Camp Loyalty Minstrel Show and his number was “It’s Three O’clock In the Morning.” Anyway, he sang it in his sleep that night and never remembered doing it when we told him in the morning. Maybe Judge Livingston, who I see was honored by Syracuse University this year, won’t appreciate that anecdote. Palm Liddle and I had Daddy Welch as a passenger in our canoe, and it was pretty tricky keeping dry in rough water as we didn’t have much clearance between water and gunwales. From Forked we went down the Racquette River to Long Lake where we camped and climbed Mt. Kempshall, then back with a 4 mile carry from Long to Forked. We knocked a porcupine out of a tree and cooked it all night but it was still too tough to eat for breakfast – and what a taste!

The camp staff had to be Fay Welch, Director, Clayton Ingison, Quartermaster, and Dr. Pansone, 3rd Leader and Camp Doctor. Campers – Harry Jones, Robert Walsh, William Lockrow, Harold Donaldson, Clifford Cary, Belford Childs, Robert Jacobs, Philip Hillsberg , Roland Mesick, Frank Williams, James MacFarland, Alfred Doust, Carl Smith, Carl Sharp, Fargo Goodrich, Richard Hobson from Syracuse. Robert Siver, Sidney and Michael Panzone, from Utica. Total 20 plus 3 leaders.

All of this crowd were known as expert campers and canoeists. I know I got a job the next year with the New York City Boy Scouts at Kanawaukia Lakes in Bear Mountain Park at their Ranger Camp which was for pioneering type camping and then in 1925 was the swimming and canoeing counselor at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Forestry Camp. Four of the group became M.D.’s of which 2 are radiologists. One became a dentist. I don’t know what happened to the rest, but I am sure they were successful. Of course, I can’t omit State Supreme Court Judge Marshall Livingston. But I am sure they enjoyed life much more than others as they had that camping and canoeing experience.

by W. James MacFarland, M.D.

(The above accounts of Camp Syracuse were written around 1980)