Camp History

Camp History

For nearly a century, the shores of Maine’s Long Lake have been summer’s home for kids and teens from across the country…and around the world. Camp Newfound (for girls) and Camp Owatonna (for boys) welcome Christian Science Sunday School students with the experience-of-a-lifetime – an opportunity to make lasting friends, have amazing fun, and catch fresh glimpses of God’s presence in their lives.

The spirit of summer continues … even after the regular camp season ends. Our Family Camp and Creative Arts Week programs encourage adults and families to relax, enjoy time together, and explore the possibilities in the serene and nurturing environment of camp.

By the Harrison Historical Society

Newfound’s properties, and the buildings thereon, together with land connecting the neck on Bluff Point, were purchased in 1919 by Mrs. Elizabeth Horton of Ridgewood, New Jersey. In 1914 on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire, she had opened a Christian Science camp for girls. When she moved the camp to Harrison five years later, the Newfound name was transferred, too. Silver Birch Lodge Road on the north end of the property was the original entrance to Newfound. Very quickly, Mrs. Horton created a new road in the middle of the property off Route 35, south of the Silver Birch Lodge Road. This road, slightly reconfigured, is now the main entrance to both Newfound and Owatonna.

During the first year of its operation, a small cottage from the north end of the island that Mrs. Horton had purchased was brought over the ice and settled on the hillside facing west, on the north edge of the property line. The age of the cottage in 1919 is unknown, but the building has been in use as the Arts and Crafts Shop ever since. In 1999, the building was restored--re-roofed and enlarged slightly--and continues to be used as a craft shop.

In the spring of 1918, two prefabricated buildings were brought to Harrison on the narrow gauge railroad and hauled to Camp. The first building, the dining room, was reconstructed on site. A new, enlarged dining room was built on this site around 2000. This building has a large deck on the south side for outside dining, a large fireplace at the west end of the building, and an outdoor grill. Mr. Ridlon, who has a shop on Route 302 in Casco, built wrought-iron chandeliers and a fireplace screen for the dining room. Each chandelier is different, depicting items that make Camp important to the campers such as cabins, loons, moose, and boats.

The second building, a “cubie house” was also reconstructed on site. A “cubie house” is a long building with a central hall off which are multiple five-foot square “cubies,” each with a door and a window, into which trunks, clothes, and personal belongings are kept. Each camper and counselor is assigned a “cubie.” Mrs. Horton, affectionately known as Aunt Elizabeth, brought this unique private “cubie” idea with her when she moved the camps to Harrison. The “cubie” tradition continues to this day and the first “cubie house” is still in use. If one looks carefully, it is possible to find the numbers showing which wall parts and which roof parts went together on both buildings.

Several years later, a second cottage was moved from the south end of the island to the peninsula and was used as the owner’s home during the summer. Later it became the Director’s Cottage. This cottage and the adjacent Lodge were struck by lightning and burned on Thanksgiving Day in 1944. Both were rebuilt for the next summer and are still in use.

The first building built on the Newfound property was the Hilltop Lodge. This building was restored in the late 1990s and is still used by campers on “the hill.” The cabins, cubie house, and lodge on “the hill” were originally designed for the youngest campers, but now house the oldest ones. These cabins on the Hill are named Far, Farther, and Way Out.

Around 1935, Newfound had an extensive riding program run by Leon Beck, Mrs. Horton’s son-in-law. It was run from the brick farmhouse, the Ed Jordan farm, next to the Silver Birch Lodge Road just north of Camp Newfound. Harry Winslow remembered watching Mr. Beck demonstrate trick riding by standing up on the backs of two horses. Leon had stalls built in the barn of the brick farmhouse and named the place Long Lake Equestrian Farm. The riding ring across the road had a judge’s stand which in later years was moved by Harry Andrews to his home on Edes Falls Road and used for storing wood. Remnants of it can still be seen among the pines. Mr. Beck and Dorothy “Becky” Horton Beck were divorced in 1943. Leon Beck left Maine and the riding program was run locally and moved to other local sites, then discontinued in the mid-1950s.

During and after World War II, “the Hill” cabins and “cubies” were not used because enrollment decreased during this period. Because of the declining enrollment, all campers were housed in the eight cabins lining the north side of the peninsula. These cabins replaced the platform tents that were the original homes for the campers. To support the war effort, Newfound campers helped local farmers harvest, and manned look out stations on nearby mountains. They like to think that a report of a light in the distance helped snare a German submarine, but they will probably never know for certain.

Later, canoe trips became an important part of the camping experience. A favorite trip was paddling to Naples, through Brandy Pond, down the Songo, and through the locks to Sebago State Park. One year, a group of the oldest campers took a five day trip into Sebago Lake where they crossed to Frye Island and then paddled to Raymond where the fish hatchery was located. The Old Town wood and canvas canoes were very stable and seaworthy. It was a good thing because they took canned food in heavy wooden boxes on the floor of the canoes, making the paddling extra heavy! Nothing was easy in the early days of camping and hiking, yet Mount Washington was a favorite climb; and Mount Pleasant, which almost every camper climbed each summer, often seemed the hardest.

Becky Horton then married George Cobb, a Maine Guide, in 1945. She and “Cobbie” began helping her mother run the camp in the mid-1940s. Becky then took over the Camp Newfound ownership and operation in 1951 when Mrs. Horton passed on. In the 1940s and 1950s, Becky sometimes invited local girls to the camp for the summer. One was Flossie Carruthers, whose grandfather, “Uncle” John Keene, was caretaker at Newfound for many years. Priscilla Morrison McGarry and her cousin attended, as did Duffy Forrest Carabia whose parents were friends of Becky’s.

In 1954, Robert Verrier, husband of Mrs. Horton’s granddaughter, Barbara Beck, built a floating cabin named “Dreamboat,” which he floated to camp from the Harrison launch. “Dreamboat” floated off the north side of the camp in front of the cabins for years and was used as a place to sleep for special occasions. It was later “landed” and today is used as a staff cabin by the lake.

George Leavitt, who grew up in Naples and later lived in Harrison and Bridgton, was caretaker from the mid-1940s until his retirement in the mid-1970s. A one-time cook at Newfound, Mrs. Paine, was famous for her cinnamon buns. Edward S. Tarbox often transported Camp Newfound girls in his buses during the 1940s and 1950s when the only camp vehicles were an open, slat-sided truck and Becky’s nine passenger DeSoto touring car. Mrs. Axaminta Thomas did the camp laundry for many years, washing, starching, and ironing the middies and bloomers, which was the camp uniform.

Around 1960, Becky organized an international youth group called Camporee. The program started at the end of regular camp and was for teenagers from the United States and abroad, who were coming to Boston to attend an annual youth meeting at The Mother Church. For a number of years many young people came to Camp for little or no cost to enjoy the activities at Camp and to get acquainted with each other before heading to Boston for this meeting.

A 1960 booklet describes Newfound as a 115-acre campus lying on a wooded finger of land pointing into Long Lake, surrounded on three sides by shallow water and white sandy beaches. There were six outpost campsites on a 15 acre island reached by a natural sand causeway. At one time it was possible to drive on the causeway to the island, but because of the dam and the locks between Long Lake and Sebago Lake, the causeway is underwater, although it is easily walkable. Currently, there are two leantos on the island and an old “outhouse.” Campers sometimes uses the island for over-nights.

In 1960, 88 campers ranged from 6-16 with a staff of 22. Today the number of campers is around 100 with a camper/counselor ratio of 3:1. The tuition in 1960 was $500 for 8 weeks. The cost remained in effect until the 1970s when it was gradually increased to cover more of the operating costs. In the early 1970s the 8 week season was divided into two sessions, one 3 weeks and one 4 weeks. Becky retired in 1965 after selling the camp to the trustees who were operating Camp Owatonna, the former Camp Ropioa, as an adjacent brother camp to Newfound.

Newfound had a fleet of 22 Old Town wood and canvas canoes, as well as a war canoe. In the early 1980s these canoes needed repairs and were costly to maintain, so they were sold, along with their original “bills of sale” to interested parties. Both the Newfound and the Owatonna war canoes have been restored. In 1982, midis and bloomers were replaced with t-shirts and shorts.

A new shower and bathroom building, called Oz, was built on the Hill for the teenagers in the middle 1990s. The bathroom facility in the lower camp is called Oaks. It was not until 1968 that hot water showers were available at Newfound. Before that time the girls had to get pitchers of hot water from an outside spigot at the kitchen for sponge baths, or they took their soap and shampoo into the lake at Hairwash Rock just off the canoe house. Lake bathing has been discontinued because of environmental concerns.

The eight cabins that line the north side of the peninsula have been restored with porches built onto the front of each cabin. Because the girls keep most of their belongings in their “cubies,” the cabins are not large; only books and writing materials are kept on the small shelves above the cots. The cabins were designed to hold eight campers and two counselors. The cabins have the wonderful names of Fold, Cozy, Sunshine, Still Waters, Green Pastures, Twin Pines, L’Amitie AND Gaiety Gables.

Camp Ropioa by the Harrison Historical Society

A retired British Army officer, Colonel George Stanley, established Camp Ropioa, a Christian Science brother camp to Camp Newfound, on the Joseph Chaplin farm in 1922. Colonel Stanley’s wife was a friend of Elizabeth Horton’s, owner of Camp Newfound. The naming of Camp Ropioa was given by taking the first letter in the sentence “Reflection of Perfection is our Aim.” A 1927 “Summer Camps” publication lists an enrollment of 60 with a staff of 14. Camp Ropioa accepted boys ages 5-16. Horseback riding and the usual sports were offered.

After Colonel Stanley’s death in 1939, Mrs. Stanley ran Camp Ropioa for a couple of years. However, John LaMarsh of Pelhamwood, NY, became the owner in 1942. He sent a letter dated September 28, 1942, to Harrison Town Clerk, Arthur Stanley, inquiring what the tax penalties were on Ropioa for the preceding year, as he was planning to take title to the property sometime in October. He ran the camp until 1955. During Mr. LaMarsh’s ownership, Camp Ropioa was not affiliated with the Christian Science church.

Camp Owatonna by the Harrison Historical Society

Ropioa had a new beginning when a group of former counselors, spearheaded by Frank Hayden Connor of Darien, Connecticut, purchased it in 1955. The camp was renamed Owatonna, after a town in Minnesota meaning “straight as an arrow.” It reopened as a camp in 1957. Activities included baseball, tennis, soccer, archery, nature study, and numerous water related activities.

Unlike the Camp Newfound girls, who have small “cubies” to store their personal possessions, the Owatonna boys have trunks by their beds to organize their belongings. Similar to Camp Newfound, Owatonna has two counselors who sleep in each cabin and they maintain the same 3:1 camper:counselor ratio as Newfound.

The main area of Owatonna sits about ¼ mile up the hill from their beachfront and boat dock. Owatonna has extensive open areas for soccer, baseball, tennis, and capture-the-flag, giving the boys from 7 to 15 plenty of space to use their boundless energy.

Starting in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the campers were assigned to teams. The team names are the Penobscot Blues, Shawsheen Reds, Pequawket Greens, and the Ogalala Golds. Ogalala was the last team added which was in 1968. Within each team the boys are subdivided into age groupings. The age groupings are Scouts, Braves, Warriors, and Chiefs. All age groups were represented on the teams, and the boys stay with their teams throughout their camp years. Even subsequent family members are assigned to the same team. These teams compete for recognition in sports, cleanliness, creativity, and more that earn points for their team, culminating in a winning team being named at the end of the camp season. The competition is fierce. The winning team used to run over to Camp Newfound during a meal, race into their dining room, and proclaims their victory for the summer. Loyalty to the teams lasts for years beyond Camp and is often instilled in the sons of team members.

Some significant events in Camp Owatonna’s history were:

  • 1977 – Hydrodyne ski boat making its debut. This ski boat was in operation for sixteen years before it was retired in 1993.
  • 1986 – A Ropes Course was installed on Boat Dock Trail.
  • 1997 – The Climbing Wall and Zip-Line were built at Owatonna but are used by both Camps. Shortly thereafter, the Ropes program was instituted that consists of a climbing wall, rock climbing, low and high ropes course, zip line, and a water rope swing.
  • 1999 – A new “Lighthouse” was built with eleven shower heads and a final cabin was built to complete the grove.

Ervin and Pearl Baker were Owatonna employees for many years. Pearl, who was a school dietitian in Bridgton, baked for Owatonna. The boys had wonderful food! Ervin retired in 1990 after 33 years of service as Head of Facilities. Most of the buildings on the Ropioa property are in use today by Camp Owatonna. Their large wonderful lodge that is used as both a meeting place and as a dining room has a new floor and Mr. Ridlon’s chandeliers, built especially for Owatonna. The kitchen, which is attached to the west side of the Lodge, was refurbished around 2000 and again in 2017. Most of Owatonna’s 13 cabins, the Counselor in Training cabin, and bathhouse facilities, were rebuilt during the capital campaign that is described in the Newfound and Owatonna section.

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