The Story of Keewaydin
Founded as a canoe tripping camp in the northern wilds of Maine in 1893, by A.S. Gregg Clarke (aka “the Commodore”), Keewaydin is among the oldest summer camps in North America. In the early years Clarke and his campers canoe tripped for months at a time with first four, then seven and then 30 boys, living and embracing what he called the “Strenuous Life.” The camp grew in the 1890s and Clarke took on several partners to help purchase canoes, etc for his growing campership. But, after the 1901 season Clarke decided lumber companies and tourists had overtaken Maine and sought more rugged wilderness for his trips. Selling off his shares of the camp in Maine, Clarke led a group north into Canada. For the summer of 1902 they were nomads: traveling from place to place, surveying the land, and looking for potential home bases. A year later they identified Devil’s Island on Lake Temagami and set up a temporary camp. By 1904, they’d settled permanently on the south end of Devil’s Island. They called the camp Keewaydin after the northwest wind, a harbinger of good weather and fair tripping. In the ensuing years the camp grew, numbers of campers increased and the infrastructure on Devil’s Island grew along with them. Wigwams, dividing campers into age, maturity and experience groupings, were added and trips ranged further afield. By 1910 Clarke became convinced there should be a Keewaydin camp for younger boys who would take shorter trips, spending more time doing in-camp activities. And he had the perfect site on Lake Dunmore in mind. That summer of 1910 a group of six boys and a few staff, led by George “Bull Moose” Wilson, thrived at Keewaydin on Lake Dunmore in Vermont.
In 1921 the Keewaydin directors established a new camp, for girls only, on Lake Willoughby in northeastern Vermont. Called Songadeewin, meaning “Strong of Heart,” it became the sister camp to Keewaydin at Dunmore. Girls participated in a variety of activities, took canoe and hiking trips, and participated in camp craft by the lake shore. In the 1930s additional camps were added all over the United States : a family camp, a fishing camp, sailing camps, cycling camps and riding camps, some lasting for one season, some for as many as 50 seasons. By 1938, the camp board was large with diverging interests and directors, so a disbanding of the Keewaydin Camps Limited partnership was proposed, and accepted, by the board. Many of the camps were purchased by each director and some closed their doors for good.
The diverging paths of Keewaydin Dunmore, Keewaydin Temagami, and Songadeewin led to various owners and unique histories for all three camps.
In 1945, Alfred “Waboos” Hare, Abbott “Abby” Fenn and Harold “Slim” Curtiss purchased Keewaydin Dunmore from John “Speedy” Rush. Under their leadership, the camp blossomed. The 1950s and 1960s, aided by the baby boom, were years of huge growth for Keewaydin. Enrollment surged to over 200 campers and the canoe tripping program expanded. It was a “Golden Age” for camping.
With Waboos, Abby, and Slim nearing retirement, a dedicated group of alumni and staff stepped forward to make sure that the camp they loved would continue for years to come. Pulling together a fundraising campaign to create a not-for-profit foundation which was able to buy the camp in 1982. The Keewaydin Foundation took over the ownership of Keewaydin Dunmore with Waboos Hare staying on as Camp Director. Continuity was thereby achieved and continued longevity assured. Jim Wacker became Executive Director of the Keewaydin Foundation in 1990, bringing with him great operational skills and a wealth of experience working with children. Jim worked together with Waboos to make an even stronger Keewaydin.
With Pete Hare, Waboos’s son, as Director since 2001, Keewaydin Dunmore continues to thrive in the 21st century, successfully evolving and adapting to change, while remaining true to its ideals and traditions. A capital campaign launched in 2008 allowed for the restoration or rebuilding of several iconic buildings on campus, including the Multi-House, the kitchen and several lodges, as well as most of the “forts” (restrooms) and several other cabins. The number of Keewaydin campers receiving scholarship aid has increased from fewer than 5 percent to 18.9 percent in 2018. The camp that we love continues to be a place where boys have summers filled with joy and adventure, make life-long friends and return year after year!
In 1947, Bill Jones and Charles Thomas formed The Thomas-Jones Foundation to purchase Devil’s Ilsand, the Keewaydin Temagami camp and Ojibway Lodge from Major Gunn and Colonel Creelman with the promise to keep the camp’s philosophies and traditions alive. Under their leadership, they hired Howard “Chief” Chivers as the Director and invested $100,000 into upgrading the facilities, equipment and canoes. With the goal to revitalize the organization, Chief Chivers worked tirelessly to increase enrollment and in 1960 bought the camp from The Thomas-Jones Foundation. Over the next fourteen years Chivers had tremendous success, enrolling the highest number of campers–146–in the camp’s history up to that time. But, by 1974 Chief Chivers and his wife– Jane, were seeking a life change.
Fred and Margie Reimers bought the camp in 1975 and took over as the Directors of Keewaydin Temagami and Ojibway Lodge. Reimers’ tenure coincided with shifts in vacationing trends, changes in camping practices and increased logging in northern Canada. But– Reimers found solutions with which to draw campers. One such solution was establishing The Roy Waters Foundation to offer scholarships to campers whose families would otherwise not be able to afford a summer at Keewaydin. He also expanded Keewaydin’s canoe tripping territory, sending trips further afield and founding the Evan’s Outpost. Upon taking the role of Director, Reimers said he would stay until his sons had finished as campers. In 1989, when his youngest son Will completed his Bay Trip, Reimers made it quietly known that he was looking for a new owner.
A year later Joe Fogg III and Lou Lehrman, both Keewaydin parents and partners at the investment firm Morgan Stanley, bought the camp. One of the most prominent accomplishments of the duo was the creation of a girls’ wigwam, Songadeewin, in 1999. Ten years following their purchase, in 2000, Fogg and Lehrman approached the Keewaydin Foundation with an offer to donate Keewaydin Temagami and Ojibway Family Lodge. In 2001, the two programs officially joined the Foundation.
With Bruce Ingersoll serving as the Director since 2006, Keewaydin Temagami has continued to grow and thrive. Today, in excess of 18% of Temagami campers receive scholarships. From record breaking enrollment, to growth of the girl’s program, to the development of an adult trip program, Keewaydin Temagami is stronger than ever.
Doc and Peg Harter took over as the Directors of Songadeewin in 1929 and purchased the camp when Keewaydin Camps Limited dissolved. Doc and Peg continued to run the camp until 1965, when their son, Jack, and his wife, Aline, took over as Directors. Throughout the Harters’ leadership Songadeewin thrived. But as the “baby boom” slowed and enrollment decreased, Songadeewin on Lake Willoughby closed its doors in 1975.
In 1995 the Keewaydin Foundation purchased the property of the former “Camp Dunmore” on Lake Dunmore and explored the idea of establishing a camp for girls. With the help of a committee and with the leadership of Ellen Flight, the vision for Songadeewin of Keewaydin on Lake Dunmore took shape and opened its doors in the summer of 1999. After 17 years of operation under Ellen’ s leadership, Songadeewin is flourishing and over 20% of campers attending Songadeewin receive scholarships.
Keewaydin Environmental Education Center
The Keewaydin Environmental Education Center was founded in 1973 by Abby Fenn. The goal of the program was to use the Keewaydin Dunmore campus in the offseason to educate Vermont school students about the natural world. When Abby retired from Keewaydin in 1986, Barry Schultz took over as the Director. She and her husband, Warren King, became the anchors of the program, focusing on ecology and exploration. KEEC was one of the first such environmental programs in Vermont and has served as a model for many others. Today, it operates during the spring and fall seasons under the leadership of Tim Tadlock, hosting approximately 20 school groups each year.
In 2002, after more than 60 years, the camps were at last one again. Today, the Keewaydin Foundation, located in Salisbury, Vermont operates four youth programs, each with the goal of helping young men and women achieve significant personal growth by being independent and living in rustic and natural settings.
In May of 2018 we renovated the Manor House on the Songadeewin Campus to be the office for the Keewaydin Foundation. To learn more about the history of Lake Dunmore and that project click here!