Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Uncovering a former scout camp at Chestertown’s Palmer Pond

One of the hikes of the Chester Challenge is the hike around Palmer Pond.  This Palmer Pond is west of Chestertown, about a mile before the Hudson River, up a dirt road, called oddly enough, Palmer Pond Road. (Not to be confused with the Palmer Pond near exit 28 of the Northway near what was formerly Frontier Town.)  The drive up Palmer Pond Road from Rt. 8 is approximately one mile on an increasingly narrower and rougher dirt road that ends in a DEC maintained parking lot. 

Palmer Pond is part of the Lake George Wild Forest. This State owned property has increased in size over the years due to the addition of Finch – Pruyn lands acquired by the State in 2013.  The enlarged parcel actually extends from Palmer Pond (westward) down to the Hudson River (Another story for a different time).

 

At the parking lot there is a gate to the entrance of the Palmer Pond trails, there is also a sign-in kiosk with a map of the trails.  The trail is clearly on a rather well maintained old roadbed that today provides vehicular access for persons with disabilities.  There are two camping sites for those with disabilities and accessibility to a fishing site on the pond. (Disability accessibility permission is gained with a Motorized Access Permit for People with Disabilities (MAPPWD) from the DEC office in Warrensburg).  

As one hikes the gently undulating “roadway” and crosses over the outlet {beaver meadow / causeway), the pond is on the left.   The roadway/trail continues through a third possibly fourth generation forested area and eventually comes to a “four corners” with a picnic table on the immediate right.  This is what remains of a small clearing.  The trail/road to the left leads to the pond and the handicapped fishing area and further hiking leads one around the pond.  

There is a very pronounced stonewall along the upper part of this trail before descending down to the pond. The wall is testimony of much sweat and many hours of farm labor to clear what was once fields and pasture.  The pastureland is on the up slope with several older birch trees intermingled with the much younger understory. The former fields are on the down slope, with relatively young the plant succession (apx 60-70 years old).  As one hikes along the stonewall, one cannot but think of Robert Frost and his poem “Mending Wall.”  

The center trail at the “four corners” leads to the persons with disabilities camping sites with some side trails, bushwhacks, and old farming – logging roads that lead on down to the Hudson River (former Finch – Pruyn lands). If one stays on this old roadbed you would eventually reach private lands. The trail to the right (hardly discernible) from the “four corners” ends after a short distance, again entering private (posted) property. 

The “four corners” area looks a little strange if you are at all attune to reading a re-forested landscape.  It is a small clearing.  Note the hemlock trees and their “clumped” formation, and the young deciduous growth (birch, beach, ash, and maples). There is something different about the clearing.  If in your mind’s eye you could strip away the young trees and view the surface grounds and rocks, there appears to be something unnatural.  

Composite photo of wash-house / latrine – past and present.

If you walk back into the woods, a shot distance, behind the picnic table, there are the remains of an old building containing a large metal tank.  What could this have been?  A few yards from the “four corners,” along the roadway/trail down to the pond, just as the main roadway/trail turns to follow the stone wall, there is evidence of an old pathway or trail that goes straight down towards the pond (very difficult to see, so look carefully . . .) Following this very overgrown path one comes upon the remains of a wooden structure that is now collapsed by decay and fallen trees.  What was this?  There are four such decaying and collapsed structures around the “four corners” location.  

 

 

A former Girl Scout camp

After checking with some neighbors, local historians, DEC rangers, the Warren County deeds office, the Girls Scout Chapter in Glens Falls, and interviewing some of the former campers, the story of these ruins emerged.  This was the site of Camp Chepontuc, a former Girl Scout Camp. 

In April of 1935 the Glens Falls Council of the Girl Scouts purchased the land for the camp from James S. Kiley. The Scout’s prior camping facility near Bolton Landing had become too small and the 200-acre site partially wooded contained a 35-acre pond and was ideal for a secluded  camp.  

The property had been logged in the past and more recently farmed.  But for the Girl Scouts, the isolation, the mix of cleared and forested lands, the proximity to Glens Falls ( apx 32 miles ), and the Southern Adirondacks – and of course the pond, made for an ideal location for a Summer Camp.  A fundraising campaign to raise the purchase price of $9,500 and begin development had stated in the winter/ spring of 1934-35.

A May 31, 1935 article (by Elizabeth Imrie) in the Glens Falls The Post Star described proposed camp life as follows . 

“The activities of the camp have been planned to cover and fill a number of individual interests, while at the same time they develop in the campers self-reliance, endurance, familiarity with nature, and an ability to get along with a group of people.  On the program appear hiking, pioneering, which will take in exploration and tracking of the new property, mountain climbing on which were (was) a popular innovation in camp last year.  A great deal will be done with water sports, canoeing, and sailing; new and interesting craft work, dramatics, and nature study are also on the program.”

Life at the camp

By the summer of 1940 the camp had grown to include a well developed waterfront (including docks, and a raft with diving board), a Main Lodge, a nurses cabin, storage buildings with an ice house for refrigeration (ice harvested from the pond) and four age appropriate camping sites (Snug Harbor, Pooh-Corners, Birch-Wood, and Deep- Woods) each with tent platforms and latrines/wash-houses.  But there was no camp telephone.  

A story is told that a local boy took messages to the camp on his bicycle and he was required to blow a whistle as he approached the camp to warn girls of his arrival, in case they were skinning dipping.  One of the former campers Joan Brazier recalled,  . . . “Another clear, very clear, memory is those awful leeches. I’m thinking of a bit of delayed pride in even going into the pond; I wouldn’t do now – I remember four salt buckets, one for each group, in competition for the largest number for the week.  I wasn’t a contributor, I recall that, too.  As memories often do, imagining them now they seemed as big as fish and probably slimier than they really were, Maybe not.”

The camp was designed to accommodate 40 to 45 girls with a staff of 12 to 14.  There was one man assigned to the staff to drive the station wagon, pick-up supplies, pickup and deliver the mail, carry heavy equipment, and transport the campers and staff to off sight activities.  Each year there were three, two week, sessions with girls in all age groups. The “KampKrier” of July 1936, described the typical camp activities as “camping on the mountains or down by the Hudson River, hiking over to Friends Lake along an old logging road, Climbing Mt Marcy and Crane Mountain, plenty of swimming, and the traditional evening camp fires.”  

Fire struck the Camp Chepontuc in July 1943 destroying the Main Lodge and causing severe damage to the nurse’s station.  One of the campers recounted the event.  “my clearest memory is the night the rec. ( recreation, Main Lodge) building burned. I say ‘night’, but I am not really certain it was nighttime, or if that’s just the way I’m remembering it. I recall passing filled water buckets along a line of campers.  My memories must be recalled in color, since I clearly see the real flames.” Other reports have the fire occurring during the day while all of the girls and staff were swimming at the waterfront.  That might explain why there were no report of injuries from the fire.  

The 1943 summer camping season was the last season.  Camp Chepontuc did not reopen in 1944 or any year thereafter.  The closure had a lot to do with the fire, but perhaps the real reason was World War II.  Gas Rationing became part of the war effort in 1943 and continued through the end of the war in 1945.  In the meantime the Glens Falls Girl Scout Council built another camp in Queensbury near the present Council office, Camp Meadowbrook.  This new camp was within biking distance of the homes of the girls who resided in the Glens Falls area.

There is not much of Camp Chenpontuc left after 76+ years, but enough to solve one of history’s little mysteries. The camp property was sold in 1948 to a private group from Saratoga.  The property was then again sold in 1962 to the State of New York.  And as mentioned earlier the property, along with the adjacent former Finch – Pruyn property is now part of the Lake George Wild Forest.  

The hiker can continue from the “four corners,” along the stone wall, down to the persons with disabilities fishing site (former Camp Chepontuc waterfront) and then another mile and half around Palmer Pond and back to the parking lot.  Don’t forget to sign out !!!

Note:  The name Chepontuc is derived from a Haudenosaune (Iroquois) description of the area around Glens Falls (“a difficult place to get around”) noting that there is a rocky, steep waterfall at Glens Falls, formerly Wings Falls of apx. 60 feet, (still an obstacle) this section of the Hudson River between Fort Edward (Bakers Falls) to Hadley (Rockwell Falls) is approximately 30 river miles and drops approximately 34O feet.  Most of the difficult rapids and waterfall of this section are now dammed (Corinth (Palmer Falls), Spires Falls, Sherman Falls, the Feeder Dam, Glens Falls and Fort Edward (Baker Falls).  But it is still a “difficult area to get around.”   Reportedly during the first the year of camp, (1935) at Palmer Pond the name Camp Chepontuc was chosen. 

Photos from the archives of the Glens Falls Girl Scout Office.

 

Related Stories


Mike Prescott

Mike Prescott is a former history teacher and secondary school principal who found a new retirement avocation in paddling Adirondack waters and exploring their history.

Mike is a New York State Licensed Guide, and also volunteers with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Raquette River Blueway Corridor, the New York State Trails Council and with the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Feel free to contact him at [email protected]





4 Responses

  1. laurie says:

    I’ve hiked this area a few times over the years, as it’s fairly close to our camp in Brant Lake. I enjoyed learning some of it’s history. Thanks.

  2. Ritaclare Streb says:

    I went to Girl Scout Camps: Pinewood (raised platform tents) near Dansville, NY and Beechwood ( leantos) near Sodus, NY back in the early 1960s. Beechwood is no more.
    I have many fond memories of those experiences, and today I enjoy “camping” in cabins and inns near Inlet and Blue Mountain, NY.
    It was wonderful to read about Camp Chepontuc and think back on those carefree days of my youth. Thank you.

  3. Rich Salz says:

    Mike,

    Interesting and informative article on one of my favorite places. Next time I’m there, I will look more closely at the ruins and the forest. After hearing there was a trail or woods road between the gate to state land at Riparius and Palmer Pond, I’ve been searching for the connection, but so far haven’t been able to find it. Maybe you can address this in “another story for a different time.”

    Rich

  4. Margaret VerDow says:

    dear Mike,
    Loved the article. Have hiked in there many times and this was fascinating history. First time, we got lost and ended up at the Priory where a kind nun transported us back to our car. Always take visiting family and marvel at the beaver activity. Early on we discovered many trees (large and small) which had been girdled and were ready to come down. My husband called them Beaver X Games. Also, took me back to my happy days at a Young Womens Christian Assoc. (YWA) camp called Camp Ononda, on Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes of New York.
    Margaret

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.