MEMORIES OF CAMP WOODLAND
Note: This article was written in 1940. "Uncle" John was the first full time caretaker at Camp Woodland. He and his dog Fluffy lived at the camp for many years and became an integral part of the camp. "Uncle" John is buried in the cemetery in Cleveland, New York. His marker reads simply: UNCLE JOHN NOLAN | SCOUTER | 1872 - 1954
Many years have passed since 1933 when I first saw that large tract of land, now known as the Boy Scout Camp Woodland. It was then about one half the size it is now. The entrance was from the Salt Road. The Camp looked then little as it does now, for the timber had recently been cut, and a very destructive fire had raged through the greater part.
When I first saw this land, it was a Game Preserve, about two hundred acres, being enclosed by a high woven wire fence in which were kept deer and moose. At the brook going toward the Handicraft Lodge, hundreds of wild ducks were kept; at the Headquarters Grove were hundreds of pheasants. (The Grove was enclosed, sides and top, with woven wire.) There were peacocks, swans, flying and grey squirrels, hundreds of doves and turkeys, also some wood ducks. There were many wild but harmless animals. I have known of but one bear in this neighborhood--over thirty years ago, one was hunted and slain.
The Handicraft Lodge was used as a barn in those days. There were four horses and four cows kept there. The Tent House was a corn crib. Nearby was a granary, a feed mill and a saw mill. The Museum was a chicken house - a large flock of purebred Rhode Island birds were kept there. The Aquatic Lodge was a trout hatchery. Thousands of young trout were hatched and placed in the brooks. There was good fishing and hunting here in those days. The Indian Lore Lodge was a dog kennel, about eight dogs being kept there. There were also Mr. Will's Lodge and the Caretakers Lodge, when I first saw this Camp (1933).
On the Salt Road, was purchased the Stratton Lots--there were two houses and two barns on this property. The Ingersoll Lots were added about the same time--the boundary was from just south of the Caretaker's Lodge to Kibbe Road. On this site are now the Camps of Sherwood Forest, Algonquin, Onondaga, Seneca, Mohawk and Gyro. Then, the Kibbe Lot was added, which consisted of that part of the Camp where the Hospital and Kitchen now stand. Headquarters, Tuscorora and Cayuga Campsites, and Huron, Kiwanis, Beaver and Oneida Campsites are on land that was first purchased. The Clough Lots were then added, now known as Camp Lee--a campsite for older boys. Next was added the Peck Lot, starting from the Salt Road and ending a short distance west of the Caretaker's Lodge. The Salt Road is one of the oldest roads in the State, the Indians having had a trail there. In those days, Mr. Kibbe's home stood where the Hospital now stands. I knew Mr. Kibbe--he was the first settler north of Rotterdam, now known as Constantia. He told me how he blazed a trail through the virgin forest until he came to that body of water known now as Kibbe lake. There he found another trail going north. He followed it until he came to a spring, then he retraced his steps a short distance to the elevation where the Hospital stands--there he built a log cabin. Mr. Kibbe was a very old man when I met him, but his mind was clear. He told me how the Indians going to and coming from Oneida lake, passed his home and portaged their canoes from one stream on to the next one, some of them coming from Canada.
I helped build the roads, bridges, dams and set out the trees in Headquarters Grove. The stones on the trail leading toward Hemlock Ridge were drawn there by oxen. A large gang of men were busy here the year 'round,--in the winter time, we cleared the forest of dead wood and brush. In the spring and fall, we dug up, dynamited and with the aid of horses attached to a stump puller, removed stumps, of which there were many. In the summer, we were busy with the farm work on the Kibbe and Stratton Lots, and even planted between the stumps.
Just a few words about the man, and his family, who made Camp Woodland possible. That man--Mr. Louis Will--was one-time mayor of Syracuse. Mr. Will was a just and charitable man--all surplus crops were given to the needy neighbors--at Thanksgiving time, any family that could not afford to buy a turkey received one from his flock. He never wanted to have his charitable deeds mentioned. His wife was a motherly, sympathetic woman, with a pleasant smile for those employed here. (The son has grown to be the man that, as a boy, he gave promise of being--tolerant, loyal and true in his friendship.) I met so many boys and young men, companions of the son, also men who were a part of the administration of Mr. Will as Mayor. I have met many of them again since I came here as Caretaker of this Scout Camp. Many of these men have had sons in Scouting. One man, who was secretary to Mr. Will when he was Mayor, I met here during my first tear at Camp Woodland. His son was a camper that summer. This man is now a District Commissioner in our Council.
I left the Game Preserve and engaged in farming in this neighborhood. After some years at that work, I left Constantia and went to Solvay, where I remained for about nine years. After three years, my health began to fail. I suffered for six years, then I gave up and returned to Constantia. The friends I had known during prosperous years proved loyal during my sickness and adversity. I tried to work but it was a hard task. The ligaments were torn from my right knee cap.
One day, while walking down the road with the aid of a cane, a friend (who has since passed away) called me into his store and introduced me to the man who was Chairman of the Camp Committee, who asked me to go to Camp Woodland as Caretaker. I refused, explaining that my health would not allow me to accept. After a talk, I promised to for one month, giving him time to hire someone else. After two weeks here, I sent him word that I would leave at the end of the month. Once again we met and I promised to stay until Spring (perhaps I never would have known the Scouts if I had left then)--for knowing them has made hardship and sacrifice worth while. Being Caretaker here that first winter was the most distasteful work I have ever done, the most severe winter I have ever known--it started early in November and lasted into April. The thermometer seldom registered above zero during that time (one Troop was here when it was forty degrees below zero)--in February, it sank to an all-time low of fifty-eight below zero. There was not much snow, bit the ground was covered with ice from November into the middle of April, making it difficult and dangerous to get around. The few Scouts I met that first winter were five boys, but to me it seemed that they came to the woods just for sport, for I did not know anything about Scouting. I had promised to stay until spring--I kept my promise. When spring came, I was on the verge of being a mental and physical wreck. I dreaded my old age--I pictured myself a burden and a care for those whom I loved--I conceded my days of usefulness were over, but did not let the world know my discouragement. I was about to resign when a member of the Council came to Camp Woodland and requested me to stay during the camp time. He told me if I found the aims of Scouting, I would never regret staying (how true were that man's words)--I agreed to stay during the camp time and that was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made, for through it I came to know the Scouts.
In the middle of June of that year (1934), there came a group of Scout Leaders who were to compose the Staff of that summer's camp. For the first time in years, I became interested in something besides discouragement. Those young men impressed me,--they lived clean--their speech was clean--and they were so fair in their treatment of others. I wondered what made those young men what they were. I soon learned that they were living the life that Scouting taught them to live. Two weeks later came the campers--those young Scouts whose coming I had dreaded--I feared that I would not be able to stand the excitement and the noise that does, and should, accompany all large gatherings of youth. Those who know me, know of my love for, and my faith in the Scouts. But--as yet, I knew nothing of Scouting. Then--one night--I stood in the Council Ring--for the first time I heard the Scouts repeat the words of their Scout Oath,--words fail me, when I try to describe the feelings that came over me that night. Almost fifty years before, I was a member of a boys' society whose motto was "Lord of God, Love of Neighbor." I have tried to follow that divine command through life and that night I realized that after all those years, once again I was affiliated with a youth movement that had for its motto, "Love of God, Love of Neighbor.: That night a new courage was born in me, and I realized that I would help the Scouts attain the goal that Scouting has set for them--that goal--a useful life.
For eight years I doctored--the medicine doing me little good--it was not the fault of the doctors or the medicine. I had not the will to get better. Since that night, I have needed no medicine; my health has improved almost beyond belief. This was caused through the mercy of God and the good influence and the wonderful friendships that I have found at Camp Woodland.
When the winds howl, the snow blows, and the outdoors is dreary, I sit with my faithful dog close by and forget the rigors of the weather, for memories come surging to my mind of the most wonderful friends a man could have--those friends that I have found at Camp Woodland.