A Look Back at Wisconsin Youth Summer Camps and Training

In the image above, campers sit and stand on a swing at Joy Camps in Hazelhurst.

Camp is a summer staple for kids. Kids today can choose from a wide variety of summer camp options – from circus camp and airplane camp to traditional residential camps.

The first summer camps were not so specialized.

The idea of ​​the summer camp emerged towards the end of the 19e century as a way for city dwellers to escape the evils of city life. These early camps were primarily for upper-class boys, but soon camps appeared for middle- and lower-class children and camps for girls. Time spent in nature was thought to restore the essential skills and hardy temperament that many feared urbanization would rob Americans.

Created at the end of the 19e century, Phantom Lake is the oldest YMCA camp in Wisconsin and one of the oldest camps in the country. The camp only admitted boys until the 1930s, when increased demand from parents led to the opening of the first girls’ camp in 1931.

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The Wisconsin camps attracted campers from inside and outside Wisconsin. In 1946, the Chicago Tribune reported on campers arriving in Wisconsin for the summer camp session: “On the eve of the opening of camp season, what a sight it is to see special trains arrive and see young people happy to come out of it. kids rush to find station wagons waiting to take them to camp.”

Among the camps mentioned was Miss Ruth Pinkhurst’s Camp Agawak at Minocqua, which had lake water so clear and pure “to be used for drinking”. And at Plum Lake in Sayner, councilors from Warwick Woods had come early in the year to start chickens so post-war meat shortages wouldn’t be a problem for campers.

With the increasing number of camps, the camps had to stand out to attract attention. Camp Minne-Wonka, a private girls’ camp on Big Fork Lake in Three Lakes, compiled their information about campers in a nut-shaped pamphlet aptly titled “In A Nutshell” circa 1954. The camp advertised itself as being in an “excellent climate for the sick”. of Hay Fever” located at “the entrance to the new Nicolet National Forest, where native wildlife of all kinds and the pristine beautification of virgin forest and wild lakes are forever preserved.”

The counselors were all students with expertise in camp activities and “living with the girls”. The camp cost $450 for eight weeks and drew girls “from hotbeds of culture and sophistication across the United States.”

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