Camp Passumpsic for Boys

Memories of Robert Hope as recorded by Barbara Worfolk

Recently, a former camper, Mr. Robert Hope of Ohio, recalled his wonderful years at Camp Passumpsic during the late forties and all of the fifties.  He wrote:  “I can remember coming from Ely Station and the first view of the lake was just after passing the road to Camp Quinibeck, (1911-1971), then down past the Ely mansion to the very sharp left turn at the end of the lake, then Camp Beenadewin   (closed in 1971 now Treasure Island), then past Idle Pine Lodge…my parents always stayed there, only going to Lake Fairlee Club if there was no vacancy…then Aloha Hive…then the right curve and up the grade and the big cheer going under the Passumpsic Bridge – always a cheer, coming and going – that was the first tradition every Passumpsic camper learned…the 180 degree turn at the entrance and up the hill, sharp left at the office (Mrs. Starry out to wave a welcome)…then on to the lawn in front of Rainbow Lodge to be met by old friends and new.”  He goes on to recall his fond memories of David R. Starry, owner and operator of the camp, his wife, Polly, his favorite counselor, Carson Thompson (a participant in the 1936 Olympics in Munich as a member of the USA baseball team), Joe Tarpley who was responsible for the Sunday afternoon concerts at which talented counselors, campers, and others provided entertainment before supper.   He remembers that following supper, they processed to the “Chapel in the Woods” for a nice service given by Leon Morse, who pastored two or three churches every Sunday, including Post Mills.  During World War II, Mr. Starry ran a USO for our servicemen in Australia and in his absence, Mrs. Starry and a wonderful, long-time counselor by the name of Esau Loomis ran the camp.


Legend has it that Indian warriors from the Penobscot tribes in Maine, on the way to their pow-wows in what is now New York State with the other “Six Nations” Indians, used to go by way of a Vermont lake situated directly on the trail.  They called it “Passumpsic” for the lake was large and the water calm.  Passumpsic meant “much still water.”   Many arrowheads have been discovered along the shores of Lake Fairlee so we know that indians camped along the shores of lake Fairlee and they just might have been from the Penobscot tribes.  (from Early Days of Camping on Lake Fairlee by Katharine Newcomer Schlichting.)

The history of Camp Passumpsic for Boys goes back to the year 1913 when Harvey Newcomer and William Clendenin purchased acreage on a peninsula jutting out from the western shore of Lake Fairlee and across from Quinibeck Camp for Girls from Henry Titus for the grand sum of $15,000.  David R. Starry joined them in 1914.  In the following seven years, more land was purchased by Mr. Clendenin and Mr. Starry until the acreage totaled 125 acres.  In 1920, Mr. Newcomer sold his share to Mr. Starry and moved on to purchase the Taylor farm next to Camp Passumpsic and started Camp Wyoda for Girls (now Horizons).  In 1923, Mr. Clendenin sold his share in the camp to Mr. Starry for $7,500.

Camp Passumpsic was divided into three areas.  There was a Junior Camp for boys seven to ten years old (later called Pathfinder); an Upper Junior Camp for boys eleven to to thirteen (later called Pioneer); and a Senior Camp for boys fourteen to sixteen (later called Ranger).  The camp offered swimming, canoeing (with two war canoes 25 feet long that sat 11 campers) as well as sailing, and land sports including tennis, archery, rifle instruction, baseball, track,   basketball, wrestling, horseback riding with rides through the Vermont back country, fishing, hiking and camp trips, camp crafts including carpentry and pottery, photography, puppeteering, music, nature, leather work, hammock-making and belt-making.  Of course, there was a well stocked library and “show night” on Saturday evenings.

Rainbow Lodge, the central camp building, occupied a high point on the property that overlooked the lake toward the south and east in the days before the pines grew to maturity.  In this large building there was a large assembly room with a big open fireplace and a piano, two large open dining rooms, a modern (for the times) kitchen, photography dark room, shower rooms, nature museum and visitor’s rooms.

The Starry’s ran the camp for 51 years until July 26, 1965 when it was sold to the former head counselor, Mr. Gustaf B. Karlson and his wife of New Jersey.  The Karlsons were responsible for installing lighted basketball courts and introduced basketball clinics after the regular season to the camp.  These courts were designed by the former NCAA basketball coach, Rollie Massimino of Villanova University.  In the 1970s, the camp was sold to a consortium of owners, Pine Points, Inc., which kept the name Camp Passumpsic.  This corporation was made up mainly of educators from Long Island.  William Brown, John Podsiadlo,   Barry Worfolk and a former camper, Peter Kirsop of Pennsylvania and Arizona.  By this time, the acreage of the camp was down to 75 acres.

The sixties and seventies were not good years for the camping business.  The last owners of the camp, Mr. And Mrs. Tony Shay, also owners of Camp Sunapee in New Hampshire, ran it from 1976 to the last year, 1980.  In 1981, Mr. Shay developed some acreage and private homes were built on both sides of the road.  Rainbow Lodge, built in 1919 and one of the most beautiful camp dining halls in New England, was taken down in the early eighties, piece by piece, numbered and hopefully reassembled someplace else in New England.  But where, no one knows.

Camp Passumpsic operated for a total of 66 years and was a home away from home for eight glorious weeks to thousands of campers who remember to this day their camping experience with great fondness.

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The Lake Fairlee Association would like to thank Barbara Wolfolk for providing the memories of a former camper, Robert Hope of Ohio, and for the history of Camp Passumpsic. Please let us know if you have more memories or histories of Camp Passumpsic or other properties around the lake which we could share in a future Newsflakes.

One Response to “Camp Passumpsic for Boys”

  1. Billy Reid says:

    My grandmother paid for me to go to Camp Passumsic (CP) beginning in “57 , I was seven. My father and uncles,Brooklyn boys,also attended. I went for was a concrete four summers.I have lots of good memories. Big garnet crystals in the lake gravel. Sunfish nesting in the swimming area. The clear plastic rowboat, the big, counter-weighted diving wheel, and way out there the raft with slides and d-boards. Each cabin had its own fire circle where we’d do vespers (?) and on Wed. the giant Griswold skillets would show up with the ‘taters all prepped-up and the weiners ready for their sharp sticks. Sat. was shower day. We’d get marched to rainbow lodge (RL) and after, get popsicles! Out back there was a concrete terrium sp? ok, the page is ending, i remember lots more for next time BR

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