Harveys Lake History

The Y.M.H.A.'s Camp Ahmy

Camp Ahmy. Courtesy, Friedman Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley

The Lake once hosted three major Summer camp grounds for the youth of the Wyoming Valley. The YWCA's Blue Triangle Lodge had an annual camping season for girls from 1918 to 1949. The Wyoming Valley Girl Scouts had Camp Wildwood from 1924 to 1973. The Young Men's Hebrew Association in Wilkes-Barre sponsored Camp Ahmy from 1924 to 1928.

The YMHA was founded in New York City in 1874. Other chapters were later founded throughout the United States. Among the earliest was the Wilkes-Barre YMHA which was founded in 1877 and formally chartered under State law in 1883. Other regional YMHAs were formed in Scranton and Hazleton. The Wilkes-Barre YMHA occupied various locations until 1918 when it dedicated its own building at 36 South Washington Street, Wilkes-Barre.

Mortimer B. Goldsmith

On July 26, 1924, the Wilkes-Barre YMHA launched Camp Ahmy at the Lake (Ahmy is the reverse lettering of YMHA). The camp ground was located on a nearly four acre site behind the Avon Inn on the Barnum plot near the Picnic Grounds . The Avon Inn only served Kosher food grown or raised on the Inn grounds. Its owner Dora N. Raskin prepared the meals for the inn and the camp. An initial two-week camp period served boys followed by a two-week camp period in August for girls. The fee was ten dollars per week. Camp capacity was 50 with 30 slots for paid campers and 20 free slots reserved for campers whose families could not afford the fee.

Camp Ahmy offered bathing, tennis, hiking, baseball, basketball, volley ball, quoits and croquet. The overnight accommodations were basically cots on several platforms underneath canvas tops. There were rolled-up canvas sides which rolled down during inclement weather.

Louis Smith.
Courtesy, Friedman Jewish
Community Center of
Wyoming Valley

The camp was under the general supervision of Mortimer R. Goldsmith, who would serve several terms as President of the YMHA, and a young Louis Smith, the YMHA-JCC's legendary Executive Director for 51 years. Louis Smith was appointed the YMHA physical director in October 1918. He became the YMHA General Secretary in November 1924. The camp physician was Dr. Albert R. Feinberg with Samuel Forgotson as Camp Director. For the girls' session Sarah Braveman, YMHA girls' physical director, was in charge of the camp. The YMHA Camp Committee included several of the Valley's most prominent Jewish leaders, including Julius Long Stern, Charles Weissman, Mrs. Marcus Salzman, Harry R. Hirschowitz and Ben Cohen.

Mortimer R. Goldsmith, Sr., (1882-1942) was an executive with the Hess-Goldsmith silk company, founded by his father, Louis Goldsmith, with factories in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Plymouth. He attended Yale University and served three terms as President of the YMHA and its affiliate the Young Womens' Hebrew Association. He had a Summer home at the Lake and was a director of the Harvey's Lake Protective Association.

Julius Long Stern

Julius Long Stern (1893-1964) was a graduate of the Hillman Academy, Wilkes-Barre, and Cornell University in 1913. He was associated with the family business, the Isaac Long department store on Public Square, and eventually became its president. In addition to his early association with Camp Ahmy, he formed a YMHA Boy Scout Association. He served on the boards of Bucknell University Junior College and Wilkes College and as President of the JCC's Board of Trustees. At age 62 he resumed formal studies graduating from Princeton University with a Ph.D in history in 1960. He lectured at the university and he remained in Princeton until his death at age 71 in July 1964.

Camp Ahmy expanded in 1925 to include a new mess hall, a new water line and new cots. In this year the boys' camp expanded to four weeks with two weeks retained for girls. Camp was open to children age nine to seventeen. One hundred and thirty children attended Camp Ahmy in 1925, of which 50 attended free. Louis Smith now directly managed the camp. Counselors for boys were Jacob Lempert, Samual Alper, Harold Groh and Edward Gallowitz. Counselors for girls were Emma Tischler, Ester Robinson, Ester Canton and Francis Bloch.

In 1926 there were 200 children at Camp Ahmy with another four week period for boys and two weeks for girls. The 'open air cottages' now had running water and electric lights. There were added radio concerts and motion pictures to encourage the children to remain on the camp grounds. The 1927 season was very successful with 41 girls attending the two-week season. A new YMHA physical director, Samuel Forgotson was now in charge of the boys at Camp Ahmy in 1927. The previous physical director was Frank Pendergast who also was the athletic director at Coughlin High School. Forgotson was a recent graduate of the Newark Normal School in New Jersey where he was a star athlete. He had previous experience as the boys' director at Camp Almy in 1926. In 1927 Rosetta Fisher, a graduate of Cornell University and a Nanticoke High School teacher, managed the girls' camp. In September 1927 she was appointed as the girls' Secretary of the YMHA, which included a continuing Summer role at the Lake.

Camp Ahmy. Courtesy, Friedman Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley

For 1928 Camp Ahmy's enrollment age for campers was boys and girls nine to sixteen. There was also added new cultural activities: dramatics, nature studies, and arts and crafts. There were Friday and Saturday morning services and all meals were Kosher. The tent platforms expanded from five to eight. July 1928 was a sweltering hot month and summer camps were full. The Boy Scouts Camp Acahela had record-breaking attendance, topping 225. At the Girl Scouts' Camp Onawandah along the Susquehanna above Falls 110 girls were camping. There were also large numbers at the YMCA camp at Pocohanna at Blakeslee, and the Lake camps too were full. Camp Ahmy opened on July 9 with 56 boys attending the Lake camp. The counselors were Joseph Jackier, Joseph Kline, Lewis Smith, Solomon Greenburg and supervisor Samuel Forgotson. The 1928 season was the final year for Camp Almy as the YMHA sought a new direction for a Summer youth program.

Julia Lieberman.
Courtesy, Friedman Jewish
Community Center of
Wyoming Valley

In mid-October 1931 Julia Lieberman (1908-1997) was appointed the women's physical director at the YMHA. She was also a physical education teacher at Hanover High School and the YMHA-JCC Summer camp director for 44 years. She created the 'home camp ' program at the YMHA along with Mrs. Fannie Sax Long. In the initial 1932 Summer season Ben Lenkofsky, the YMHA physical director, managed the boys camp and Lieberman was in charge of the girls. The YMHA 'home camp' was the earliest day-camp program developed in the Wyoming Valley.

One hundred children would have day programming at the YMHA or at various sites in the Valley. The swimming pools of the YMCA and YWCA (once next to the Kirby Health Center) were utilized. There were also hikes and tours of area industries and the day campers saw Friday home games of baseball's Wilkes-Barre Barons at Artillery Park, adjacent to Kirby Park. Here, too, leadership came from Louis Smith, Mortimer R. Goldsmith, and Julius Long Stern. In later years the YMHA-JCC held day camp for older campers at Twin Lakes near Harvey's Lake.

Louis Smith (1900-1984) served as Executive Director of the YMHA/JCC from 1924 to June 1976. He had a national reputation for innovative programs adopted by other community centers. He received numerous awards for service to his community. He oversaw the evolution of the YMHA in Wilkes-Barre. In 1948 the YMHA building on South Washington Street was sold and transformed into the Catholic Youth Center (CYC). In January 1949 the name of the YMHA was changed to the Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley. In January 1950 the JCC began a three-phase construction project for a new JCC on South River Street, facing the historic River Common, which the JCC dedicated on December 11, 1955. Following their retirements Louis Smith and Julia Lieberman were married in mid-December 1977.

Camp Ahmy. Courtesy, Friedman Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley

In March 1960 the JCC announced Holiday House near Harvey's Lake as the future site of the JCC day-camp program. The 42 -acre site was a Summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Long Stern who would sell the property to the JCC. Holiday House was opened as the JCC day camp for boys and girls from first to tenth grade on June 27, 1960, under the supervision of Julia Lieberman. On August 9, 1961, ground breaking was held at Holiday House to construct new facilities which included pools, a dining lodge, bath house, shelters, tennis courts and play areas. These attractions were dedicated on June 24, 1962. Additional facilities were added in later years including a gym, ropes course, and cabins.

The Wilkes-Barre JCC building was closed on March 17, 2019. The Westmoreland Club would purchase the site. The following Sunday, March 24, 2019, the new $13. million- dollar Sidney and Pauline Friedman Jewish Community Center in Kingston was dedicated.


Copyright 2018 F. Charles Petrillo