YWCA and Girl Scout Camps at the Lake




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Two of the four cabins at the YWCA Blue Triangle Lodge at Harvey's Lake in 1931. Each cabin held 11 girls, plus a counselor. The cabins were rebuilt after a destructive fire in 1929.

The Wilkes-Barre Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) operated a summer camp at Harvey's Lake between 1918 and 1949. The Girl Scouts also operated Camp Wildwood at the lake from 1924 to 1973.

YWCA Blue Triangle Lodge

The Wilkes-Barre YWCA was formed in 1893. In 1909 it constructed its now-razed city headquarters in Wilkes-Barre (adjacent to the present Kirby Health Center). About 1898 the YWCA created its first girls' summer camp at Lake Nuangola. The camp program relocated to Harvey's Lake about 1918 using a variety of sites at the Lake.

In 1921 Blue Triangle Lodge was settled into a new location between the properties later owned by A.L. Stull and A.J. Sordoni, at Point Pleasant about mid-way between Sunset and Alderson.

The YWCA Blue Triangle logo was a popular motif for WWI posters.

The land was donated by lumber baron Albert Lewis. Here there was a two-story lodge with a large recreation room, dining hall and kitchen on the first floor and a second-floor with screened in porches and dorms for 50 campers. The camp usually held 2 week sessions from early July to mid-August broken into programs for grade school girls, high school girls and young employed women.

The facility was very modern for its day; by 1928 it had hot and cold running water, electric light and telephone service. Unfortunately, on Sunday, October 13, 1929, with campers present, defective wiring or a fire place caused a fire that destroyed the building. No children were injured.

Blue Triangle Lodge was rebuilt with an opening ceremony on June 28, 1931, on the old site of the camp. Judge F.W. Wheaton was chairman of the board of trustees, and keys to the new facilities were presented by A.J. Sordoni.

The YWCA's [unedited] annual report for 1933 by Y Director Marie M. Grall described the Lodge's camping season:

Camping days may not be what they were many long years ago when grandma, or mother, or even big sister, or the counselors were girls; however, they are just what we want them to be today. Each girl sharing her responsibility of work and play. For camp duties each girl is on a squad, for play she is on a team. The council, made up of a member elected by the girls from each cabin and the captain of each squad and the Directors met daily to plan the program, discuss things and straighten out camp difficulties as well as individuals problems.
The regular program included crafts and sports, such as tennis, base-ball, swimming, rowing and paddling, interest groups were a new feature, there was a glee club, a nature group, a newspaper group writing articles and several young poets were discovered and water pageant was given, two swimming meets held, hikes of all kinds; all day, supper hikes, two-two day hikes and many canoe trips. An operetta the last week end of camp was very successful. There were (6) six weeks of regular camp, and an additional week for business girls. The last week was turned over as a community service week with no expense to the girls. Another week sponsored by the Industrial department.
Week ends were sponsored by departments before and after the regular camp period. A camp reunion was held at the camp in the spring and at Christmas time at the Association. We hope that thru our camp program we are teaching elementary citizenship, the necessity of sharing and tolerance, the joys of companionship "tho greatest of these is love."

With war in Europe soon to engulf the United States, YWCA Secretary Elizabeth L. Hess described the 1940 season at the Lodge:

Our local camp has been operated each summer to serve the girls and women of the Wyoming Valley Welfare Federation District. For the younger gen- eration a Junior Camp was conducted five weeks last summer, with a staff of seven counselors and a resident nurse. Three week-ends in August and several in June were reserved for adults, when the club mem- bership arranged house parties. The Girl Reserves enjoyed camp for several three-day periods in June also. At the request of West Side Settlement, Blue Triangle Camp was turned over to their staff for a ten-day period, when forty-eight youngsters attended.
“Camperships” made our camp available for at least one week to those who could not otherwise afford a vacation by the lakeside. Four German refugees, coming from New York City, were among our one-hundred and ten campers. Two out of our five weeks the camp was filled to capacity, and even both tents were used for camp guests. Our local camp is beginning to be a continuation of a “year-round Association program,” as Girl Reserves continue to register as campers.
Three creditable camp newspapers were produced by the campers, and the weekly programs were planned and carried out by a girls’ Camp Council. A correlated program of a progressive camp, with real experiments in group behavior was possible through the efforts of the camp staff. The Recreation Division of the W.P.A. donated the services of one of its instructors, who was one of the resident counselors during the camp season.

Over time, however, the YWCA Camp, only one acre in size, outgrew the Y’s camping program. Through the 1930's and 1940's residential development crowded the camp ground. The Y children had to cross the busy Lake road to reach the waterfront; motor traffic was a hazard to young swimmers as was the Smith flying service which landed seaplanes nearby.

The YWCA board of trustees, with James P. Harris as chairman, and a special study committee, chaired by Charlotte Stoehr, decided to sell the camp ground (A.J. Sordoni purchased it) in hopes of building a 100 acre camp ground elsewhere. But with the sale of the camp after the 1949 season, the Y was unable to create a new camp and eventually the YWCA was merged with the Wilkes-Barre YMCA in the 1980's to form the Greater Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA, which maintains the 1,100 acre co-ed Camp Kresge near White Haven.

Camp Wildwood

The Weckesser home is one of the most recognizable at the Lake. It was built by Frederick J. Weckesser in 1907. Weckesser was born in New York State in 1867. At age 10 while still in school he worked part time for a local store. At an early age he joined the F.M Kirby store chain and moved to Wilkes-Barre in 1899. Kirby merged with the F.W. Woolworth dime-store chain and in 1912 Weckesser became district manager for Woolworth serving on the executive committee of its board of directors. Until 2007 his home on South Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre, was the administrative office for Wilkes University, which still owns it.

In March 1936 Weckesser donated the Lake property to the Wyoming Valley Girl Scouts for its camp Wildwood program. The local Girl Scout program was formed in 1924. The Weckesser gift provided the Girl Scouts with a settled camping ground. Earlier camps were along the Susquehanna, at the Irem Temple Country Club, Trucksville, and Kirby Park.

The following description of Camp Wildwood was provided by Sharon S. Robinson who attended Camp Wildwood at various years between 1952 and 1964.

The Weckesser summer cottage was the main Lodge for Camp Wildwood. It was extensively remodeled in 1947. On the first floor there was a large stone fireplace over which “George” (a large mounted moose head) reigned. A kitchen was off the main room. There were also smaller bedrooms, pantry areas, and other rooms. The second floor had a wrap-around balcony. Bedrooms with cots were off the balcony area.

The Half-Way House was half-way up a hill behind the Lodge. Built like a one-bay-garage with a room over the top. In the large room scouts slept in sleeping bags. There was also a stove for cooking.

The Christmas Grove was a group of 3-sided buildings to provide shelter from the weather. Older scouts (usually Senior Scouts) camped at the Grove. All cooking was only by campfire. Activities were all outdoors.

The Scouts also had Day Camp programs, usually at a simple camp site with a stone circle for a camp fire. Campers brought a bag lunch or food for the camp fire. There was a morning activity, lunch, an afternoon activity, and time for swimming at the famous Boat House (also the scene of the 1913 Crispell murder).

Campers changed into their bathing suits at the Boat House. Red Cross certified instructors taught various levels of swimming skills. On the outside of the building was the “buddy board” since each swimmer had an assigned buddy and each disk had to be placed in an “in” or “out” slot so instructors could track everyone. There were periodic “buddy checks” - a system common at all camps. The swimming area was roped off and no one - even the best swimmers - could swim outside the roped area (the water was quite deep).

Sharon Robinson also provides other personal memories of Wildwood:

"Camp Wildwood provided both ‘Day camping’ and ‘Troop Camping.’ Day camp was ‘by the week’; buses brought in scouts from W-B, while local scouts were transported daily by their parents.

"Troop camping allowed girl scout troops to spend a weekend, or a week, at one of the sites at Wildwood, either the Lodge, Canteen (upstairs), Half-Way House, or Christmas Grove.

"Troops brought their own food, supplies, sleeping bags, and created their own activities. Cookouts were popular, and the foods often inventive. Instead of Chili, troops cooked ‘Ring-Tum-Diddy’ – A chili dish with a can of corn added or ‘Blushing Bunny’ (grated cheese was pla- ced in the bowl before the hot tomato soup was added), or ‘Stuffed Hot Dogs’ (Hot dogs were split lengthwise, stuffed with mashed potatoes and diced onions, then wrap- ped with strips of bacon and the completed item wrapped in aluminum foil and put over the coals.) Of course, baked potatoes were always on the menu.

"Breakfast was often cooked over a 'tin-can stove' (Take a #10 can, cut a small door in the side, punch holes around the vertical top edge. Bottom of can was now 'top' and cooking surface. Heat was provided by a 'Buddy burner' – rolled cardboard was placed in a tuna-fish can, then melted wax poured on top. The buddy burner was lit, then the tin-can stove placed over it. Eggs would cook on the top of the can.

"For a 'roll', Scouts made 'Doughboys' a bisquick-type mix was placed in utsa plastic bag and a little water added (needed to be thick!). The mix was kneaded in the bag into a very heavy dough. Then the dough was wrapped around the end of a 1" peeled green stick which the scout had obtained in the local woods. The dough was cooked over the fire, then removed from the stick and butter placed inside. Only problem was that the dough often fell OFF the stick and ended up in the campfire!"

In April 1973 Wildwood was sold by the Girl Scouts to a private owner. There had been too many issues with lake pollution. For a time Scout camping moved to Camp Joy-Lo in Mountaintop, but later settled at the Girls Scouts of Penns Woods Council’s Camp Louise near Berwick.

[Sharon S. Robinson is a native of Harvey’s Lake and a retired educator in Tafton, PA. She is the genealogist for the Crispell, Oney, Anderson and other pioneer families who settled in the Lake region.]

Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo