By Harlan B. Radford, Jr.
The passage of time has not diminished my memories of the now-gone Boy Scout camp known as Camp Lenape in the Pinelands of Medford Township, Burlington County, New Jersey.
This personal narrative presents a blend of historical information along with my own recollections. Doubtless, during its forty-five year existence, the Camp Lenape experience helped shape the lives of the men they were to become for thousands of young scouts. One wonders where they are now.
Founded in 1943, the very year I was born, the Burlington County Boy Scout Council in Mount Holly acquired a 419-acre tract of land primarily for providing a site for area Boy Scouts to attend a summer camp in a somewhat wilderness setting.
Designated as the Camp Lenape Reservation, it was named after the historical local Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe of the Delaware Nation. Camp Lenape was generally open for 6 to 8 weeks each summer.
In general, camping was considered an essential experience in order for boys to learn, develop, and embrace the key elements of the Scouting movement. Consequently, for the better part of three years, volunteers devoted their time, energy and resources to creating a scenic camp that would feature many important program areas.
Camp Lenape would soon proudly boast some eleven separate campsites, each bearing the name of a particular type of tree such as tupelo, oak, and birch. Each campsite provided the following amenities: raised wooden platforms with spacious World War II canvas style wall-tents and cots set up for shelter and sleeping, facilities for washing and showering (cold water only), and latrines.
Several man-made lakes included a splendid waterfront for swimming, boating and canoeing. The cedar water bore a distinctive dark brown hue typical of lakes and rivers in the South Jersey Pine Barrens.
On a hot summer’s day scouts enjoyed a refreshing swim at “Ye Olde Swimming Hole,” pictured in this post card postmarked JUL 13, 1954. There were designated areas for the non-swimmers, the beginners, and the swimmers, and each scout received tests to determine their swimming ability.
The message to my parents in Moorestown I included on the above postcard in 1954, specifies one prized perk in passing such tests:
I sure am having a good time. Guess what. I just passed my swimmer’s test. Now I can dive off the diving board.
In 1955, my letter home from camp announced news of my passing “the ordeal” of the Boy Scout swimming merit badge, while my 1958 dispatch reported that I was working on the Lifeguard Merit Badge.
Little did I realize it then, but achieving these childhood aquatic milestones would be the origin of my lifelong passion for the sport and eventually lead to participating in my high school swim team.
During the course of their week at camp, scouts received swimming instruction to learn to swim or improve their swimming. Water safety at this waterfront was paramount as there were lifeguards on duty and they used the so-called “buddy system.” Each swimmer would “check-in” with his buddy and together they placed their personal tags bearing their names on a Buddy Board upon entering the swimming area.
During each swimming session, the lifeguards would periodically blow their whistles whereupon all scouts had to immediately get with their partner in their designated ability area and hold their joined hands up in the air to be counted. Each scout was expected to be aware of, watch their respective companion, and keep in near to one another for safety sake. The paired scouts were then counted and checked against the Buddy Board and the corresponding number of paired buddy tags. Once lifeguards accounted for everyone, they allowed the campers to resume their swimming.
This great system fostered safety in the water. Should a scout ever be in need of help or assistance for some emergency, certified life guards each with long bamboo poles or other lifesaving equipment could respond, act quickly, and reach the swimmer.
In addition to swimming, there were also opportunities scheduled for supervised boating (using rowboats) and canoeing. Again, all scouts took tests in the proper and safe use of such watercraft. No wonder the waterfront was such an important activity focal point for the young scouts at Camp Lenape.
Another focal point was a large dining hall, which could accommodate some 260 scouts and their leaders. The dining hall boasted an impressive indoor fireplace as well as an outdoor fireplace.
This postcard from camp mailed by me on JUL 20, 1954, depicts the massive fireplace inside the “Edward A. Mechling Memorial Lodge.” Built in 1943, this so-called “lodge” became the very first building, which served as the camp dining hall. The rocks used to build this fireplace came from the Delaware River.
Another camp feature included an informative Nature Island with cages containing many small animals and even terrariums for growing plants. An area provided a rifle range and archery practice area.
Postmarked JUL 14, 1954, this postcard shows the popular “Nature Island” at Camp Lenape. A young scout looks at some of the visual displays, posters and exhibits about plants and animals. Today, we might refer to such an open-air facility as a “learning center.”
At the Trading Post, one could buy necessities and postcards to send home. Minor medical treatment was available at the first-aid station.
A general assembly area with flagpole, an outdoor campfire assembly arena with seating overlooking a lake, and a parking area somewhat removed from the camp itself completed the rustic setting.
“Salute to Old Glory,” postmarked JUL 21, 1954, shows scouts assembled and standing at attention for the lowering and folding of the colors at the end of the day. Scouts also assembled early each morning to pay their respects and salute the raising of the American Flag.
Prior to dismissal, leaders gave important announcements to the scouts at these times. The sound of “reveille” from the camp bugler roused the Scouts in the morning, and at the end of each day, the horn played “taps,” meaning day was done, lights out and it’s time to go to bed!
This photograph shows my Boy Scout Troop 44 of Moorestown during our stay at Camp Lenape in the summer of 1957.
My dad was Scoutmaster. I am in my green explorer uniform and wear a National Jamboree Patch received upon attending the National Jamboree held at Valley Forge earlier that summer – one of many that my mother stitched on my uniform.
Here are the names of people as I recall: (back row from left to right) – RICHARD PAOLETTI, ___unknown___, JOHN SCHANZ, HARLAN RADFORD, JR., RICHARD KALYN, AND HARLAN RADFORD, SR.; (front row from left to right) – ___unknown___, TERRY DAVIS, ___unknown___, RICHARD BARTHOLD, ROBERT PATTERSON, JOHN PATTERSON.
I attended Camp Lenape summers 1954 -1960, often staying two weeks at a time. Upon graduation from college and no longer a scout, in the summer of 1966, I served on the Staff at Camp Lenape as the Aquatic Director for all programs and activities at the waterfront. It would be the last time that I would be able to enjoy this wonderful camp.
In addition to summer camp, there were spring and fall Camporee events that generally lasted a week-end. Scouts learned to sharpen their pioneering skills such as cooking, knot tying, rope bridge building, plant identification, first aid, and hiking. Somewhat akin to the military, scouting had requirements for incremental advancement in rank. The names associated with those ranks start with Tenderfoot, then Second Class, First Class, followed by Star, and then Life, until one reached the highest and most esteemed rank in Boy Scouts, namely Eagle Scout.
There were many different kinds of planned activities and scouts were usually quite exhausted at the end of these busy camping experiences. In my view, the scouting movement was instrumental in fostering core values and life lessons regarding character development, leadership, doing service and good for others, and focusing on becoming better citizens!
Ironically, in the end, the very wilderness setting of lakes and natural pinelands that made Camp Lenape the extraordinary refuge it was, proved to be its undoing when it became a victim of urban sprawl during rapid land development in the 1980s.
In 1988, the Burlington County Council of Boy Scouts sold the 419-acre camp to a group of land developers (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 1, 1987) keen to incorporate all that greenery into a “new community of wooded estate homes” (Trenton Evening Times, April 22, 1990). By 1990, construction was well underway. (Trenton Evening Times, June 17, 1990)
Finally, let us fast-forward to today, 2016! You will be hard-pressed to find any vestige of Camp Lenape.
Gone are the waterfront as we knew it, Nature Island, the original dining hall, and campsites – replaced with luxury homes on cul-de-sacs, with amenities including a clubhouse, tennis courts, and fitness trails. Today, a drive down Jackson Road to the former Camp Lenape site reveals the transformation of the once rustic site into prestigious suburban addresses now commanding half-million dollar price tags. (Zillow)
What do you recall about Camp Lenape? We welcome comments, first-hand memories, photos, or relevant maps, particularly of the layout of Camp Lenape. Kindly contact the Historical Society of Riverton.
Oct. 22, 2016, Ralph Shrom writes: I attended the camp twice in the early 1960’s. A wonderful experience. Sad the camp is no more.
Nov. 3, Larry Cohen writes: Camp Lenape aka Lenape Scout Reservation, was a fantastic experience for many Scouts in rapidly growing Burlington County. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the Cub Camp in 1959, attend the Cub Scout Jubilee and later as a Scout, camped frequently in the Wilderness Area with my troop, attended Camporees, attended Junior Leader Training and served on the Staff at Camp. I was inducted into Hunnikick Lodge of the Order of the Arrow and always considered the camp to be a very special, sacred place. The camp of my youth is gone now, but the memories will remain forever.
Apr. 13, 2017, Steve Collins writes: I attended Camp Lenape 1967-69; Counselor in training 1970, Nature & Conservation Counselor (lived on Nature Island) 1972; Went through my Order of the Arrow Vigil Ceremony at Camp Lenape in 1972. What great Memories!
Indeed, memories are all that is left of Camp Lenape today. The Society welcomes your recollections and especially hopes to display here your additional photos, souvenirs, campground literature, maps, or other memorabilia.