With apologies to Allan Sherman’s 1963 parody that complains about the terrible conditions at a fictional Camp Grenada, the following upbeat letters sent home by our contributor’s younger self recall his joyful stay at Camp Lenape, a Boy Scout camp.
Mosquitoes, merit badges, a menu of bug juice and burgers, plus a canoe trip along the Wading River from Chatsworth to Chip’s Folly had the makings of an unforgettable week-long wilderness adventure in 1956 at the camp once in the Pinelands of Medford Township, Burlington County, New Jersey.
What may sound like indentured servitude to us today was one 13-year-old boy’s relentless pursuit of merit badges to advance rank in scouting.
Some excerpts, as written:
July 29, 1956
Dear Mom, Dad, and John
We came back from the Wading River canoe trip at 3:45… there were three to a canoe and three canoes… We paddled on until about 6:30 pm and just as we got out of the canoe it began to rain like all heck, with lightning and thunder…
…finally we succeeded in getting the tent up… we were soaked to the skin.
At this point it was pitch dark and the rain ceased. The we ate supper, hamburgers, salad, bug juice, and oranges.
We hardly slept a wink because of the singing of the mosquitos.
…today we packed all our duffle, ate breakfast, and had a small morning worship service… breakfast was Rice Krispies, orange juice, bacon, coco and scrambled eggs.
We paddled on until 11:30 am and stopped for a small swim and at lunch… For lunch we had jelly sandwiches, bug juice, cookies and watermelon…
…we made it. We had canoed for close to 9-1/2 hours.
…Only about 40 boys in camp this week… Richard and me are going to try and get as many merit badges as possible.
July 31, 1956
Just got back from washing dishes for cooking merit badge… For our supper tonight we had chocolate pudding, coco, veal cutlet, diced carrots, homemade bread, and broth… For Cooking merit badge I have already made a fireplace and cook meals and build fire.
For Pioneering merit badge I have been working on [a] 100 foot bridge across Great Earth Dam… learn how to splice, lash, etc.
For Wildlife management merit badge we have to fill one side of the dams at the waterfront with fertilizer so… roots will take hold… and prevent erosion. Also we have to answer a couple of questions, write a report… not[e} ten animals we have seen…
…for First Aid we have to know some questions and demonstrate… Well, see you Saturday and I sure hope I’m Star…
Such was a scout’s summer adventure before housing development in the late 1980s swallowed up Medford’s 419-acre Camp Lenape, which once served thousands of Burlington County Boy Scouts.
A post about Medford’s Camp Lenape seen here almost two years ago and another last January continue to engage readers who no doubt land on rivertonhistory.com because scarce information exists elsewhere on the web about the now-gone Boy Scout camp.
After Don Ulmer commented in April that he had been Aquatic Director there in 1944-45, and had material to contribute, we reached out to him.
…we downsized from 3600 to 1600 sq.ft. I know there is more Lenape/Scouting stuff, including a number of superb photos taken summer of ’44. Am certain they will pop out in time and will get them to you when they do. Believe they include a US Navy Captain from Riverton, but can’t be sure of that. The name Ryan resonates, though a long time ago. Recollection tells me he was a mover/shaker in getting C. Lenape set up…
If you have specific questions about that time, perhaps asking them will trigger memories.
At age 89, am in sort of rush to get whatever I have into the right hands to preserve it for future generations. All my scouting years were concurrent with WWII which made for interesting times.
We communicated by email and phone, and apparently managed to “trigger some memories” because the following memoir is the result.
Memories of Wartime Scouting in Beverly, NJ
by Don Ulmer
Spring 1941 found an America struggling to recover from the Great Depression and in the final pre-World War II months of peace. However, hovering war clouds nonetheless made their marks on Scouting. By spring, a leaderless Beverly Troop 8 depended upon older scout and Assistant Scoutmaster Austin Haines to fill the void until LCDR Kenneth Heinrich, USN, stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and Church Street resident jumped into the breach. In this same time frame, an expanding Fort Dix claimed what once had been Burlington County Council Scout Camp Edge. This left Burlington County scouts dependent upon the kindness of other Councils in and out of state for annual summer camping.
Despite mounting international pressures, LCDR Heinrich showed up dutifully at Troop 8 meetings each Friday evening in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall. Austin Haines remained on as Assistant Scout Master. ‘Dutch’ Wilmerton was Senior Patrol Leader over the Eagle and Moose Patrols, led respectively by Bonsall MacFarland and Howard Cramer. Eagle Patrollers included Frank Pisa, Earl Adams, Ralph Anderson, Joe Orfe, Ralph Ulissi, Ken and George Heinrich (both drummers when the troop practiced for the Beverly Memorial Day Parade); Moose Patrol consisted of Kenny Rogers, Marvin Weiss, Bob Thompson, Cook Stockton, Ron & Don Ulmer, John Hines, O. B. Thompson and Billy Lucas. Hopefully, better memories than mine will fill in the many omissions. Track has been lost with all but a few of these scouts, but many reports over the interim are consistently good.
Now they are all good scouts and they know their ins and outs
They always work and never shirk
Their Troop is Troop 8 Beverly
However, ominous harbingers of the impending war echoed from the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground across Chesapeake Bay from Camp Rodney. Principal among these, the new Bofors forty-millimeter anti-aircraft automatic cannon. Since sound travels slower than light, five air bursts, visible as black smoke puffs in the distance, appeared seconds before the blast of the explosions.
On December 12, 1941, our first meeting after the attack on Pearl Harbor which plunged America into World War II, a grim LCDR Heinrich stood before Troop 8. “Last week we met in a nation at peace. This evening we meet in a nation embarked upon a terrible war.” Specifics of his remaining speech are lost to time, only that LCDR Heinrich reluctantly passed leadership of Troop 8 to Mr. Sam Phillips.
An interesting aside – though Troop 8 is how the rest of Burlington County regarded Beverlyites, for years it had been Troop 5, and our scouts were reluctant to change uniform arm patches to the new number. Mr. Philips gently brought his Troop into compliance and the white number 8 replaced 5 on the square red sleeve patches.
World War II fell upon Troop 8, and it quickly immersed itself in scrap drives and just about anything they could do to aid the war effort. The Troop, as it was custom over the years, marched with great pride in the annual Memorial Day Parade after practice marches up and down Church Street to the beat of the Heinrich boys’ drums.
In the summer of ’42, at the invitation of Camden County Boy Scout Council, Troop 8 visited Camp Minitik near Uhlertown, PA on the Delaware River. The balance of the summer passed in war effort related jobs and keeping track of older siblings who disappeared into the service at a great rate.
The summer of ’43 saw the opening of Burlington County Council Camp Lenape near Medford Lakes. Property included an abandoned cranberry bog equipped with an adjustable height dam that permitted flooding a sizeable swimming and boating lake that accommodated swimming, boating and canoeing tests for advancement from second to first class scout and subsequent merit badges. Trails cut through the Pine Barrens permitted observing plentiful nature of the area. This included a nearby nest of flying squirrels, king snakes, and occasional deer that dropped by, no doubt wondering what this hubbub was all about. Rumors of venomous copperhead snakes abounded, but none sighted.
As young men went off in the service, younger scouts took over duties of camp counselors. From Troop 8, Ron Ulmer served as Camp Naturalist and his cousin Don Ulmer as Waterfront Director. Don attended classes at Mortimer L. Schiff Scout Reservation near Bernardsville, NJ to prepare for his job. Full-blooded Sioux Indian and Princeton college professor J. P. Baldeagle served as Camp Director ’44-45 and drew upon both qualifications much to the benefit of his charges. Tents served as shelters and a mess hall for Beverly youngsters and other scouts of Burlington County.
Only a few World War II era Troop 8 scouts remain among us and to a man treasure all gained from those wonderful years. They are ever grateful for them and for leaders who always found time from their busy schedules to support scouting. So, to LCDR (later Captain, US Navy) Heinrich, Austin Haines, Dutch Wilmerton and Mr. Phillips, the many volunteer merit badge counselors about town, and countless others, your qualities and wisdom passed down sustained us well. From what is known, when scouting days ended and Troop 8ers went their separate ways, all traveled successful careers and lived happy lives, most putting something back into scouting. They wish for Beverly scouts who followed the same good experiences of those happy times.
We sincerely thank Mr. Ulmer for entrusting us to share his scouting story here. He served in the US Navy from 1947-1979, worked at the Boeing Company (1979-96), and authored a dozen fiction books under the name D.M. Ulmer. We invite reader comments and contributions which will further fill out this chapter in local history. – JMc
June 9, 2018: Mr. Ulmer adds some names to his Camp Lenape recollection.
Other staff I remember at Camp Lenape
Scout Vondy, Assistant Camp Director, Bordentown, ’44
Scouts Tom and Jim Morrisey, Beverly, ’45
Scout Jerry Levy, Nature Counselor, Maple Shade, ’44
Scout Ed Sumner, Bugler, Moorestown, ’45 Metal scarce during WWII, his bugle was plastic.
Scout Bill Steinke, Maple Shade
Hanley Diehl, 1943, First Lenape Aquatic Director. Hanley was a Quaker and Conscientious Objector during WWII. He and I corresponded a bit to help me better understand the waterfront job. His address was at a CO camp. I vaguely recall he once spelled me for a weekend off. Do not know what became of him. Definitely recall him to be a superb young man, as were all the Lenape-ers.
Urban sprawl and housing development in the late 1980s ended the existence of Medford’s 419-acre Camp Lenape that once served thousands of area Boy Scouts.
A June 2016 post here at rivertonhistory.com seems to be the reason that Google first directs anyone searching for Camp Lenape, Medford, NJ to this website. (Click here to see the illustrated article and readers’ comments.)
Since then, several visitors have added their own experiences to the narrative started last summer by Harlan Radford, a veteran of several summers at Camp Lenape in the 1950s.
Harlan has sought for years to find a map of the old campsite, and late this past New Year’s Eve, Michael Abbott dropped this one in our collective lap via email.
If seeing it stirs a memory about Camp Lenape or you can share further information or images, please leave a comment or email email@example.com. – JMc
BURLINGTON COUNTY BOY SCOUTS: CAMP LENAPE – 1943 to 1988
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.
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!
September 24, 2017, Leslie Rogers writes: Troop 26 Medford at Camp Lenape about 1957, 58, or 59.
Standing left, William Bisignano (Medford dentist), who became Eagle Scout. In front of him, Alfred (Butch) Bogie (Vietnam veteran US Marines, now deceased); holding tent pole, E. John Foulk (former Medford police chief); seated second from left, Terry Bingeman, Medford.
My father, Alfred Bogie, Sr., was the Scout Master. My mother, Dorothy, was quite involved with the Troop as well with snacks for the Scouts and assistance with any trips taken, one of which was to NYC shipyard to witness a ship launch.
Sept. 12, 2017, Ron Rudderow writes: Thank you for preserving the history and some memories from Camp Lenape. I was a staff member in the early 1950s (Program Director in 1954) and Chief of the Hunnikick Lodge #76 in 1952. The one-night canoe trips for the stay-over campers at Lenape left me with some of the best memories. By providing this activity, the remaining camp staff could all enjoy a day off each weekend. Fortunately, most of the canoes were aluminum but we did have repair opportunities on a canvas canoe every so often. The Wading River was especially shallow and caused most of the damage. They were fun times!
NEWS FLASH! See this January 3, 2018 post about a scan of map of Camp Lenape sent in by Michael Abbott.
Aug. 7, 2018, John Schlosser writes: Was staff/camper in late 50’s . Staff tent mate Rich Kayln, of Moorestown are still buddies. Memories of Fri nite campfire skits and theater from horses (Ron R.) and arrows (tp lighter fluid!)on zip wire to light fire.
Singing in mess hall; “viva la company” & “Six Pence”. Getting sweaty and rough playing Capture Flag. Fishing Arrowhead Lk., Fighting fires in pines!
Nervous end of season Staff Dance. Great leaders like Al Pennel. Flirting w/ Mtalonquay staff at Lucky 7! Working into maturity in spite of ourselves!
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.
Today there are computer camps, karate camps, space camps, basketball camps, art camps, and many more, but the place for legions of boys around here during the 1950s was Medford Township’s Camp Lenape.
My friend and frequent collaborator, Harlan Radford, Jr., is preparing an article on Camp Lenape, a 400 acre Boy Scout camp that developers bought in 1987 and turned into building lots for luxury homes.
If you know where he might find a map or diagram showing the layout and names of campsites within, please advise.