A Brief History of Camp Susquehanna

Camp Susquehanna and Camp Equinita were private children's summer camps located near the town of New Milford, PA, in the Endless Mountains region of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Camp Susquehanna was founded in 1919 by Robert T. Smith at Wading River, Long Island. Ten years later the camp was moved to its New Milford location where it became "A Mountain Camp for Boys". 

A place where campers could have the opportunity to enjoy natural, healthful outdoor living; the romance of the woods; the wonderful relationship of a boy and his horse; and the thrill of individual achievement and growth.  As stated in the 1960 brochure

By 1960, the camp was operating with a complement of 45 staff members and over 100 campers. Mr. Smith put the Camp up for sale and it was purchased by Ken and Joy Schroder in 1962. Mr. Schroder co-directed the camp with Mr. Smith for the '63 and '64 seasons. Campers enjoyed recreational and educational activities with a program centered on horsemanship.

The handover was scripted to be seamless but within a year of selling the camp, the previous owner established a competing camp in nearby Montrose, PA. This action was in direct violation of a non-compete clause in the sale contract. In addition, he solicited campers and staff for his new camp directly from Camp Susquehanna enrollment and employees; another violation of the sale agreement. Several key Susquehanna staff members joined the new camp and a small but economically devastating number of campers followed. 

The previous owner experienced a case of seller's remorse and made attempts to bankrupt the camp's new owners. He bad-mouthed the new owners and criticized the condition of the facilities, the same ones that he had previously showed off so proudly. He went so far as to write a personal appeal to all of the camp families questioning the "intent and integrity" of the new owners. At one point he offered to buy back the camp at a small fraction of the original sale price. The Schroders persevered and attempted to put the matter behind them but the defections had lasting effects both financially and on the morale of the camp.

Camp Susquehanna had been born out of the Scouting Movement and was tempered by the Great Depression and World War II. The camp was not immune to the counter-culture movement of the Sixties however, and change at camp was inevitable. Political and social forces were changing the attitudes of youth
. Boys' interest in horses and scouting activities was in decline. The old guard sought to hang on to old camp legend, lore, and structure, while revelling in the decay of social order of the times.

The new owners adapted the program to the changing desires of campers. Ken and Joy discovered enough interest existed to start a camp for girls. In an effort to boost enrollment and broaden the appeal of camp, the first season of Camp Equinita was held in the summer of 1969 with sixteen pioneering young girls and seven counselors.

Initially the camps operated as separate entities, sharing daily activities only at the riding and waterfront facilities. The girls camp took up residence in what was previously the Junior Camp. The girls had their own archery range, air riflery range, arts and crafts cabin and canteen. Meals were brought from the main camp and served in the lodge. In time, the camps became blended and termed "co-ed", though living quarters remained significantly segregated. The decision to start the girls camp proved very timely. The new camp grew quickly. In three short years Equinita enrollment surpassed that of Susquehanna and by 1977, girls outnumbered boys over 2 to 1. The camps continued to offer a wide variety of sports and activities, but it was clear that horseback riding and the care of horses were their primary appeal.

In the post-sexual revolution of the late '70s, the proximity of the girls and boys camps, combined with mid-teen awareness, became a hormone driven issue that could not be ignored. In an effort to purge the camps of unnecessary influences, Ken and Joy discontinued the counselor-in-training (CIT) program and limited the upper age of campers to 15 years of age. This had two major effects. The first and desired result was to eliminate many of the instigators. A less fortunate effect was that it also eliminated 20% of the enrollment. Although the reduction in enrollment had a similar effect on revenue, it made the operation more logistically manageable.

Having restored a sense of order to the ranks, returning 16-year-olds were allowed to attend the following season. Many people believed that enrollment reduction was a bad thing. The Schroder's felt that it was a reasonable compromise for the alternative and that it made the camp environment more family-like. Campers from the eighties agree that being at camp was truly like being part of a large family. The camp had evolved from a militaristic model to an extended family of horse and camp lovers, though some things such as bugles and nomenclature remained.

Enrollment at most resident summer camps started trailing off dramatically in the mid-80's. The cost of liability insurance premiums and labor drove up tuition as camps became more expensive to operate. Parents began to have more choices for their children's summertime activities. According to the American Camping Association, the number of day camps started growing in 1982 and grew 90% over the following 20 years. Local communities also began offering attractive summer programs for children, and families started spending more time vacationing together. In 1984, the decision to discontinue advertising the camps was made. The final season in 1985 saw 22 girls and only 4 boys. Just as the many years had been before, it was a terrific and memorable summer.

The camp property has since been sold-off. Those wishing to visit the property will be surprised to see the recent transformation into a campground called "The Camp at East Lake", and will likely be disappointed to see the development which has taken place on the surrounding land. It is good to see the property continue to provide recreation and memories for more people. And if you wander around a bit, you can still feel the magic.

All of the changes the area has been through over years has not diminished the memories and dreams of the thousands of children and counselors who attended the camps over the years. Barely a day goes by that I don't have a memory of camp. Of course I am surrounded by constant reminders, but people always tell me they have frequent thoughts of camp. Whenever I think of camp, it is nice to think that someone else might be having a similar thought at that same moment. Most years I forget to light my candle at New Year's, but I always remember camp and I think of those I know who faithfully lit theirs for years.

Day is done
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills
From the stars
All is well
Safely rest
God is nigh