|Back in 1988 I made
a long-awaited return trip to Onteora while in New York for my college
reunion. While there I found a copy of a camp map stuck on a bulletin
board. Although it was ripped and mildewed, I was able to scan and
clear it up through the magic of PhotoShop. Click here
or on the small map to the right for a full-size copy.
Here's a few things about the map that I
found interesting. First of all, it shows Onteora as it existed in 1986,
not as it was in its prime. Much of the Chief's area of the camp was
no longer in use, and thus many of the campsites in that area were no
longer listed. Other areas that I remember well, such as the stables,
are replaced by things like "Field Sports Center". Now,
though, thanks to the Internet, and Jean-Pierre Moreau and Dick Horn, who had a copies,
here's a map of OSR in 1968, at the peak of
its operation. Take a look for campsites such as Aztec, Yo-Kuts, Johnny
Appleseed and Dan Boone - most of them were in lousy locations and they
didn't last long.
Onteora map from 1988
Let's take a tour of Onteora!
Print out a copy of the camp map and follow along. I'll do my best to
point out differences from Onteora as I knew it best, in the late 1960's,
to what is shown on the map and how it looks today. Please make allowances
for the photos; some of them are scans of 30-year-old slides taken on a
cheap camera. If anyone has photos for the site please let me know! Major
highlights of the tour are shown in bold.
Here are several topographical maps of the area to help you
Click here for
a 1972 map of the property.
for a satellite view of the camp.
|We'll start with the drive up to the camp itself. After
heading north from Long Island on Route 17, you'll eventually come to
the exit for Livingston Manor. Take a right turn
towards Debruce and keep an eye out for Grooville Road. When you spot
the sign for "Onteora Scout Reservation", turn left and head up the
hill. You'll pass over quite a few small bridges (all of which were
nicknamed either for physical characteristics like the "piano bridge",
which had loose planks that moved like piano keys as you drove over
it, or for unfortunate counselors who had problems negotiating their
way back after a night on the town.)
Towards Grooville Road and
Onteora - 1998
|As you pass what was once the town of Grooville, look off to the right and you can spot the remnants
of a former sawmill. Once powered by a Hupmobile (an antique car
rarely seen these days), in 1968 there were still parts of a building,
with pieces of unfinished church pews inside. Today, all that's left
is some rusting machinery. Also on the road, on the left side, is an ancient metal
trough fed by an artesian well. While the former rusty pipe that fed
it has been replaced by one made of PVC, the well is still flowing
strongly. Next, after Grooville, you'll find yourself on Onteora Road.
This takes you, not all that surprisingly, to Onteora.
Artesian well - 1998
|You enter the camp through a stone gateway next to
the ranger's house, then start down a long hill to the
main parking lot. There once was a stone structure on either side of the
gate, with a hiking shelter off to the left. Click here for a look
at it in the 1960s - boy, have the trees grown since then! Today, only the
piece on the right has survived. On it, underneath the brown and yellow
sign visible in the picture to the left, is a plaque that reads:
As we pass
through this gate -
May we open our eyes, ears, hearts and mind
by Sterling W.
Council President, 1954-1957
On the way to the main part of the camp,
you'll pass your first campsite, "Tom Quick". This lonely
outpost. now abandoned, was used for canoe trips
and other transient camper programs, and it seemed to be about as far away
from everything as they could make it. Campers assigned to this campsite
were hardly at Onteora at all; instead, they would stay for about two days
as they prepared for their trips, cooking their meals in the campsite and
pretty much staying to themselves. Then, after their canoe trip was over,
they would return to camp, often to be seen enjoying a soda or ice cream
at the Trading Post after all of those days on the river.
Main entrance to Onteora Scout Reservation - 1998
the bottom of the hill is the main parking lot and the Administration
Center. This is where troops check in, get their campsite
assignments, pay their bills on the way out, and, in the pre-cell phone
era, was where lonely Scouts
lined up to use the only link to the outside world, a pay phone. The main room of the
Center, with the large window seen in the picture, is ringed by flags
denoting Onteora's success at national BSA ratings, for the camp was often
one of the top-rated camps in the country. Offices to either side of the
main room house the camp's administration and financial managers. The
center also housed the camp's switchboard and later the dial telephone
system. Downstairs, in possibly the world's dampest environment not
located on an ocean, was once the home of the Staff Lounge, which
has now been relocated. The Administration Center, by the way,
replaced an earlier structure known as the Manor House,
which was once the headquarters of the property's former owners, The Trout & Skeet Club of New
York. The Manor House overlooked the Parade Ground,
which in turn overlooks the lake. The Manor House was torn down when the
Administration Center opened in 1965.
Administration Building - 1988
past the administration building are some other structures of interest,
although most campers probably never notice that they are there. Four A-frame
houses in the woods originally provided housing for the
reservation director, his staff and their families. The houses are a
striking design and were a much welcomed addition to the camp in the
mid-60s.The A-frames are still there and are now in use for senior
staff housing, but they have been moved slightly to newer foundations
in recent years.
A-Frame houses - 2009
visible on the road down towards the lake area is the Blauvelt
Health Center, where a nurse and two assistants provided medical
screenings and care during main days of the camps operation. Reflecting
the reduced number of Scouts now attending camp, a smaller staff now
operates the facility. All campers are required to take a brief physical
upon arrival, and the staff has always been kept busy with a steady stream of sprains,
burns and other injuries you might expect in the woods. Although the
actual name of the facility is the Blauvelt Health Center, I have
never heard it called anything but the Health Lodge.
the Health Center are the former Catholic and Protestant Chapels, which
were moved there several years ago from their old sites along Sprague
Brook and Orchard Lake.
Blauvelt Health Center - 1960s
|Continuing along the camp road,
you'll come across was once the camp bakery and commissary,
now used as maintenance shops. The bakery was an amazing operation,
turning out all of the baked products for the camp except bread for
sandwiches. They did a great job on unexpected things like cream puffs and
birthday cakes! One of my favorite past times was arriving at the bakery
just as they were heading out for a delivery run to the dining halls.
The crew was always very generous in giving me a ride back up the hill
to the Long House, and they also could usually be counted on to
provide a few samples of the deserts they had just finished baking.
Located nearby was a very old barn, used in the winters to
store the dock sections for the waterfronts and to house the camp's
maintenance shops. I don't know how old the barn was, but it was built to
last, with some of the most massive timbers and floor boards I have ever
seen. Unfortunately, as time went by the roof became almost an equal
number of holes as
shingles. After years of neglect, the barn was pulled down in late 2000.
Click here for an ill-fated plan to save
Camp barn - 1988
One of the most popular hiking trails in the camp can be
found in this area. It is the Red Trail, which leads to Wildcat
Falls, heading out from roughly behind the A-frames to the falls.
For most of the years that I was at Onteora, Wildcat Falls hardly
deserved the name. Instead of a waterfall, it was more like a trickle,
with only a thin stream of water running down a moss-covered rock
wall. In fact, it was usually possible to climb right up the face of
the falls. That changed in 1969, when we had an amazing amount of rain
during the camping season. The once placid stream became a raging
torrent, totally impassable and running over its banks. It was an
impressive display of the danger of underestimating Mother Nature!
Wildcat Falls - 1960s
Continue your tour by selecting the lake area, or jump ahead to Chiefs
Camp, Tribes Camp or Buckskin
Camp! You can also head back to the main Onteora