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"The History of Onteora"


Besides being a great place to camp, Onteora has a lot to offer to the amateur historian. When I first set out to explore the trails, I was fascinated to find the remnants of sawmills, villages, ancient toll roads, quarries and more. I thought others might be interested in knowing more about the region and how Onteora became a Scout camp. A great place to get started is a history of the region written by Ralph Foster in 1967. You can also read a short history of Onteora, and some stories from old magazines and newspapers.

I've put together a brief time line of some of the events in Onteora's past, but would love to get more details if anyone can help. If you know the year a particular shelter or campsite opened, for example, please send along the details!

  • The Lenni Lenape Indian tribe lived on what is now known as Onteora. They traveled between the Hudson and Delaware rivers on the Sun Trail, which later became known as Hunter Road.

  • 1708 - Queen Anne grants 2,000,000 acres of land to a group of property owners, including a John Hunter and the Livingston family.

  • The Livingstons built a manor house on the shores of the Willowemoc, which is now the site of the town of Livingston Manor.

  • 1811 - John Hunter increases his holdings through marriage.

  • 1815 - Hunter hires Able Sprague to clear a road along the path of the Indian Sun Trail. The Hunter Road, as it became known, was a major factor in opening the area to commercial development. The road became the main route through what is now Onteora, and can still be readily traveled today on foot. I believe Sprague Creek is named after Abel Sprague.

  • 1877 - Stoddard Hammond is involved in a lengthy court battle for tanning rights in the area. The newspaper article has more background on his investments in the area (November 20, 1877).

  • 1880's - Stoddard ("Todd") Hammond builds a manor home overlooking the lake, and develops the stream for trout fishing.

  • 1889 - Julius "June" Smith builds a dam and enlarges Alder Lake.

  • 1894 - Ten carpenters are reported working on a new fish hatchery at the Orchard Lake Club (May 4, 1894). This is the earliest reference I have found to the Club.

  • 1895 - Hammond builds a fish hatchery on the Orchard Lake property, spending more than $18,000 on the project. It was built by Julius "June" Smith, who had previously built the dam at Alder Lake.

  • 1899 - Samuel Coykendall buys Alder Lake. His new manor home there is completed in June, 1900.

  • 1899 - Orchard Lake is in the news when a poacher is shot and seriously wounded by a watchman. The poacher is later awarded $15,000 in damages in 1900. A lengthy series of appeals followed.

  • 1900 - The Orchard Lake property was logged by the Resherif Lumber Company. They built a small town with five houses, a logging camp and mill in what is now known as the Al Nassau (Marshall Lesser) section of camp

  • 1903 - Stoddard Hammond files another appeal for the damages in the poacher shooting lawsuit (November 7. 1903).

  • 1906 - Stoddard Hammond pays a $25 fine for illegally cutting timber on state land (January 6, 1906).

  • 1907 - The deed to the property was transferred on Sept. 17, 1907, from Carrie K. Hammond to the Orchard Lake Trout Preserve, Stoddard Hammond, President.

  • 1910 - Stoddard Hammond dies (February 14, 1910).

  • 1910 - Mrs. Stoddard Hammond operates the Stoddard Hammond School at Orchard Lake (August 30, 1910).

  • 1911 - Coykendall offers to supply trout eggs from the Alder Lake hatchery to restock the depleted lakes and streams of the area.

  • 1911 - Directors are named for the newly formed Orchard Lake Club (March 7, 1911).

  • 1911 - The deed was transferred again, this time on March 24, 1911, from Carrie K. Hammond to the Orchard Lake Club.

  • 1913 - Mongaup Pond, formerly also owned by Stoddard Hammond, is sold. The article mentions that when the Orchard Lake property had been sold earlier it reduced Hammond's overall mortgage by $12,000, providing an indication of the 1911 sale price.

  • 1914 - The New York Times carries a recap of the third annual meeting of the Orchard Lake Club (February 4, 1914).

  • 1915 - The New York Times reports that the Orchard Lake Club has approximately 60 members and owns 500 acres (February 7, 1915).

  • 1918 - A boy makes the news for killing a large bear at Orchard Lake (September 18, 1918).

  • 1920 - Two membership shares in the Orchard Lake Club sell for $100 per share (January 8, 1920).

  • 1921 - The New York Times reports that a membership share in the Orchard Lake Club sold for $10 (May 12, 1921).

  • 1933 - Another transfer of the deed, on Feb. 21, 1933, from The Orchard Lake Club to Orchard Lake Development (1,957 Acres)

  • 1934 - The Trout & Skeet Club of New York is formed and takes over the Orchard Lake Club property and operations (May 3, 1934).

  • 1938 - The Trout & Skeet Club is featured in an article on the opening of the fishing season (April 5, 1838).

  • 1939 - The movie "Gun Play", filmed at Orchard Lake, is released on September 1, 1939 (September 10, 1939). "Members of the Catskills' exclusive gun club demonstrate skeet shooting." It was apparently #12 in a series of sports films issued as "Sportscopes" for RKO-Pathe and was produced by Frank Ullman, Jr. and directed by Frank Donovan. It runs 9 minutes and was shot in black-&-white. I found some additional industry mention of the film: "Tieing in the RKO Pathe Sportscope "Gun Play" with Field & Stream has brought about valuable car card space devoted to the current short. Cards were displayed on several New England railroad lines for a month. Copy on these requests passengers to inquire at the theaters when "Gun Play" would have a run. Further copy was devoted to the Sportscope, its content and data on where to obtain a copy of the complete game laws for the United States and Canada for 1939-40." It is likely the Library of Congress has a copy of the film; if anyone can locate a copy please let me know.

  • 1942 - The property is sold for $20,000 to Charles R. Vose, who used it as a private retreat.

  • 1943 - The deed is transferred on Nov. 3, 1943 from Orchard Lake Development to Trout and Skeet Club, Inc., commonly known as the Trout & Skeet Club of New York &/or The Orchard Lake Club.

  • 1955 - The deed is transferred on June 6, 1955 from the Trout & Skeet Club to Tropical. On October 11, 1955 the deed is transferred from Tropical to Nassau County Council, BSA, Inc. when the Council buys the property now known as Onteora Scout Reservation with a donation from Alfred H. Caspary. The Sullivan County Assessor's office lists the property at 2,203 acres.

  • 1956 - Onteora is dedicated on July 28, 1956, with a capacity of 100 Scouts to be expanded to 200 on 2,400 acres(July 27, 1956).

  • 1956 - Eighty Explorers are at Onteora at the Explorer base Camp for the first season of summer camp.

  • 1956 - 1st Operation Igloo.

  • 1957 - Ranger’s Home built. Bill Donaghy moves from Carle Place to become the Camp Ranger. Main entrance road from new Ranger's home down to the lake replaced old one-way road leading past the dam and waterfronts.

  • 1958 - The Long House is built despite a major snowstorm. The Manor House serves as Office, Health Lodge and Trading Post.

  • 1960 - The Council House dining hall opens. First Junior Leader Training Camp program at Onteora. Nassau County Council purchases Alder Lake property. Earliest known date for the three chapels.

  • 1961 - The Archery range opens. Last season for the Explorer base Camp.

  • 1961 - Onteora is described as being capable of handling 1,000 Scouts per week, to be ramped up to 2,400 by 1965 (May 21, 1961).

  • 1963 - The Long Island Trading Post opens. The Carriage House is torn down.

  • 1965 - The Manor House, former administration center, is torn down. The new Administration Building and Blauvelt Health Center open.

  • 1966 - Earliest known date for the JLTC Shelter.

  • 1967 - The stables move to the Archery Field, later known as the Rifle Range Field. Al Nassau Program Shelter opens. The A Frame houses are built.

  • 1968 - Buckskin Camp is opened, including the camp's third waterfront. The loop between Ute campsite and the Teddy Roosevelt Shelter area is opened. New campsites are built there and along Sprague Brook. The camp is enjoying the busiest period in its history.

  • 1969 - Ken Heim retires from Nassau County Council and finishes his leadership of Onteora. Last confirmed year for National Camp School at Onteora.

  • 1972 - A full program of summer camping is held at Alder Lake Scout Reservation. With the acknowledgment that the planned Buckskin Camp was unlikely to be built as planned, several changes were made in how campsites were assigned to Program Shelters. The original Bobcat Program Shelter was renamed the F. Howard Covey Program Shelter and assigned to Tribes Camp. The former JLTC shelter became the new Bobcat shelter and was assigned to Chiefs Camp. This was to maintain the tradition of shelters named after individuals in Tribes Camp and animal names used in Chiefs Camp.

  • 1973 - The last season for the F. Howard Covey Program Shelter.

  • 1974 - The last summer for four camping periods. Due to declining attendance, some of the staff is sent home after the third period. The former F. Howard Covey Program Shelter is used as the Conservation Shelter. It was later used as the Hiking Shelter before being demolished. Last season of Alder Lake as a full-time camp.

  • 1975 - Last season for the Council House Dining Hall, which was used in following years as the Craft Lodge and a storage facility. The Sullivan County Assessor's office lists the property at 2,411 acres on November 19, 1975.

  • 1976 -The new Rifle Range opens with a concrete slab in place. The horses are moved to the former JLTC/Bobcat Program Shelter.

  • 1977 - The Sullivan County Assessor's office lists the property at 1,2418.4 acres on February 3, 1977. A shelter and trap range are added to the Rifle Range. The old stables are torn down.

  • 1978 - Bill Donaghy retires as camp ranger and is succeeded by Herb Conrad.

  • 1979 - The Commissary/Bakery building becomes the Maintenance building.

  • 1980 - Alder Lake Scout Reservation is taken from the Council by New York State under eminent domain after negotiations on a sale price stall. The state announces they will pay $950,000 for the property and the Boy Scouts can use them if it's not enough (March 24, 1980 and March 25, 1980). The last summer for the Bobcat Program Shelter and the Country Store. Glenn Gabbard becomes the third camp ranger. The Catholic and Protestant Chapels are moved to a new location behind the maintenance area.

  • 1981 - A court rules in favor of the Council for a tax claim made for logging at Onteora (November 20, 1981).

  • 1982 - First season for the Joseph Shields Memorial Campfire Ring. 

  • 1983 - Last season for the Joseph Shields Memorial Campfire Ring. Last season for the Bobcat Program Shelter. The Sullivan County's Assessor's office lists the property at 1,401.85 acres on December 23, 1983. That is the current figure on the county records.

  • 1984 - First season for the Arthur K. Woodcheke Shelter on Orchard Lake (used for waterfront activities). First season for the Kenneth Heim Memorial Campfire Ring, built by the Order of the Arrow.

  • 1987 - Last season for the Otter Program Shelter.

  • 1991 - Onteora closes for summer camping at the end of the season.

  • 1994 - Onteora is opened for Outpost camping. No staff was hired meaning troops had to cook their own meals and handle any program activities. Still, it was a welcome step towards getting the camp going again.

  • 1997 - Onteora reopens as a full service summer camp!!!!!

  • 1998 - The James E. West Shelter is rebuilt on the site of the original shelter.

  • 2000 - The Dan Beard Shelter is torn down.

  • 2001 - The barn is torn down.

  • 2002 - The Dan Beard Shelter is rebuilt on the site of the original shelter.

  • 2014 - A popular ATV program is added to Onteora.

  • 2020 - Due to COVID-19 restrictions a virtual camping experience is held in place of traditional Summer Camp.