Written by Scott Shallcross. Published in the New Hampshire Boat Museum Winter Newsletter March 2015.
When my wife and I learned that the New Hampshire Boat Museum would be featuring an exhibit on Lake Wentworth this upcoming season we were pleased to share some of the history and personal recollections from our forty summers spent at Pierce Camp Birchmont on Wentworth with museum director Lisa Simpson Lutts.
We were both campers at Birchmont in the 1960’s and became staff members in the 1970’s. After a ten year hiatus we returned in 1984 to run the Boys Camp and Girls Camp respectively and give our sons the opportunity to experience overnight camping. My wife, Valerie Justice, currently is the camp photographer and I continue to Head the Boys Camp. Birchmont has been a summer home to us in earnest as well as to thousands of campers and staff from around the United States and many countries.
Birchmont was originally founded as camp in 1907 when Professor Ambrie Fields and his wife purchased the historic Mt. Delight farm in East Wolfeboro from S.W. Clow. Ambrie Fields was the principal of the Young Ladies Seminary of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The camp attracted “girls and young ladies” interested in “nature studies and sports.” Academic tutoring was also available.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s Birchmont was a summer camp for adults directed by Russell and Helen Hemmenway from Newton, Massachusetts. Individual cabins with fireplaces were rented to vacationers with meals served in a main dining hall. These cabins and the dining hall as still used today. Activities included hiking, horseback riding, swimming and boating.
In 1951, Forrester “Pop” Pierce purchased the property and the following year Pierce Camp Birchmont opened its gates as a private residential camp for children. Pop Pierce, an educator, football coach and athletic director, is regarded as a camping pioneer having opened America’s first Day Camp in 1918.
Third generation Directors, Greg and Laura Pierce, have been at Birchmont’s helm for 27 years. Both attended Birchmont as campers, raised their two children at camp and maintain the many strong Birchmont traditions while continuing to improve the facilities and curriculum.
Every summer some 300 campers from up to 20 states and several foreign countries travel to Birchmont to enjoy fun, adventure, travel and a varied curriculum with an emphasis on waterfront skills and tennis. Performing arts, yoga, mountain biking, woodworking, Native American crafts, horseback riding, golf, archery, high and low elements ropes, baseball, golf, soccer, hockey, basketball, ceramics, arts and crafts, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing are just some of the many camp offerings. Most importantly, campers learn to live independently, assume responsibilities, and develop lifelong friends.
On a personal level, some of my best memories as a camper include three day canoe trips down the Saco and Ossipee rivers, climbing Mt. Chocorua, the great baseball rivalry we had against the Wolfeboro American Legion Post team, learning to waterski and sail, competing against other area camps in sports and developing friendships with campers from different areas and backgrounds.
When my wife and I met with Lisa Simpson Lutts, she asked, “Why has Birchmont survived through the years when so many other overnight camps have closed their doors?” I immediately thought of the many lifelong educators and camp administrators who work hard to “engineer” a supportive environment for the campers. I also thought of the great natural beauty of Mt. Delight and Lake Wentworth.
Two Falls ago we hosted some 80 camp directors from around the nation as part of an American Camping Association Conference and they unanimously agreed that our facility and natural surroundings were spectacular. I am always proud to “show off” our campus.
Ultimately, I think that campers and staff develop a great sense of community, a sense of belonging and affection, and that helps Birchmont thrive.