Family Stories: Boy Scout Camping and Memories
… as told to me by my husband – these are his memories!
I was eleven and a half years old (1959) when I first joined the Boy Scouts. My best friend Ralph Camputaro joined first, but I didn’t join until the following January… joining mostly for the camping aspect of scouts… as I wanted to go camping in the summer for two weeks. My first camping trip was in 1960… celebrating the Boy Scouts 50th anniversary. Our troop consisted of about eighty boys… and if they all showed up on Thursday meetings, there wasn’t even enough seating in the room. On nights when our parents attended for family dinners… it was very crowded.
Our troop was first known as “Troop 716”, but later it was changed to Troup 16… and no one ever had an answer as to why. Conroy Taylor was our troop leader with Ken Bradley as the assistant leader; I remember Ken having earned every scout badge there was… I was impressed! Conroy Taylor’s outside job was photography… I’m not sure if he had a studio, but I do know he took pictures for the local newspapers, as well as many school functions. He was also a very good friend of my uncle Johnny Cambino, and even was their wedding photographer. His name is found on many older newspaper photos.
I attended Boy Scouts from the time I turned 11 until age 14!
My mother bought my first Boy Scout uniform at Kornman’s Department Store (94 Campbell Ave.), located in the “old center” part of West Haven… which was closer toward the end of Campbell Ave… near the beach. That clothing store sold all scout uniforms for both boys and girls. People often referred to that area as the old center, while calling the part down toward the green and Silvers Drugstore, just the center.
American Legion Hall… we attended on the top floor.
We attended scout meetings on the top open floor of the American Legion Hall on Center Street; it was just next door to Silver’s Drugstore. Scouts met every Thursday night, 7 to 9:30. Ralphie’s (Camputaro) father took us every Thursday night around seven o’clock. I usually walked over to his house early and we’d watch Huckleberry Hound and Amos & Andy. As my father was usually just getting home around 7 at night, he would pick us up. It was only in the winter months that we had rides there and back… in the summer months we walked.
In the summer, was when we usually stopped at Silver’s and maybe had an ice cream sundae… if we found money in the pay phones. I’d usually have a black & white for 10-cents, or if I was feeling rich… have a sundae for 25-cents. But first things first… the first thing you did when entering Silver’s was check the three wooden phone booths for extra change… that sometimes determined what you were having. I never walked in Silver’s without first checking the money return slot… money was often there, just waiting to be found.
After our treat, I’d call home… the signal was to let it ring only once and hang up… then my dime would come back to me. There was a boy in our troop, whose father had stock in the phone company, who showed us another trick. You first put your dime in… then as the dime trickled down, and at just the right time… you slammed the receiver hard on the metal holder… and sometimes your dime came back, giving you a totally free phone call… and if you were really lucky, you got back more than your dime. It didn’t work all the time, but it worked quite often. I also learned how to whistle in Scouts by cupping my hands together… learning from an older scout in our troup. It took some practice, but I eventually learned how.
“If we didn’t stop at Silver’s, we walked to Kelsey’s Pharmacy and had a treat at their counter, but again not before checking their wooden phone booths also.”
Old Settlers area today… Settlers Woods housing subdivision
There were three Boy Scout camps I attended during the years I was in. The first one was Old Settler’s Camp in Milford, just off New Haven Avenue. The only thing there was just a field for camping… a field usually of over three-feet high grasses… waiting for us in the spring when we camped. We often brought our own machete to help clear the area before setting up camp. Now it’s no longer there… just a subdivision of homes, but now known as Settlers Woods.
It was Mrs. Garland, who originally sold those 110 acres of land in Milford to the Quinnipiac Council in 1955… which became known as Old Settler’s Camp. The camp was used for short-term camping and Cub Scout day camp. The Boy Scouts later sold the property in the 1980’s to be developed for business; the sale was mainly due to the local Council needing cash to maintain other camps that were in disrepair.
We always arrived at Old Settler’s on Friday nights by 5 O’clock… it was only weekend camping; my parents would pick me up on Sunday afternoon. More often than not… it was usually raining or drizzling on those Friday nights when we arrived, but for the most part, the other days were nice; I went three years in a row. It was only a big open field area surrounded by woods with a stream nearby. The camp supplied all the tents and supplies needed there, with each patrol having a large main tent where you made your fire and cooked… ours was a Baker’s style tent; we slept in pup tents – two to a tent. After helping to put up the main tent, we then built a fire, which was always a first priority. In pitching our pup tents, we dug a trench all around to catch water if it rained… that helped to keep us dry. Our floors were dirt… you really roughed it there.
Camp Cedarcrest, another local camp located at 886 Mapledale Road in Orange… 43 acres along the Wepawaug River that ran through the property. It was created in 1924 by the Inter-Service Club Committee of New Haven. It was another weekend only camping area for the scouts; the camp was near Rt. 34 and Rt 15, so easily accessible.
The only things I usually brought to camp there was my knapsack, axe and sleeping bag; you packed everything on your back and carried it. The knapsack I used was either Uncle Tony’s or my fathers; I don’t know what happened to it. The sleeping bag was given to me by Uncle Johnny; guess it faded away to nothing and was eventually thrown out. Uncle Pete also gave me a knapsack, which I still have today. Later, I bought a belt, canteen, and holder at Herman’s for three dollars… the canteen fit in the holder and that clipped on the belt; the belt held everything you needed to carry. I bought mine, like everyone else at that time, at Herman’s Army Navy on the Boston Post Road; they had real Army surplus supplies, not like today, where it’s all from China.
My Boy Scout items saved through the years… all made in the U.S.
There was a stream that ran through the woods at Camp Cedarcrest… previous Boy Scouts had dammed up a pool of water so you were able to dip your hands in for washing… often we had to break the ice with our axe in the winter to wash and brush our teeth. We really lived on the land when camping there.
There were some cabins there, but very primitive. Each cabin had about 8 bunks and a fireplace, but there was no insulation in the walls… looking more like a garage where you see the studs showing. There was usually snow on the ground when we went in early January. The only thing we did there on the weekend was hiking, and looking for wood for our fireplace. We’d arrive on a Friday night… and by early Saturday morning we were up early chopping wood with our own axe we brought. Every scout had their own… and I still have mine today; my father gave me my first axe. While we chopped wood, someone usually went out to get us breakfast. We also maintained our own axes… sharpening them when dull. I’m sure today the scouts probably aren’t allowed to bring them!
Still have my axe after all these years…
We learned a lot at camp in living off the land… things like… you don’t start a fire on top of leaves, you first clean the area… cleaning off a good five feet circle of debris away before making a fire; you don’t want to start a forest fire. In Boy Scouts we learned those rules, but I already knew them as I had older uncles who taught me. At scout camp we also had to sleep under the stars once a week, just in our sleeping bag… and you kept your flashlight close to your side.
Even though there wasn’t really anything to do there other than hike and just be outside… it was a place to go and be away from your parent’s… being on your own a little… helping you in learning how to take care of yourself.
Camp Cedarcrest has greatly changed today, as they now have a dining hall, picnic pavilion, sports area for outside activities of basketball, horse shoes, baseball, soccer and even bocce. There are now 17 cabins and a large tent area, and often even rented out for family gatherings and weddings.
I marched a few times in West Havens’ Memorial Day parades… and it was plenty hot… often with temps up to like 98 degrees on some days. We marched with our short pants and knee high socks, not like the kids today. Today, they just march in regular clothes – what discipline is that? We were required to be dressed… and march in every parade if you wanted to stay in the Boy Scouts. That’s how it should be! My parents never came to watch, that I remember…. it usually was my Aunt Catherine who came to the parades.
Camp Sequassen… Connecticut Yankee Council
My favorite camp to attend in the summer was always Camp Sequassen, located at 791 West Hill Rd. in New Hartford, Ct. The 600 acres of forest was situated at the foot of the Berkshires with West Hill Pond located alongside the camping area. We always called it Lake Crystal as it was so clear. The middle of the lake was about 60 feet deep and so clear that you could even see the crayfish walking on the bottom. I first went to camp there beginning when I turned 12.
I went to Camp Sequassen every summer for two weeks… from 12 to age 14… and it often rained at some point while I was there. I always wanted to arrive before lunch as there was lots to do… they gave us a quick physical and then a swimming test… all that had to be done before we could do anything.
Camp cost $40 a week, but we always sold fundraiser items to help defray the cost. I usually sold about $80 out of that fundraising suitcase… with a percentage of the money going toward my camp cost. Most of the items sold were useful items like cheese slicers, kitchen saw or fire extinguishers, so people didn’t really mind buying. I usually sold to the neighbors, both of my grandmothers and the aunts always bought something; my parents paid the rest of the camp cost.
Being able to attend Camp Sequassen for two weeks every summer, was one of the main reasons I joined the scouts.
In going for two weeks, I brought a foot locker there with clothes… and it was where I kept my rolled up sleeping bag during the day. We were in the middle of the woods… and yes there were bears. No food or candy was allowed in the camp sleeping area… and food must always be consumed in the mess area. One year a boy left candy in his bag, and we returned to find his sleeping bag and area ripped apart. While I never saw a bear there… they were there!
We slept in tents, no matter what the weather was!
Camp was all about the buddy system… you went nowhere alone! Swimming and canoeing were my main priorities there… and we did both morning and afternoon, but always with a buddy. From the moment we arrived, we were tested for swimming capability. If you were tagged as a white swimmer… it meant you could not swim; red meant you were between a white and blue swimmer. You had to be a blue simmer to go out in a canoe at Boy Scout camp… I was a blue swimmer.
Crystal Lake at Camp Sequassen
Non-“white” swimmers weren’t allowed out in the boats at all; they did offer swimming lessons, so everyone had a chance to learn. Blue and red swimmers could go out in the regular boats, but the canoes required you to be a blue level; you kneeled in the canoe to paddle. Before letting you go out in a canoe, you had to prove yourself by tipping the canoe over, then flipping it back right side up… then crawling back in. If you could not accomplish this, no matter what color level you were – you didn’t go out.
“The rules at Camp Sequassen as a Boy Scout were… No one went out alone… you went with a buddy… and No one went out in impending weather!”
Another one of the best parts of going to camp there was The TeePee Trading Post at Camp Sequassen. I usually only had about $10.00 with me… if I was lucky… so I had to buy wisely and sparingly to make it last the two weeks. I remember buying a knife there for $2.25. We also had a shooting range, where we used “real” rifles… imagine that today! They were 22 gauge rifles, and you could shoot for 25 cents a round, with 10 shots in that round. It added up… I enjoyed spending time at the range.
Assemblies at camp were usually once or twice a week… requiring us to dress in our uniform, complete with the high socks, tassels, and garters… it was all about discipline! Sure wish I had a picture of that! I always enjoyed hearing the bugler playing revelry every morning… telling us to get up… Taps were played in the evening. When I look back now… being in the Boy Scouts wasn’t much different than being in the Air Force… in the discipline aspect of it.
Steve’s “slide” held his Boy Scout neckerchief secured around his neck… also referred to as a woggle.
There were many different weekly activities at camp like wheelbarrow races… which were run barefoot; I always took the bottom, as I was fast. The knot tying races were fun… seeing who could tie knots the fastest… I was good at that! There was also archery… another favorite of mine. We had about 66 boys in our troop… with 16 in our “wolf patrol. We also played softball, and badminton against other troops at camp, it wasn’t just our troop there… they came from all over the state… and it was all about competition!
Another activity in Boy Scouts I enjoyed, was making canoes out of the bark of the White Birch trees; we formed the tree bark into a canoe shape and stapled them together. The bark doesn’t stay on the tree very long – its very fragile, so it’s often found on the ground. Years ago, there were quite a few across the street from my parents house… my friends and I had chopped down all the small ones across the street with our axes when we were young – we thought we were all Davy Crockett’s!
Like father… like son… following into Scouts!
L.to R: Steve, Stephen, Tony & Shirley Alfonso and grandfather Steph Insalaco… standing by the famous “totem pole” at Camp Sequassen!
Sometimes today I’ll hear a song like “Sherry”… which quickly flashes camp memories back. The last year I went to Camp Sequassen was in 1962… I was 14 years old… and when I got back from my two week stay, it was the most popular song playing on the radio. Sherry by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons was played day and night! The first time I heard it, I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard – their voices were so different from all the other songs out there at that time. Now I don’t think it’s that great anymore.
“I was fourteen years old, at silver star level, when I left Boy Scouts“
To read more Family Stories… click HERE
“Steve’s memories written from the many conversations we’ve had through the years”
© 2021, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved