Welcome to Camp Pequea! Lancaster County’s first Boy Scout camp

“Camping out” was nothing new to the boys of 1910, the year Dan Strickler went to national headquarters at 200 Fifth Ave., New York, to get permission for the 30 boys of Troop 1, Columbia, to call themselves Boy Scouts.

Boy Scout papers belonging to my wife’s grandfather, Richard Hoffman, from the first half of the 20th Century.

The Lancaster YMCA had held a camp since 1894. One of the new troop’s first projects was, then, to find a campsite. They choose a location near the Susquehanna, about 15 miles southwest of Lancaster. Named Camped Pequea, it sat upon a hilltop overlooking the Susquehanna, a quarter-mile north of the village.

This map shows the approximate boundary line for the Pequehanna's 100-acre property. The town of Pequea is directly south.
This map shows the approximate boundary line for the Pequehanna’s 100-acre property. Camp Pequea was likely along the southern edge of the property near the Pequea Creek. The town of Pequea is directly south.

It seems likely that after plans for the Pequehanna Inn began to fall apart, property owner John K. Hartman rented a portion of the estate to the Scouts as a source of income. Click here to read more about John Hartman and the Pequehanna Inn.

On an interesting side note, Lancaster Conservancy recently announced that they are purchasing 36 acres of wooded hills where the camp likely sat. The area highlighted in yellow below shows the spring 2021 real estate acquisition.

36 acres being purchased by Lancaster Conservancy.

In June 1911, the boys boarded a train at Columbia. At Pequea, they clambered onto rafts with their whitewall tenting, equipment and supplies, and poled their way upriver. On the chosen knoll, they sickled down the tall grass. A headquarters tent for the Scoutmaster and the Chaplain (Presbyterian pastor George W. Ely) became the center of a circle of smaller, two-boy tents.

Camp Pequea on July 4, 1912. This is one of the earliest known photos of a Scout camp in Lancaster County. Columbia Troop 1 pitched these tents on a knoll between the Susquehanna and Pequea Creek. Their first camp was held here in 1911.

Bunks were of oilcloth with loops sewn into the sides, slipped onto saplings, and supported by four rustic uprights driven into the ground. For a mess hall, the boys pitched a canvas fly over an old barn floor nearby; only the weathered floor was there no walls.

Columbia’s Ram, Bob White, and Hound Patrols scratched for honors in camp craft. They all hiked off along the railroad to McCall’s Ferry. They listened to talks by two of their schoolteachers Professor. B. B. Herr, then at Columbia but later principal of McCaskey High in Lancaster, and H. F. Zerger, equally good at English and nature study. Zerger wrote a book called Wild Flowers by the Wayside.

‘Wild Flowers by the Wayside’ written by Harry F. Zerger

There would have been no Troop 1, probably, had there not been the kind of dedicated leadership on which Scouting has depended from its beginnings here. That first Columbia troop had as its Scoutmaster a molder from the foundry of the old Keeley Stove Co., J. W. Miltenberger. A humble man, he is remembered with affection by those of his “boys” who carry on his selfless work more than half a century later.

A postcard showing the Keeley Stove Co. in Columbia, PA.

To help pay the rent on the riverside camp, six troops from the Philadelphia area moved in, too. Wayne, Ardmore, and Swarthmore Scouts shared the encampment at one time or another in 1911. Philadelphia Troop 17 came by trolley car to Atglen, then hiked cross country by way of the Buck.

Chow time!

The mess hall’s milk turned sour, so a big refrigerator was built. A boathouse and a dozen canoes were floated on the Susquehanna.

By the summer of 1912, Columbia had a second troop. Since Miltenberger could not getaway for the first few days of camp, Troop 2’s Scoutmaster, the Rev. John C. Bieri, took over as chief. He recorded in rhymed couplets a picture of what camping was like in that momentous year when Americans worried about whether to vote for Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, or Woodrow Wilson.

A hike across the creek.

What worried the Scouts along the Pequea, according to their poet laureate, were such inconveniences as the man with the wagon who kept them waiting three hours to haul their heavy equipment from the railroad station at Pequea to the campsite. The raft was given up as too risky.

In the versified history, which the Columbia Daily News printed in an amazing 92 inches of solid type, Bieri recounted all the details of such adventures as that involving the barrel the boys broke up for the campfire, only to find a hornets’ nest inside; the nine tents hauled up just ahead of the first rain; taps played on the mouth-organ while mosquitoes hummed an obbligato; the hike to the Pequea store for pop, liquorice sticks, sourballs, hot peanuts, pie and ginger ale, polished off just in time to hike back to camp for lunch; the carrying of water in buckets to the mess tent, and sitting on the ground to eat the salmon and beans before the tables were built; the hikers who returned from Cold Cave to find the stay-at-camps had piled their clothes and blankets with trash; the morning when every Scout in camp awoke to find somebody had painted his face; the night walk with kerosene lanterns; the thunderstorm which brought “the reverend” his share of grief: “. . . the stakes came up, the tent went down, And dragged in mud his new nightgown.”

This rustic bridge, built in 1912 by the Columbia Scouts, made it possible to walk from their camp to the Pequea trolley line instead of trudging a quarter-mile downriver to the Pequea railroad station.

That year the Columbia boys spent much of their time chopping trees to build a bridge across Pequea Creek so their camp would be reached from the Pequea trolley line. Click here to read more about the Pequea Trolley.

Here’s the probable location of that Scout made bridge using the provided details.

Camping was always high adventure in those pre-Council days, but its quality was as varied as the campers’ uniforms. Some troops borrowed cottages along nearby creeks and rivers. Others pitched tents on mountainsides or in coves of the Susquehanna.

Here’s a great booklet entitled Camp Pequea for Boyu Scouts on the Susquehanna. It comes courtesy of Benjamin L. Lefever III via Facebook.

Resources

2 thoughts on “Welcome to Camp Pequea! Lancaster County’s first Boy Scout camp

  1. Thanks for sharing. i spent my early years in Pequea and never knew this. Didn’t know there was a railroad station – was that near the Riverview Hotel? I remember in the 50’s the boy scouts from Lititz would camp on one of the islands, They stored their war canoes in Warren Henwood’s boathouse. The canoes were on an overhear rack over the Chris Craft boats. Many times they were full of mud which would drip on my friends white boat! Those were the good old days too.

  2. Another tie to Boy Scouts – we bought the cottage that belonged to “Mack the Coffee Man” who donated totheJ. Edward Mack Boy Scout Camp.small world.

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