Roughly twenty young men splash around in the lake, while four lifeguards in two rowboats circle around. The young men, in their black tank tops and black shorts, are clearly having the time of their lives in this photo dated from August 1925. The caption simply states “Boys Club Camp”. The photo surfaced in a dusty folder, along with a few other photos, telling a story of the history of one of the oldest camps in the Finger Lakes area. This camp is still in operation today, though it has changed its name a half-dozen times since 1925. Can you guess what this camp is called today?
A few hints. The photo was taken during the first week of this camp, which opened its gates during the first week of August, 1925. That year, the camp operated for two weeks, with the first being open only to boys, and the second being open to girls. For its first decade of operation, the camp rented locations on either side of Canandaigua Lake. The first two seasons were operated at Onoka Point, before hopping across the lake to Point Rochester for a few years, and then back to Onoka Point, before finally moving to its current location in 1937. If you are not familiar with Onoka Point or Point Rochester, you are not alone. After discussions with local historians Helen Fox and Ray Henry, it was discovered that Onoka Point was also known as Torrey Beach, located off Rt 364, just North of Kipp Road. Point Rochester, on the East side of Canandaigua Lake, is now known as Ononda Park, which is owned and operated by the Town of Canandaigua Parks and Recreation.
A few years later, in 1928, the camp opened as a co-ed camp, one of the first mixed-gender camps in New York State. The state organization overseeing this camp viewed its operation as “an experiment” which exceeded expectations and set the precedent for other camps operated by the organization throughout New York. 52 boys and girls attended camp that summer, where “four hours a day were devoted to instruction in nature study, plant life, astronomy, fossils, and training in leadership.”
The camp received a donation of land in 1935 by Mrs. Ogden P. Letchworth, and opened its doors in its current location for three weeks in 1937. The site was located in the town of Canandaigua, but away from the lake. A total of 238 boys and girls from a 17-county area attended summer camp that year, and the camp property was used by an additional 5,700 people for weekend rentals, including groups from the University of Rochester and the Finger Lakes Sportsman’s Club. Campers enjoyed swimming in Mud Creek, which was dammed up to create a swimming pool which was used until a more modern pool was built in 1960.
In 1945, with the war effort placing heavy demands on wives and children of military personnel, the camp changed its name to “Victory Camp at Letchworth”. Camp fees were set at $10/week, and a staff of 8 men and women oversaw the program for 62 campers over the course of two weeks. A strong music program, operated by the camp for several years, spawned into the creation of a separate Music Camp in 1963. That camp, now a completely separate program, still operates on the camp property for one week every year. Music Camp recently celebrated its 50th year in continuous operation at the site.
Over the years, the camp has grown in acreage through donations of supportive neighbors in the area. Currently, the camp sits on 124 acres of land in Bristol and serves between 1000 and 1100 campers between the ages of 5-15. There are seven distinct programs that operate from the camp each summer, including day and overnight programs, as well as specialty programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Counselor-In-Training, Ropes Course, and Young Women’s Adventure Camps. The camp hires over 70 young adults to serve as counselors, directors, nurses, food service staff, and maintenance personnel, making it one of the largest employers of young adults in Ontario County.
Have you figured it out yet? Do you know the name of the camp that started in 1925 on the shores of Canandaigua Lake? If you guessed 4-H Camp Bristol Hills, you are exactly right! This summer marks the 89th consecutive summer in operation for 4-H Camp Bristol Hills. In its early days, camp was a reward for 4-H members, but today the camp is open to all interested youth between the ages of 5-15, regardless of 4-H membership. Additional information on camp’s programs can be found at www.4-HCampBristolHills.org, by requesting a brochure from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County at 585-394-3977 Ext. 435, or visiting their office at 480 North Main Street, Canandaigua.