Camp Summit 50 Years Old (Part 1), by Karen Cuccinello, Town of Summit Historian
[Whilst this post does not deal with our Brown/Wheeler family history, it is being posted to show the progress which has been made since our Brown families lived in the Summit/Jefferson area commencing in the early 1800's. ]
The occasion of Camp Summit’s 50th birthday was not the only reason I decided to write about it. I live about two miles from the camp (about a mile as the crow flies), and felt I was well acquainted with most of its operation. Through research, I discovered that there was more to learn.
Camp Summit officially opened its doors on January 9, 1961 with seven male inmates from the Elmira reformatory, now known as the Elmira Correctional Facility. The minimum-security youth rehabilitation facility camp was intended to hold up to 100 offenders in three main buildings.
During the early 1950’s the Conservation Department was looking for a way to care for thousands of acres of New York State land. State lands were purchased during the depression years, and were reforested and improved by the Civilian Conservation Corps Program (CCC camps). The CCC camps shut down near the beginning of WW II, which left the land unattended.
Collaboration between the Conservation and Corrections Departments ultimately created the youth camp idea. In 1955, Chapter 600 of the Correction and Conservation Law created a minimum-security reformatory to be known as a Youth Rehabilitation Facility for the care, treatment, education, and rehabilitation of male youthful offenders ages 16-21.
The Corrections Department was to build and maintain the facility, and oversee the inmates (campmen). The Conservation Department was responsible for planning work programs on state land, and providing the necessary equipment and transportation of the men.
Camp Summit, which is actually in the town of West Fulton, was intended to be the first youth reformatory camp of its kind in the state, but due to local opposition, Camp Phasalia in Chenango County was opened first in 1956. The Conservation and Corrections Departments ran a successful public relations blitz, which even included a promotional film, narrated by Chet Huntley, to gain community support for a youth camp in Schoharie County.
The land for the youth camp started to be cleared late in 1959 followed by the erection of a dormitory 281’ x 26’, administrative building 241’ x 26’, and mess hall 193’ x 26’ in July of 1960. Total cost for construction was approximately $500,000.
The next group of inmates came from the Vocational Institution in Coxsackie. They went to work on the camp upon their arrival. They performed landscaping duties, and erected more cement block buildings. Building projects included a vocational shop, garage, chapel, wood treatment plant, drying shed for logs, and a sawmill all within eight years of the camp’s opening.
The first work projects on the state lands included thinning and pruning woodlands, and building and maintaining truck trails. In 1968, inmates worked on stream improvements, clearing dead trees.
In the 1970’s the campmen were allowed to work on community service projects. Crews worked at churches, firehouses, the Schoharie County Fairgrounds, Landis Arboretum, state parks, the Old Stone Fort Museum Complex, Bellaire Ski Center, ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) facilities, towns, and villages. Crews scraped walls, painted, sheet rock, did concrete work, refinished floors, insulated walls, and cleared brush.
One of the biggest projects was building a covered walking bridge over Fox Creek, from the Col. Peter Vroman home to Fort Road in Schoharie. Dr. Wim Van Eekeren, former executive director of the state Narcotic Commission and the Kiwanis Club conceived and sponsored the bridge.
For a number of years in the 1980’s the sawmill and treating plants ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The wood was used by an assortment of state facilities. A second dorm was started in 1978 as the camp population rose above 100. Building projects for 1985-86 included a Quality of Work Life Building, an additional vehicle garage, softball field and handball court.
Campmen helped with the reconstruction of the Oliver Schoolhouse on the Old Stone Fort grounds in 1985-86. A mason shop crew supervised by Gary Rightmyer laid the foundation, and a wood shop crew supervised by Richard Silvernail helped raze the building.
[Continued in Part 2, Blog Post #44]