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A Short History of Hyde Bay Camp

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A Short History of Hyde Bay was written by Herbert Pickett, Jr.,
January 30, 2001Herbert and Emily

(Herb has written a good deal more about Hyde Bay in his extensive Pickett Family History found in "History")

     Hyde Bay Camp was a unique institution located on the Northeastern end of Otsego Lake, near Cooperstown, New York. It was founded in 1927 by Herbert E. Pickett. He was Dean and Head of the History Department at the Gilman Country School, Baltimore, Maryland. He was ably assisted by his wife, Emily, and in time by his three sons, Herbert, Jr., Lawrence and Robert.

     Summer camps grew up in the 1920's, though some may have been earlier. I can only guess at the historical origins. Men in the training camps of World War One may have found the experience pleasant in many ways. The Boy Scouts and the YMCA developed camping programs, such as Camp Dudley on Lake Champlain or Camp Hazen in Chester, Connecticut. There was also a romantic interest in Native American life, and many camps had more or less Indian names, wigwams, teepees, canoes, camping out, cooking over fires and the like. The Boy and Girl Scouts and the Y generally were for one or two week terms. The private camps providing July and August coverage were associated with Prep Schools, or other parts of a well to do society.

     The Preparatory School association was basic to the origin of Hyde Bay. E. Boyd Morrow, Assistant Headmaster at the Gilman Country School, established a Summer tutoring School in a camp on an island in Sodus Bay, on Lake Ontario. Morrow was in charge of the actual teaching at Gilman, and that school's aim until the 1950's was to get boys of the moneyed social class into Princeton. Not all boys could pass the rather rigorous program, and they went to Mr. Morrow's tutoring School to make up their conditions. This tutoring school concept was essential to the early days of Hyde Bay, and a part of its life to the end.

     (I find it easier to shift to the first person , and tell the story through my eyes. Herbert Jr.)

     During the first seven years of their marriage, Mother and Dad spent the summers at his father's farm in Decatur, NY or in rental houses in nearby Worcester. His father was growing older, his mother was an invalid and the farm not profitable, so the farm was in process of being sold. In 1923, Morrow sent a message to Dad that his history teacher in his tutoring school had to leave and he wanted Dad to come to Sodus and cover the last two weeks. We loaded into the Model T touring car with all the needs of the baby, (Bob was six months old,) and drove to Sodus. It gave Dad his first experience of a summer camp, and it appealed to him as the way to use his summers profitably and usefully, considering the needs of three growing boys.

     During that winter, he talked with the other masters about the camp and the camping concept. He wanted to get into it. One of his colleagues, probably Ed Russell, had a Princeton classmate who wanted to start a camp on Long Island. Dad went up for an interview, and was hired as Assistant Director of Camp Nissequague on Stony Brook Harbor, St. James, N.Y. While the rest of the family were visiting Mother's relatives in Attleboro, Mass. Dad went out to the camp. There were ten councilors, but no boys. Dad told the Director and owner that he was going up to Massachusetts and get his family, but if there weren't any boys, he was through. When we came back there were two councilors, and about ten boys and there was a camp of sorts. As a seven year old, I had a great time.

     That winter, Mr. Morrow's tutoring school was in trouble. The camp on the island in Sodus Bay had suddenly folded. Dad got Morrow and Park, the owner of Nissequague (See "Beginnings of HBC" in the Pickett Family History for a catalog of Camp Nissequague), together and it became a Summer School and Camp. There were three or four 8 and 9 year olds, the rest were teen-age prep school boys. Dad began to think about his own philosophy of camping. His big project was a six day canoe trip that began at Islip on the south shore of Long Island, portaged into Peconic Bay, then over into the Sound and back to Stony Brook. The first year was good. In the second year, Nissequague began falling apart. There was a new chef and the food was terrible. The owner was either crooked or nuts or maybe both. The owner stopped paying bills or depositing checks. Morrow had become Headmaster at Gilman, and decided to give up the tutoring school. Nissequague was clearly through.

     We went back up to Worcester for a couple of weeks before Gilman opened. Dad wanted to find a place to begin his own camp. One day we went over to Otsego Lake, about 20 miles away, for a picnic at Hyde Bay Landing. This was a small resort with several cottages, a small hotel, a pier where the steam boat, "Mohican," called two or three times a day, rental boats and so on. Dad got talking to an older man working around the place. He was George Rathbun, who had developed this place and owned it. Hew had a prosperous farm up toward East Springfield that included a water powered grist mill and saw mill. Dad told him that he was looking for some place to start a camp, and wondered if he knew of any possible properties. George didn't know what a camp was. Dad said it was as sort of school. The locals always referred to it as a school for some years. Then George said, "Well, I might be willing to rent you this place. I'm getting older and I don't want to bother with the hotel any more."     

Rathbuns Hotel
"The result was that Dad made a deal, and Hyde Bay Camp and Summer School had a location."

     The result was that Dad made a deal, and Hyde Bay Camp and Summer School had a location.

     Back at Gilman, Dad went to work. He first went to Morrow and asked to take over the Summer school business, but Morrow refused to help. He signed up Ed Russell to do Latin, Jim Dresser to do math, Dad to do history, I can't remember who did English or French. (Ed Dunning came on line soon, but then?) I can't remember how many prep school boys there were, not more than eight or ten. There was just one ten year old camper, Page Smith. My cousin, Don Tag was there too, but I don't know whether he was camper or family. Larry was 7. Dad rented a couple of acres of land adjoining the hotel, cleared a spot under a big pine tree, built a platform and erected the white 8 by 10 foot wall tent he and Mother used on a honeymoon trip to Canada. It had four cots for Don, Page, myself and a councilor. Who was he? Larry and I can't remember.

     Ed Russell got the cooks from his Princeton eating club, Henry and Annie, and the food was great. Picketts like to eat, so good food is always essential.

     Dad bought a motor boat, a heavy 20 foot inboard, and a sailboat, a 18 foot sneak box, with a large gaff headed cat rig. For some reason, it came to be known as the "Turtle." He rented rowboats (St. Lawrence Skiffs) and wooden canoes from Rathbun, put out a dock by the tutoring school, and devised a raft. A Gilman Senior, Chink Warfield, was water front director. Hyde Bay Camp was in action.

     At the end of that year, Dad enlarged his rental of land. This requires a bit of explanation. A large part of the land on the northeastern end of Otsego belonged to George Hyde Clarke, amounting to thousands of acres. It was granted to the original Clarke by King George III. Clarke planned it as a typical English Manor. A large stone manor house, called Hyde Hall, was built overlooking the bay, which in turn was called Hyde Bay. The mountain, was called Mt. Wellington, as the family had some connection to the famous duke. In Cooperstown the hill was called The Sleeping Lion. The oldest Clarke son was always named, "George Hyde" and in alternate generations called either George or Hyde. Dad went to the current George and rented all the land that became Hyde Bay Camp. (In the Cooperstown area one had to be careful whether there was an "e" or not on the name Clark, as the sons of Alfred Corning Clark virtually owned Cooperstown.)

     That winter, Dad, Ed Russell and Pete Saunders, a teacher at the Hill School, formed a partnership to run the tutoring school, and fifteen or so boys were lined up for that. Dad wanted to increase the enrollment of small boys, but all he could scare up were Page Smith and Jack Taliaferro. Page's mother had lived in Morristown, NJ before her divorce and had good friends there and found three or four boys for us. Dad went over to an "Army Navy Store" in East Baltimore and bought five surplus Army squad tents, pyramidal in shape, designed to hold eight soldiers, They were 16 feet square. He also bought iron army cots and mattresses and other camping supplies and had them shipped by freight to Cherry Valley, which was the nearest railroad depot. When we got to camp, we built five tent platforms, two to the north of a swale and three for the tutoring boys on the other and erected the tents. We had a problem as to how to fasten the eight ropes on each side. The height of the platforms made ordinary stakes in the ground impractical. Just then a man came into the camp, maybe a father of one of the Morristown boys, who had been an army officer. who taught us the system we used ever after.

     To get a swimming councilor, Dad applied to the Yale student employment office and hired George Poore, a member of the water polo team and a pre-med. He had the Red Cross Instructors badge, so he could give life saving instruction. The second councilor for the small boys was a teacher from Gilman named Bert Moore. Bert was an enthusiastic naturalist, and we learned a great deal about butterflies and moths. We went back to Rathbuns for meals. Here Dad began to develop the great Hyde Bay idea of simplicity and spontaneity. Most camps had a rigid schedule of hourly classes. We called them in scorn, "whistle camps." We also scorned bugles, Until we had electric power and could institute bells, rising, meals and so on were announced by a "fish horn."

     At the end of the summer, we built the first building at the edge of the lake, the Boat House. It was about ten feet wide and twenty feet deep. It had vertical siding, nailed to a plate at the top, a girt and a beam at the bottom. We attacked the construction with great enthusiasm. I climbed up on the plate and nailed the siding there between my feet. Unfortunately my weight caused the 2 by 4 beam to bend so that the roof line had a permanent sag, giving it a somewhat antique appearance. After the boys left in August, with rollers and 2 by 4 tracks and a hefty lever, we managed to get the motor boat into the house. We put the sailboat at the side of the house and covered it with the raft.

     That winter Dad decided that he would give up Rathbuns and build his own camp. One problem in opening camp was that Dad had a job marking College Boards. The C.E.E.B. (College Entrance Examining Board,) had standard entrance exams in all subjects. The exams from all over the country were sent to various centers to be read and given marks. Dad marked in Ancient History, which took a week in late June at Columbia University. We spent the week at Mother's Aunt Grace's home in Brooklyn [where] Mother grew up. That was fun for us kids, but was a problem in opening camp.

     As soon as Gilman was out, we dashed up to Cooperstown, engaged a carpenter, with whom Dad worked out a design for two buildings, a dining hall and kitchen near the lake and a tutoring school up the hill. We went off to New York for College Boards, and when we came back a week later, the buildings were up. Dad bought some more tents, and he erected one where the Director's house later stood in which he, Mother and Bob lived. There were about the same number of campers and tutoring boys. The dining hall had room for three tables, so you can see that the enrollment was not large. Dad went down to the Gilman kitchen and hired the second cook to take care of the kitchen, Fielder Brown and his wife Prudence. Fielder was nearly as tall as Dad and slim. Prudy was a true 5 by 5. They served us many years and became great friends. They slept in a lean-to room by the kitchen.

     The Picketts like to eat. Being an old farm boy, Dad got along well with the local farmers. Dean Rathbun, George's son, ran the family farm very efficiently. We bought our milk from him. Every night, after supper, some one ran the station wagon up to Dean's farm and picked up one, later two ten gallon cans of fresh milk, raw, of course. We took cans of the kitchen garbage and fed it to Dean's pigs. We bought fresh cream from another farmer, who raised Jersey cattle, and this went into the ice cream made every Wednesday and Sunday. A choice UL job was cranking the two machines, the reward licking the dashers. When Fielder wanted chicken, live birds were bought and executed back of the kitchen. I am sure eggs were bought at other farms. We had a large garden up by the gate, the weeding of which was not a favorite chore. The stove burned wood, which ULs split.

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Original Aquifier
"We ran a line of ¾ inch iron pipe from Rathbun's for water."
Photo of the remains of the original aquifer taken by Rusty Pickett in 2009

     We ran a line of ¾ inch iron pipe from Rathbun's for water. An iron cook stove was installed, and a large ice box. We brought ice for that from Rathbuns. For light, we had kerosene "Aladdin" lamps, which had white ash mantles and gave a pretty decent light. The tents had barn lanterns. After a couple of years we bought a 32 volt direct current electrical system, which had been developed for the use of farmers. This required a set of batteries and a gasoline generator. Some teachers and councilors did the wiring.

     For sanitation, we had pit privies, known as "cookoo houses" and referred to the end of camp as "cooks." Larry and I and other councilors and UL's dug a lot of them. For personal cleanliness there was a compulsory "soap dip" on Saturday at the end of the dock, and a container was there with a couple of bars of Ivory for use at other times.

     Dad continued to develop his concept of camp with minimum of routine, that would run spontaneously. It may have been easier with the small group, but it was the concept to the end. Walter Lord once commented to me that it worked because there was a hidden routine. Of course, there was routine. Mealtimes and tutoring classes, rising and bed times had to be set. Otherwise, boys went into activities more or less as they wanted

     To make it work, there had to be a good head councilor. Charlie Classen was one of the first, then a Gilman master, Bill Formwalt. Presently, the man who made it work, George Chandlee, came on board. He was a graduate of Gilman and Yale, and was teaching at Gilman. He quickly understood what the Director wanted. He later commented that Dad said to him, "If what we do is successful, I get the credit. If there is a problem, we blame you."

     About the same time, U.L.s (Unskilled Labor) were established. These were teen age boys who did much of the grubby manual labor necessary for the camp. Older ones were essentially junior councilors. Their pay was a reduction in fee or a free ride.

     Various camp programs were developed. The waterfront was central, of course. A swimming goal was the Red Cross Junior Life Saving test. An occasional councilor and my mother passed the Senior Life Saving, for those 18 and above. There was a "canoe test", which required disrobing in the water and swimming 25 yards. Dad designed and had built a diving platform in about 8 feet of water. four posts were driven into the bottom, braced and covered. A diving board was built to one side and on the other a tower of strap iron with platforms 4, 6 and 8 feet high. Dad worked out the design and took it to Harry Baird, the East Springfield blacksmith, who constructed it.

     Dad was anxious to develop good canoe trips. First we tried going down the Susquehanna from the lake outlet at Cooperstown, but the river was narrow, winding, obstructed by rubbish and stank of the town's sewer outflow. Of course, we called it the "Cesspoolhannah." Later we put in about a couple of miles below town and went to Goodyear Lake, a power dam about eight miles south. There wasn't much white water as the lake backed up almost half the way. There were two needs, a way to transport the canoes and a good river with some white water. We solved the transport problem whjen Dad bought a Model T Ford sedan from the neighboring farmer, towed into the camp and said to the campers, "Boys, I want the frame and the wheels. Take it apart." In two hours he had his frame and wheels. What a joy for boys to tear something apart legitimately! We bought a tongue from Sears and Harry Baird mounted two 4 by 4 beams on the frame and we had a canoe trailer.

     Dad, Mother and I went spooking around areas north of the Mohawk River toward the Adirondacks, and somehow found Trenton Falls. We loaded up the canoes and went up. The whole area was controlled by the Power Company, Niagara Hudson, I think, for a rather small hydro plant. We went down the elevator into the power plant in those innocent pre security days and the walked up the ravine. We found two sets of beautiful water falls, with deep pools at the bottom where we went for a swim. The next day, we went down the West Canada Creek about eight miles through some interesting but not very dangerous rapids. We had our canoe trip. The Trenton Falls trip was one of the climaxes of the camping season.

     For sailing, we had the "Turtle". It was a good boat for training, a little much for boys to use alone. The Cooperstown Country Club used Comet sailboats, so we were somewhat familiar with the class. Dad ordered one from the Cooperstown Boat Company, which was owned and operated by the local jeweler, Moses Lippit. Larry and I hitched the canoe trailer to the 1929 Ford Station wagon and went over to Cortland, NY to the Thompson Boat Company. They loaded a brand new Comet, Number 566, on the trailer, which we took back. to camp. This is a sloop, sixteen feet over all, with main and jib of 130 Sq. feet. It was designed in Maryland as a poor man's Star in depression days. Properly trained boys could sail by themselves. Two other Comets and a Snipe were owned across the lake and we organized races on week-ends.

     There were motor boats. The big inboard was a problem. The inboard motor didn't run a lot of the time we called the craft the "Sea Witch", with the understanding the letter B could be substituted. Finally we threw out the inboard engine, cut out the decking in the rear, and bought the largest outboard engine then made, a Johnson 32, and installed it. We needed this boat for rescuing capsized sailboats and taking groups to town. We also used it for aquaplaning, the predecessor of water skis. A while later we bought a boat designed for the Johnson, that would plane at 20 knots or more. For a while, we had both. Eventually the Witch was sold and Dad bought a Hacker Craft, about 20 ft. with a six cylinder Gray inboard, that could move right along. He really wanted a Chris-Craft, but this was the next best thing.

     He wanted the boys to enjoy motor boating also. He and I drove to Amsterdam and picked up a 12 foot boat built by the Old Town Canoe Company, and a 4 horse outboard. Dad had his own ideas about naming. A number of planes, ships and so on had numerical names, such as the NC 4, the first airplane to fly across the Atlantic. This boat became the S. T .37, the name of a popular gargle for sore throats. A second boat and motor of the same size was added and soon properly trained and tested boys were zipping all over the Bay.

     Dad also wanted a riding program. Where to get horses? After talking to different farmers, he found that a number of farm boys had riding horses. They were glad to get a few dollars rental for their nags in the summer when farm work didn't give them much time to ride anyway. We rented four horses this way. Dad then applied to the Yale student employment office and found a qualified councilor. He was Whitfield Jack, a law student who was a graduate of West Point. The Academy in those days expected officers to ride at the head of their troops, and gave each cadet a thorough training in horsemanship. Whit was with us for two years, I think. We gathered up an odd lot of tack, fenced the property and put in a gate. When not in use, the horses roamed the entire property. One UL job was to collect the night's production of droppings. The riding councilor for the next year was someone Whit recommended, Francis Payne, a Tulane Student, whose riding had been learned on his family cotton plantation near Greenville, Mississippi. He was followed by his brother Billy, also from Tulane, where he was a running back on the football team.

     The area was good for riding. The roads were all dirt. The Clark Estates owned the whole east side of the lake up to Hyde Bay and had riding trails along the top of the ridge which we could access easily. Dad wanted to have overnight horse hikes. We tried some places, but none were adequate. He managed to buy ten acres of land, a hilltop over beyond Middlefield Center, a couple of hours ride from camp. Dad called it Mt. Nebo, after the place where Moses viewed the promised land he could not enter. Dad knew his Bible. He built a lean-to shelter and opened a spring for water. Eventually, Dad bought horses, and reversed the process, letting farm boys have them in the winter in return for care.

     There were other sports, of course. A tennis court was laid out, leveled and backstops erected. A councilor was hired who was competent to coach, and one UL had the daily job of leveling, rolling and marking this. Next to that, Larry and I borrowed a team of hoses, a dump scraper and plow and leveled another plot for basketball, but used more for badminton. Near the dining room there was a volley ball net and we often had games there after supper. Two horse shoe pits were devised and some of Harry Baird's largest shoes bought. Up above the Tutoring School we had a baseball field. Since it was bordered by swampy areas, Dad called it "Doublemarsh Field." We played softball there once a week or so. Sometimes Dad pitched for both teams.

     There were annual events. One was the Treasure Hunt, clues laid out here and there, pursued by teams, based on Poe's "Gold Bug." Then there was the Man Hunt. On the specified night, a third of the camp secretly disappeared, and were called the Out Party. The rest of the camp was the In Party. All the tents and some buildings had some way of being captured, a chalk mark to be crossed, a stick bound with a rag to be taken. The In Party had to defend these. When the darkness was total, a horn was blown, and the game went on for about two hours. No lights were allowed, and all camp light was turned off. Only the Umpire, usually Dad or George Chandlee, dressed in white carried a flashlight. The Out Party attacked trying to capture a tent. Any person thrown to the ground had to go to a designated prison camp. An opponent running through the prison, freed the inmates. At the end of the two hours, the umpire blew the horn and all gathered to see if the In Party or the Out Party had won and Mrs. Director patched up the casualties. Eventually, this event was abandoned as it could get a little rough.

     Another great event was the eight inch regatta. Every boy was urged to design and build a sail boat no more than eight inches long, with a paper sail. On the great day, all the boats were lined up at the raft, and the first craft to ht she shore before the usual westerly wind was the winner. Wally Lord immediately proclaimed himself Commodore of the Hyde Bay Yacht Club, and to this day his friends call him by that title.

     The Wind Up was held the last two days of camp. There were races in swimming, rowing, canoeing, sailing, tennis, badminton and other contests , and a great number of colorful ribbons awarded, Then there was a final banquet, and the great bonfire constructed by Cap Hartzell.

Ed Russel
"Ed Russell was there to teach Latin..."


     Hyde Bay was what it was because of the personalities involved. There were the teachers in the Tutoring school. Ed Russell was there to teach Latin, soon to be joined by Florence, to whom he was married about this time. They had no children, but he had a nephew, Bob, who was a camper and councilor. Since he was the famously successful wrestling coach at Gilman Dad built the "Russellorum" for that sport, also used for crafts and for a few years as a theater. Carl Hartzell from Franklin and Marshall College. taught French. He was a dedicated bridge player and noted for a fierce temper when aroused. At the end of the camp year he built the bonfire for the Wind Up, truly a stupendous creation, several feet in diameter and fifteen or twenty feet high. Al Townsend taught Spanish. Miles Marrian did mathematics. He was a good baseball player and he and Jack Young were the battery for the Springfield Center town team Sunday afternoons. Tom Mercer came to us from Governor Dummer Academy, recommended by Ed Dunning. Tom was joined by his wife, Kitty. When in the course of table duty rotation we councilors had a week at the Head Table for meals, the conversation of these people was great.

     There were some remarkable councilors. When we had a rec room and a piano, Dad always hired a musician. The first for a couple of years was Fred Weaver, a teacher at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He lived in the Yellow House at the gate with his wife and two daughters. He was followed for several years by Leslie Exshaw, a mercurial English lad, adopted by a Bltimore couple and accepted the name of Manning. He was followed by Al Kerr, A Yale classmate of mine, later a prep school teacher and headmaster. One day in June, a lad rode into camp on a bicycle. He said his name was John Gott, and was a Yale Student. He had heard of Hyde Bay needing councilors, and had ridden up from his home in Goshen, New York. (My map indicates that is over a hundred miles as the crow flies.) Dad said, "I don't need anymore councilors, but a guy who can do this for a job must be special" , so he hired him. Ed Dunning got in touch with Dad to say that there was a Dummer alumnus who had a bad year as a Freshman at Harvard and needed a job badly. He was a native of Newfoundland, and was living with his .mother in Northampton. He was Jack Young. He came on board and his particular skill was in maintaining our boats. They needed a lot of care as they were all wooden and well beyond their youth. That Fall, he went back to Baltimore with us, was employed at Gilman as counselor in the cubes, and went to Hopkins and then Tufts Medical School.

     The personality who made the difference was the Director, Herbert E. Pickett. Hyde Bay was the creation of his dreams, his intelligence, his experience, in short, his personality. If you have read this far, you have seen how Hyde Bay grew out of his mind, his ideals, and his practical ability.

     I look on the five years, 1936 to 1941, as the golden years of Hyde Bay. The community was of a hundred boys and staff of thirty or so. Many of the councilors were college friends or those who grew up through camp. The spirit of Hyde Bay, its program, its philosophy, its life had arrived. Thencame Pearl Harbor, War years. Larry and I married and were not available. With peace a new chapter began with Bob and Dad doing it together, and some one involved in those years needs to write that chapter.

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