Camp Kawanhee For Boys - History


The story of Camp Kawanhee starts with the lives of George and Raymond Frank. George and Raymond were brothers born near Portland, Maine, but their adult lives had taken them to Columbus, Ohio, and Englewood, New Jersey, respectively. Both George and Raymond were involved in youth work- George was a teacher and Raymond, a church youth worker.

George began going to the western mountains of Maine in 1909. On one of his visits, George and his cousin Burt Mitchell shot a deer and decided to take the deer to the top of nearby Mount Blue for a feast. It was on top of Mt. Blue that George Frank first saw the beautiful Webb Lake. George made regular visits to the lake, and when he was married in 1912, George honeymooned on the lake. In 1917, Raymond accepted an invitation from George to visit the lake. Raymond also fell in love with the lake, and on frequent canoe trips around the lake, George and Raymond visited the beautiful cove that would be Kawanhee cove many times. It was at this time that a dream of a summer camp began to take shape. The beautiful Kawanhee cove and the land that bordered the cove became the location of this dream.

The Frank brothers bought 60 acres (24 ha) and began to go to work. Part of the property was a potato field and had to be cleared to make the present day athletic field. The dining hall was the first building to be built and the Eagle and Falcon lodges were soon added. A man named Herbert L. Berry gave the brothers a $5,000 loan in those early days and today the Recreation Hall at Kawanhee is named in Mr. Berry’s honor. In 1921, Camp Kawanhee opened with 16 boys. Not every building was completed but they were underway. Each year Kawanhee grew in numbers. Lodges were added and equipment and activities were added. In the early days Kawanhee was advertised as a haven from hay fever and many boys came to Kawanhee for that reason.

By the 1930s, Camp Kawanhee had been firmly established and attracted a population of over 100 campers every summer. In the late 1930s a young counselor named Walter Estabrook attended Camp Kawanhee. Little did he know that thirty years later he would own and manage Camp Kawanhee. Just as the world was different in the 1930s and 1940s so was Kawanhee. Horseback riding was a popular activity. Kawanhee even had their own stables. Boxing was also an activity in those days, but soon was replaced by wrestling. Kawanhee boys wore uniforms in those days and the staff was often decked out in their “whites”. In the war years of 1942–1945, Kawanhee boys sometimes helped harvest crops for the war effort. But, a Kawanhee camper of the 21st century would have been comfortable at Kawanhee in the early days of the camp. Many of the activities were the same: baseball, archery, swimming, nature, campcraft, range, boating, sailing, tennis and many others. Tripping was a strong activity just as it is today. Kawanhee has always taken advantage of its location in the western mountains. In 1966, Raymond Frank died. George Frank continued to operate the camp, but he became concerned about the future of the camp as he grew older. In the late 1960s, George decided to sell the camp to a group headed by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Estabrook. This enabled Camp Kawanhee to continue to be a great influence on the lives of boys around the world.

As the Estabrooks began to operate the camp, Kawanhee moved with the times and changes were made. Enrollment increased. New activities were added. Soccer was added in the 1970s, and in the coming years kayaking and volleyball were added. The makeup of the camp also changed. Many foreign boys began attending Kawanhee in recent years. Today, Kawanhee attracts boys from every corner of the world.

In 1977, a terrible fire destroyed the dining hall and three lodges. George Frank died in the fire. Camp folklore states that George Frank suffered a heart attack while driving a vehicle, which collided with the dining hall's propane tank. Kawanhee continued to operate that summer and by the next summer, a new dining hall was in operation. In recent years Kawanhee has made even more changes. A scholarship fund was established. New lodges have been added and enrollment has reached all-time highs. A new ropes course was added in 2000 and additions were made to the course in 2001. A new arts and crafts center was also recently completed.

In 1999 another huge change took place when Mr. and Mrs. Estabrook and all other Kawanhee stock holders donated their stock to a non-profit foundation—The George and Raymond Frank Foundation. Kawanhee is now owned by the foundation and operated by a board of directors. A managing director hired by the board operates the camp. The camp has the highest return rate of any camp in the U.S.

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