The Boy Scouts and Camp Watchung
"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law"
In 1928, the Boy Scouts of America purchased 287 acres of land at a cost of $10,000 from the estate of Edward Pierson (died 1922) for the establishment of the summer headquarters of the Watchung Area Council, which was located in Plainfield, New Jersey. The council was comprised of Union and Somerset Counties and Piscataway Township in Middlesex County. In 1939, Miquin Lodge #68, the Order of the Arrow, was chartered. The word Miquin
is Lenape for feather
and the lodge totem was the eagle feather.
Within the first two years, $28,000 was spent on the construction of the woodland chapel, the council ring, the handicraft lodge, the nature lodge, the first aid cottage and the dining hall, which included the camp trading post. A 362' long man-made pond served as the camp's first swimming area and was fed by the Spruce Run Creek. Completed in 1929, it was named Craig Pond
, after the late son of Raymond Smith, chairman of the committee that founded Camp Watchung. In 1971, a concrete swimming pool was constructed in the upper part of the camp and the pond was extended in the shape of an arrowhead for boating and canoeing. The oldest structure on the property, a stone farmhouse, was built after 1850 by Thomas Bowmnan and served as the main office for the camp through its duration.
Myron Geddes was the first camp director and Franklin Nelson was the first camp clerk. The activity director, William Barnhurst of Germantown, Pennsylvania, introduced Boy Scouts to fishing, boating, handicrafts, target shooting, nature ecology, conservation projects and all facets of sportsmanship. In 1932, Geddes was replaced by James Boyer. Under his direction, he brought the Order of the Arrow to the camp in 1934. About 1,300 Boy Scouts from the Watchuing Area Council attended the camp each year.
J. Harold Eilert of New York City was the camp physician. The first aid cottage contained a ward of four beds and medical equipment, stored in the doctor's office. According to Dr. Eilert, every Boy Scout was required to take a "soap bath" in the pond once a week to promote better hygiene. Prizes were awarded to the cleanest boy.
Scouts were also required to take swimming lessons twice daily. William Letson, of Somerville and Robert McLaughlin, of Bound Brook, both college students, were the first water safety instructors and taught the young boys how to swim.
The person who earned the most respect in the camp was the chef, William Cross, who selected and prepared all the food from his well-stocked kitchen. With a seating capacity for 150 people, the dining hall was designed in a rustic fashion with a massive elk's head resting above the mantle of the stone quarried fireplace.
Under the direction of Edward Dalby, a chemistry and biology instructor at Somerville High School, the camp's nature lodge was a great place to learn about natural science. Snakes and live fish were kept in suitable glass containers and turtles were allowed to roam in a spring fed basin. Tree leaves and animal footprints were preserved in plaster casts for reference. Wooden signposts were used to classify trees on nearby trails.
Another aspect of the camp was restricted to older and more experienced Boy Scouts. The tribal village, under the supervision of Robert Smith, a student of Columbia University, taught Scouts the customs of Native American heritage. The village was made up of lavishly decorated teepees where the scouts stayed. Activities included making bows and arrows, holding powwows and creating Native American costumes. The costumed were worn every Saturday night when tribal ceremonies were performed. Attended by parents and the public, these functions consisted of lighting the council fire, smoking the peace pipe, and giving Native American dance exhibitions. Following the ceremonies, camp honors were awarded.
Through the dedication of the Watchung Area Council, the camp expanded its facilities over the years to include fifteen campsites, three lean-to villages, a waterfront area for teaching canoeing skills, pavilions for teaching outdoor skills, an archery range, a rifle range, shower and restroom facilities, staff housing and numerous storage buildings. After the merger of several Boy Scout councils, Camp Watchung closed in 1986 and went into private ownership until its acquisition as open space by the County of Hunterdon in 2003.