Ernest B. Balch - The First Summer Camp

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Ernest Berkley Balch (January 15, 1860 - Unknown) was born in Newport, Rhode Island to Reverand Lewis P.W. and Emily (Wiggin) Balch. Few other details can be found to provide more insight into Ernest's life before the year 1878. From 1878 to 1879, one source indicates that, Ernest was a journalist in New York City (Balch, 1897). Sometime around 1880 Ernest apparently entered Dartmouth College and, while a sophmore in 1881, was inspired to create what is widely viewed as the first organized summer camp.


Source: Genealogy of the Balch Families in America - By: Galusha Balch

"Ernest Berkeley, son of 53 Rev Lewis PW 4 and Emily Wiggin Balch was born January 15 I860 at Newport Rhode Island and lives in New York city From 1878 79 he was a journalist and from 1880 to 1889 he wa engaged in tutoring and conducted a summer school known as Camp Chocorua on an island in Big Ásquam lake New Hampshire It was a unique institution a boys republic with business customs banking courts and laws in which the boys were taught to govern themselves Its leading thought was to practically teach the dignity of labor to the eons of the rieh He entered business life and was connected for two years with the National Cordage Company and was then occupied for a year in litigation with it which resulted in its assignment After this he was with the John Good Cordage Company for two years and has since been a merchant in trade with Venezuela (Balch, 1897)."

Source: PBS Kids Go! - Summer Camp:

//"In June of 1881, Dartmouth College sophomore Ernest B. Balch and his Camp Chocorua staff built a small cabin on an island in Squam Lake, New Hampshire. Then they waited. They hoped that boys from East Coast cities like Boston and New York would begin to arrive, ready to spend ten weeks at Chocorua, one of the first summer camps in the nation's history.

In July, the first camper, Charlie Benjamin, arrived from Washington, DC. Soon, his cousin followed. Then three more boys arrived from Boston. These boys would spend an entire summer as no boys had ever before—as part of an organized summer camp. And over nine camping seasons, dozens of other boys would share the Chocorua experience.

picture: boys playing instruments Many of the campers at Chocorua were the sons of well-to-do parents who spent their summers at luxury hotels in places such as New Hampshire's White Mountains. Ernest Balch believed that these boys, as well as boys stuck in the city for the whole summer with nothing to do, would quickly get bored—and even get into trouble.

Balch set up Chocorua to teach boys the self-reliance and the skills they needed to become men. There were no servants at Chocorua. Campers cut firewood, cooked their own meals, and washed their own dishes. Each boy got an allowance of 25 cents per week. If he wanted more money, he had to earn it by doing camp chores.

picture: moose Chocorua was work, but it was fun, too. The boys lived in rough wooden buildings, like pioneers. They learned how to sail a boat and how to catch fish, how to use an axe and survive in the wilderness. They swam in Squam Lake and hiked in nearby mountains. Sadly, the fun didn't last forever. In 1888, the Camp Chocorua closed, with Ernest Balch $8,000 in debt. But Chocorua had helped start a movement that would change summer vacations forever (PBS, 2009)."//

Source: The Handbook of Private Schools, Volume 5 - By: Porter Sargent:

"The organized summer camp as we understand it today had its beginnings in the eighties (1880's), and its genesis as an institution must be ascribed to Ernest Balch. In a personal letter, he writes: "I first thought of the boys' camp as an institution in 1880. The miserable condition of boys belonging to well- to-do families in summer hotels, considered from the point of view of their right development, set me to looking for a substitute. That year and 1881 I had thought out the main lines of a boys' camp. That year, also, with two boys I made a short camping trip to Big Asquam. In 1881 I occupied and bought Chocorua Island." Camp Chocorua, thus started, was the first boys' summer camp and was continued by Mr Balch until 1889 (Sargent, 1919)."

"The winter camp for boys is a recent conception of Mr Ernest Balch. In the winter of 1915-16 he organized at the Cloyne School such a camp which proved popular and successful. Boys from twelve to sixteen slept in sleeping bags in tents within a stockade out of doors through the winter, even in the heaviest storms. As a result they were free from colds, less nervous, and in improved physical condition. The winter camp idea has been continued at Cloyne and is spreading (Sargent, 1919)."

Primary Sources/Links:

Genealogy of the Balch Families in America - By: Galusha Balch

The Legends of YMCA Campging - By: Peter Surgenor

The New York Times, Aug. 10, 1893 - "Balch Charges Fraud"

PBS Kids Go! - Summer Camp

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