Summer Camps are a Lakes Region Tradition

Camp Menotomy, Meredith, NH

Camp Menotomy, Meredith, NH

Summer camps in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire have a long and proud history. This is where the modern model for summer camps was born and nurtured! The tradition of summer camps continues today, and is going strong. Folks from around the world bring their kids here just for the experience, as nothing compares to summer in New Hampshire, and the quality of educational summer camps here is top notch.

According to the Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society, the organized camp is essentially an educational institution, and was developed by educators who were concerned with the lives of young people and their training for adulthood. The first organized camp that presented practically all the best features of what summer camping is today was that of Ernest Balch, who opened Camp Chocorua on Chocorua Island on Big Squam Lake in 1881 and continued it until 1889.

“I first thought of the boys’ camp as an institution in 1880,” Balch wrote. “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.”

Balch started his camp as a result of deliberate planning to meet a particular need, and at the time it was unique in that it was maintained continuously on the same site for nine years. As a result of its influence, other camps were opened that followed his practices, and many of his former campers later started camps of their own. So within a few miles of Chocorua in the succeeding 14 years, a whole brood of successful camps grew up that followed the practices Balch had established.

In 1892, Professor Fontaine opened the first organized camp for girls. It was called Camp Arey and was founded at his natural science camp. The year 1902 was significant in the history of girls’ camps. Laura I. Mattoon, a teacher in a private school of New York City, established Camp Kehonka in Wolfeboro on the east side of Lake Winnipesaukee. At this period in time it was considered a bold thing to take reputable New York girls and young women into the woods. Some of the good schoolmistresses were startled to hear that she let girls run around in the broad daylight in bloomers!

These camps have since transmitted their influence far and wide. During the 1930s, there were as many as 72 established camps in the Lakes Region. This number has grown to include many specialized camps today, including Camp Robindel for Girls in Moultonborough and Wanakee, a Christian adventure camp and retreat center in Meredith. Both of these camps are very popular for guests of Mill Falls at the Lake, and host families from around the world. There are also many more summer camps listed at the Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society at this link:

The Lakes Region of NH takes pride in the fact that the first organized summer camp for young people was established here on the shore of one of its lakes. That’s quite a distinction!

For additional information on Meredith and some of the great events happening around the Lakes Region, visit and And don’t forget to stop by the Mill Falls at the Lake website, too, at

Carrie Reed
The Mill Falls Blogging Team

sources: The Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society, Camp Robindel, and Wanakee United Methodist Center

photo courtesy of The Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society

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