PINECREST DUNES: A Summer Camp for Southold
Pinecrest Dunes was one of Southold’s most successful summer camps almost from its inception. This humble institution had its beginnings in New Jersey, where its founder was born and raised. It was unlike the other camps that were located on the North Fork – these included Camp Annunziata (Catholic girls), Camp Molloy (Catholic boys), Camp Mineola, and St. Thomas’s Beach Camp (for the less fortunate parishioner’s of St. Thomas’s Church in Manhattan on east 60th Street) in East Marion – because so many had been founded by religious, and not secular forces. Pinecrest Dunes would be the place where anyone could attend, regardless of religion or social class.
Much of the camp’s wonderful history was made by its founder W. Thomas Ward. Born in Patterson, New Jersey, Ward was graduated from Patterson High School in June of 1925. By 1929 he was on Long Island, living and working in Valley Stream where he became the director of the first-ever physical education program at Central High School. He worked there for many years while spending his summers managing Pinecrest Dunes. In 1945 he quit his position as head of physical education in school district No. 24 to devote his time fully to the management of his camp in Southold.
This was not his first time at camp, so to speak. Ward had a long association with summer camps as a young man. In 1918 he was a “tenderfoot” at Camp Alhtaha in Patterson and at the Boy Scout Camp in Greenwood Lake, New Jersey. From 1919-1920 he was the official bugler at Camp Alhtaha and in 1921 he became the swimming director. From 1921-1923 he worked at the YWCA Camp at Greenwood Lake and then returned to Camp Alhtaha in 1924. He even met his future wife, Lois, at one of the camps he worked at in New Jersey.
All this experience led him to found and become the director of Camp Wanaque for Boys located at Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, a position he occupied from 1925-1929. He became director of Fireplace Lodge, another camp for boys located in East Hampton, in 1930. Fireplace Lodge was a Christian boys camp originally organized by Dr. Gates Perham and his wife, and which was located on what they called “Captain Kidd’s Treasure Grounds.” In 1931, Tom and his wife purchased land in Peconic to be the permanent site of their new camp. The land was located on the Sound, just west of Great Pond along Soundview Avenue. The sandy dunes overlooking the Sound with their scraggily pines must may been the reason the couple christened their new location “Pinecrest Dunes.” The summer of 1932 would be their first season.
The camp was initially set up to be used by both boys and girls. The girls’ section was associated with the Young Woman’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.). Initially, the boys’ would occupy the camp from June through mid-August, and the girls would occupy the camp from mid August to early September. At a later date the girls section was abandoned and the camp became wholly occupied by boys each summer. This would continue for a number of years until the camp was re-organized to house both boys and girls, co-ed so to speak.
A number of buildings and outdoor facilities were erected at the site along the Sound to accommodate campers. They included the dining hall, senior and junior cabins, guest house (for parents and friends when visiting), administration building, assembly site, athletic field, clock golf course, camp store, aquatic headquarters, infirmary, parking space, archery range, council ring, handicraft shop, stables, Oscar’s villa, Mr. Brooks’ headquarters, the power house, lake dock, diving tower, tennis court, nature headquarters, Cochrane’s cabin, swimming float, senior beauty parlor (for the girls), junior beauty parlor (for the girls), apiary (a shed containing a number of beehives), spring-water pump, nature trail, Uncle Tom’s cabin, rifle range, boardwalk, and totem pole.
These wonderful felt banners were hung with a campers small patches mounted on them came in this past winter. A really nice find and something that we had not seen before from the camp. They date to 1952-1953. In addition was a felt banner with the name of cabin on it - "Hillside". Anyone out there who stayed in that cabin?
Today the site is now occupied by Peconic Dunes County Park which continues the tradition of Tom Ward’s camp with an environmental education center and annual summer camp. But for those who remember the great summers spent in Peconic, there will never be anything like PinecrestDunes, one of the premier camps ever created on eastern Long Island.
The camp included an official Ranger Lodge of the Boy Rangers of America from the date of its opening. The Boy Rangers were founded by Emerson Brooks (1860-1948) as a way to teach young boys (those aged 8-12 years) about the Native American way of life and to instill the values and wisdom of those early cultures. At its height in the 1920’s, the Boy Rangers of America occupied more than 700 lodges in 47 states and had 8,000 members. Brooks was a regular visitor to the camp in its early years and even had his own headquarters from which to teach. The Boy Rangers would later be replaced by the “cub scout” section of the Boy Scouts of America.
The camp offered a myriad of activities to choose from. During the 1930’s-40’s typical daily activities included swimming, diving, life saving, boating, canoeing, sailing, pioneering, archery, boxing, fencing, horseback riding, nature, woodcraft, hiking, dramatics, rifle, trips, building, library, tennis, quoits (a game in which a ring of iron or circle of rope or horseshoes are thrown at a stake in the ground in the hope of encircling it), fishing, Indian-craft, leather-craft, orchestra, field events, etching, baseball, basketball, soccer, metal-craft, crew, scouting, animal-care, track events, and kickball. By the 1950’s and 60’s airplane rides (with parents permission) were also added to the camp activity list. Days began between 6:40 and 7:15 am with a break for lunch and a rest hour (12:30-2:30) and a break for supper (5:45-7:15). Juniors went to bed at 8 pm and seniors at 9 pm.
The total cost for the season varied over the thirty plus years the camp was operating. In 1932 expenses were equal to $25 a week plus extras (1-2 dollars a week for horseback riding, etc.). By 1934 the camp had gone to an all-inclusive fee of $200 for the eight week program, everything was included except laundry (an additional $6 per camper per season). In 1943 the cost was $175 for the full eight week program, and by 1949 it had risen to $425. It was not a cheap adventure, during the 1930’s the depression hit most of America quite hard, and only those with extra money could afford to send their children to a camp like Pinecrest Dunes. During later years of the camp it apparently became more affordable as many local children from the North Fork were able to attend.
The camp had decades of seasons up on the dunes and was a true success story. In 1969 Pinecrest Dunes celebrated 36 years of operation and in 1970 it closed for good - taken by the County of Suffolk for their purposes. At this time the Markel family (local auctioneers and antique dealers) were invited to clean out any material they thought of value. Many of the original papers were initially saved, including tons of letters from families and campers. Unfortunately there was no market for the papers and no historical institution was interested in the material at the time. Not long thereafter these items were sent to the Southold dump and lost forever.
The image at left is one of the last Totem Poles to be made for Pinecest Dunes by Ken Schold, c. 1960s. It came to auction in October 2009.
It ended up being too expensive for the museum to purchase and keep here in Southold. It seems headed for a wealthy couples backyard for their daughter to play with.
According to Greg Munson: "I think in the early 1960s that the large totem pole out on Soundview Avenue rotted away and Ken Schold made a new one. It was carved on top of a telephone pole as is the totem you just posted. I'll bet this is the replacement for the old one that is probably at the front entrance still today. Uncle Greg."
Click the button on the right to listen to the Pinecrest Dunes Camp official song from the 1963 Camp record "Piney Tunes of Pinecrest Dunes!"
P - I - N - E - C - R - E - S - T
Ring out a cheer for PINE-CREST
Long may its na-me gr-ow
And we will be loyal friends and campers
Most whom we all must know, ow, ow, ow
Where our ideals and honor guide us forever more
And we will pledge ourselves to thee, our camp
PINECREST DUNES Good bye!
1937 Campers Photos Restored!
Twelve images of the campers, counselors, and two large group photos are now available for viewing at the museum due to the generosity of former Dunes camper William M. Curtis!
Below are images from the museum's collections detailing the Boys Groups from 1969. Can you identify anyone?
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