Calling all campers!
Girls who went to Camp Forty Acres, that is.
The summer camp operated on the shores of Lake Erie in southern Erie County from 1921 to 1971, at which time the property was sold and became part of Evangola State Park.
Through the years thousands of youngsters attended the camp in Brant, which started offering interracial weekends in 1928.
The YWCA of Western New York, which operated the camp, started looking for women who attended Forty Acres after staff from the state park approached the Y about setting up an exhibit. It is putting out the word to women, or children of those women, who attended the camp to come forward with postcards, diaries, song books, T-shirts and other memorabilia to add to the Y’s archives.
“We would like some of that material. We don’t have to keep it; we can do high-resolution reproductions and return it to people,” said Deborah Lynn Williams, CEO of YWCA of Western New York.
The organization also is looking for people to talk about their time living or working at the camp on video to preserve the history of the camp. It’s hoped a reunion will kick off the exhibit next spring.
“We’re trying to use these archives to kind of remind the public of the importance that YWCA played in Western New York,” Williams said.
Some old brochures the Y has uncovered offer tidbits of camp life back when it first opened.
The camp was located where the park campsite is, to the west of the current bathing beach.
Weekly rates at the camp then were $9 for a dormitory room and board, and $11 for a single room. Staying over the weekend was $3 extra. Day “guests” were charged 60 cents for dinner and 50 cents for supper.
Campers were told to bring “dark bloomers, dark short skirt, middy blouses, bathing suit, bathing caps … heavy sweater or warm coat, high sneakers and low-heeled walking shoes, black cotton stockings, rubbers, bathrobe or kimona [sic] or rain coat and toilet articles.”
A pamphlet advertised swimming, hikes, baseball, track, basketball, tennis and corn roasts, and visiting day on Thursday. However, “Men friends are not encouraged to call.”
The camp was open to YWCA “club girls” and others between 16 and 35. At some point, the age of the girls transitioned to younger campers.
Francesca Mesiah of Buffalo met many lifelong friends at the camp. Years later, at a get-together following the funeral of one of her friend’s cousins, talk turned to camp, and many discovered they had gone to the same camp.
“For about an hour, we just sang camp songs,” she said. “Everyone had that common bond.”
When she thinks of camp, Mesiah remembers friends, making lots of pot holders, failing to learn to swim even though campers went in the lake daily, campfires, singing and the first time she had lumpy gravy.
The original camp recreation building is now the park nature center, and the windows still show the ornate hieroglyphics painted by campers in the 1930s, said park Environmental Director Dave McQuay. One cabin is left of the 30 that were used by the camp, as are remnants of the friendship circle where campers and counselors gathered for campfires and singing.
But with the help of its alumnae, the camp will not be forgotten.
“We definitely wanted to bring the history of the camp alive,” McQuay said.
Anyone with more information or memorabilia about Camp Forty Acres can contact the Y at 1005 Grant St., call 852-6120, Ext. 116, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.