Into the Wild: Barnard Camp

“This Barnard Camp in the hills is one diamond in the rough that is ‘smooth.’ You have the grandest times up there! Your college education won’t be complete unless you’ve been to Camp.” — Barnard Athletic Association

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For students constantly inundated with the pressures of academic life and the stresses of city living, discovering urban respites to relax and unwind has always been pivotal. Until seventeen years ago, Barnard women had a place to escape far from the hustle and bustle of New York City, a special retreat all their own—Barnard Camp (renamed Holly House in 1963 in honor of Physical Education Department Chair and first Camp counselor Margaret Holland), located just 38 miles outside of the city, and yet a world away from campus.

Situated near the water on 20 acres of Westchester County’s Croton-on-Hudson, the camp was officially opened on Oct. 15, 1933. The idea to construct a camp was born more than ten years earlier, when students spent the occasional weekend at geology professor Dr. Ida Ogilvie’s farm near Bedford, New York. As interest grew, the Athletic Association planned winter wilderness retreats to two sites—Brentmere cabin and Bear Mountain Inn, a ski lodge. By 1926, Barnard was offering retreats year-round to a farmhouse in Ossining rented from Phys. Ed. Department member Dorothy Nye.

The search for a site upon which to construct a camp of Barnard’s own began in 1928, when the Alumnae Association set a fundraising goCamp_interior39al of $10,000. Funds were raised by alumnae donation, proceeds from alumnae Greek Games tickets, and benefits hosted in 1928 and 1929. In 1933, Barnard acquired the first ten acres of property for the depression-era price of about $9,000. The deed for the land was presented to Dean Virginia Gildersleeve on Feb. 12, 1933 and ground was broken in March, after a road had been built through the woods. Ten more acres of land were purchased in the 1950s.

Camp offered a welcome return to simple, rustic life. A modest cabin furnished simply with just a meager cookstove, a few comfy sofas, and a large fireplace was the only escape from winter’s chill. The building slept 15-20 students in two bunk rooms, each heated with a small stove; braver souls could also elect to doze on a screened sleeping porch. All amenities were acquired outside and required a little elbow grease—students pumped their own water, cooked food over a fire pit, bathed in the lake or with primitive showers, and used outhouses connected only to refuse pits. Three small campsites constructed by students—“Eagle’s Nest,” “Hemlock” and “Red Oaks”—provided extra space to cook, relax, and dispose of waste.

This was more of a draw than a deterrent for Barnard students, who relished the opportunity to escape the cityCamp_wood43 for a few days and experience a taste of the country life. In addition to their daily chores, campers could also indulge in a number of activities, from hiking and skiing to swimming and storytelling. In addition to four annual events and four class days planned by the Athletic Association, Holly House was open to students of all sorts for club retreats and private stays for groups of 8-20. During the early years of Camp, a campcraft course was also offered every June. Run by Miss Holland, it gave six students the opportunity to learn about the running of the camp, organize independent projects, and help build new campsites. From this group, the Barnard Camp Committee was selected each year. This group was in charge of planning activities, menus, and other necessities for each weekend.

The total cost of the trip amounted to only a few dollars, making it a fun and accessible destination for all; the Athletic Association beckoned every student to make an excursion up to Camp. In the Oct. 6, 1933 issue of the Barnard Bulletin, Agnes Wayman remarked, “Camp now deliberately reaches out for the book-worm, the bridge fiend, the indoor girl, the weak sister…each may find friends and activities and peace and quiet and ‘unlax’ in her own way.” A student member of the Bulletin, Edna Jones, held similar sentiments. “Camp is the place for the student who wants a change from city life, for the student who wants to get away from It All,” she wrote, “for the student who has ‘spring fever,’ (even in the winter) and for the student who is a ‘natural’ for the great out-of-doors at any time of year. To the dorm girl it offers a special kind of freedom; to the day student it offers the possibility of living with her classmates and getting to know them in a way that is out of the question when she commutes every day.”

While in the early days of Camp 60-70 students would sign up every weekend, interest began to dwindle after World War II and dropped significantly in the mid-fifties. In a 1963 issue of the Bulletin, one student remarked, “It seems that people have lost their taste for the shared pleasures of fire-building and massive pancake breakfasts. Nowadays the cabin is less often visited than it was in the past, and large groups seldom get together there for a weekend.” Many campers began to complain of the strict rules still enforced at Holly House—the inability to walk far or alone, the requirement Camp_waterthat students be at all meals, the decision to no longer allow male guests, etc. In 1962, the Camp Committee proposed to modernize facilities, but the $5,000-$10,000 project was not within the College’s budget. While the Camp Committee conducted a number of investigations into the reasons for the decline, it seemed students simply just weren’t interested in getting their hands dirty anymore. In a Barnard College Camp Report from 1961-1962, the committee remarked, “Past reports have attempted to analyze the limited use of the camp. School pressures; absence of cohesive groups who socialize together; travel time, cost, and difficulty; lack of inside plumbing and adequate heating are valid explanations. The changing nature of the student, as several students have pointed out, accounts in part for their not participating in experiences that the camp offers. Apparently few are interested in spending a weekend of group living with girls, especially when there are chores and some discomfort.”

Nevertheless, Barnard did not want to abandon the camp so soon after they had endeavored to build it, and continued to host events there, mostly for alumnae. Why the land was inevitably sold, and to whom, is a mystery, but by 1991 trips to Holly House were no longer listed as an option in the Student Handbook, and the camp was reportedly sold by the college in 1992.

Memories of Barnard Camp may have been lost in the new wave of city slickers arriving at Barnard, their eyes glowing with the prospect of technology and sophistication. Yet the relics of Holly House are rich and plentiful, and former students will forever look back on the site fondly.

Written by Abbey Ozanich ’11

For more photographs of Holly House, please visit our Gallery.

note: This article erroneously reports the date of the acquisition of additional land by the camp. Barnard Camp expanded in size to 20 acres in 1938, following an alumnae purchase.

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2 thoughts on “Into the Wild: Barnard Camp

  1. Pingback: History in Motion « Barnard College Archives

  2. I was a Barnard student in the mid ’80s and spent a weekend at Holly House with friends sometime in the fall of my first year. I no longer remember how I found out about it or got permission to use it, but as a transplant from the NW I was homesick for trees and the outdoors. As a student with no extra funds I was desperate to get out of the city and breath real air. I remember we found old song books from the ’30s, a wonderful smoky fireplace, had to pump water and generally felt as though the place had not been touched in decades. It’s important to stay in touch with your past. It was magical and I am so sorry to see that it was sold

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