Reverend Walter Thorpe and his wife Vena started Camp Thorpe as The Vermont Camp for Crippled Children in 1927. They were aware, through Walter’s activity of presenting “chalk talks” at camps throughout the northeast, that summer camp was an option only for the privileged few; for the most part, summer camps in Vermont were attended by well-to-do children from other states. There were no summer camps for underprivileged or handicapped children.
The following text, the charter for Camp Thorpe, is written in the first pages of the ledger used to document the annual meetings and reports of the Camp Thorpe board of trustees.
“Resolution – The Vermont Camp for Crippled Children was born of a desire to help those who are handicapped in the struggles of life, and bring some pleasure to those who by their very deformity are kept from many of the enjoyments of the normal child.
In 1922 Governor Redfield Proctor sold to Rev. Walter Thorpe and his wife a farm, known as the “Capen Place”, on the main ridge of the Green Mountains. This consisted of a house, an old hen house and a corn crib, a large cow barn with outbuildings in varied-degrees of dilapidation, and about 100 acres of land.
Many changes were made upon the house and after using this for a summer-camp, Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe desired that the property might be used as to bring joy and happiness to others. It possessed a wonderful view, magnificent stretches of woods, good water and air, and fine possibilities for development. In the spring of 1927 it was decided to use the property for the benefit of handicapped children.
Mr. Thorpe borrowed $200 from The First National Bank of Brandon, furnishing his own collateral, and with this began to tear down the old buildings. Then soliciting aid from others he secured promises sufficient to erect five cottages.
The old hen house was changed and added to, until it furnished a dining room seating over fifty with kitchen attached. A wash house with sanitary plumbing, hot and cold water, and every modern convenience was built and the camp was opened on July 1, 1927.
The whole construction was completed between Easter and the first of July with the aid of two men and later a pair of horses and an extra man.
There were accommodations for seventy-five girls and seventeen availed themselves of it the first summer: July 1 – September 1, 1927.”
That first year, fifteen of the girls had infantile paralysis (polio), one had tuberculosis of the bone, and one had a congenital trouble of the hip joint. One of the girls was from Vermont; the rest came from Brooklyn NY, Boston MA, or Springfield MA.
Governor John Weeks, president of the Camp Thorpe board of trustees from 1927-1949, was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony held on July 14, 1927. An excerpt from Governor Weeks’ address:
“Early in life we are looking toward the financial side of things. I believe that God gave us the instinct to acquire that we may have the wherewithal to help others. We are not independent and should think, not so much of self but should have more consideration for others less fortunate. The little holdings which we have are only loaned for a purpose. If we fail in the great plan we suffer and posterity suffers because we failed to do the little that we might have done at the proper time.”
The ceremony, originally planned for a hillside overlooking the camp, was moved to the dining hall due to “torrential rain and sharp lightning”. (Anyone who has ever spent a summer in Goshen truly understands what a storm like this can be.)