1933-1940

These were tough economic times – the years of the Great Depression. It was also a period of adjustment and transition for Camp Thorpe following the sudden death of its founder, Walter Thorpe, in February 1933. There was strong support from the board of trustees as well as from returning staff members and contributors to carry on the work of Walter Thorpe. But the success of the camp, possibly its very survival, was largely due to the leadership, dedication, perseverance, and hard work of Walter Thorpe’s widow, Vena, his son-in-law, Basil Walsh, and his daughter Mae (Thorpe) Walsh.

The camp was deliberately run in a “modest way” for the first 3 years; it reverted to a girls-only camp with reduced enrollment. But by the end of this period, momentum had been regained and enrollment was the highest it had ever been; and at full capacity; it could not accommodate any more campers until it had a larger dining hall, for which serious planning was under way.

The polio epidemic was approaching its height in Vermont, as in rest of the nation. Children with polio made up the vast majority of campers during this period, and an increasing percentage of the campers came from Vermont. Preference was given to children from Vermont; they were not required to pay tuition, and they were accepted first.

Joyce (Walsh) Heath, at 7-14 years of age, started her life-long involvement with Camp Thorpe during this period. While her parents, Basil and Mae Walsh, directed the camp she, along with her sister Jean, was a camper.

The first fieldstone construction was done at the camp during this period: a chimney with a double-sided (inside and outside) fireplace on the boys’ lodge, a porch and ramp on the infirmary, and porches on the farmhouse in the boys’ camp. These were precursors to the many beautiful fieldstone buildings that would be built in the future.

Many campers were living in poverty. In the words of Vena Thorpe (1933):

” Many of the fathers of the 50 girls cared for were, and had been, out of work for a long time, some of the families being cared for by charity. From the way they gained in weight and judging from the way they ate we had to believe that many of them were less than half fed.”

Handicapping Conditions

Included: infantile paralysis/poliomyelitis (polio), tuberculosis, scoliosis, muscular spasticity/spastic paralysis/birth palsy (cerebral palsy), congenital deformity, osteomyelitis, burns, Pott’s disease, Erb’s palsy, kyphosis, chorea, ankylosis, spina bifida, rickets, obstectrical paralysis, hemiplegia, arthritis, club feet, amputated legs, encephalitis, poor posture, exoxtrophic bladder, club hand, congenital deformities

Enrollment

There were 2 sessions, each 4 weeks long with roughly an equal number of campers in each session. A few children from Vermont who showed marked improvement in the first session were invited to stay for the second session. Children from Vermont were only required to pay transportation costs to and from Brandon; they did not pay tuition. Some children from out of state were charged a modest tuition.

1933: 50 girls
1934: 49 girls
1935: 63 girls
1936: 50 girls, 24 boys (93% from Vermont)
1937: 60 girls, 50 boys (80% from Vermont)
1938: 44 girls, 44 boys (not recorded)
1939: 50 girls, 43 boys (85% from Vermont)
1940: 102 children (85% from Vermont)

Reffering Agencies

Included: Vermont Infantile Paralysis After-Care Department, Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission, Industrial School for Crippled Children (Boston), Robert Breck Brigham Hospital (Boston), Children’s Hospital (Boston), Shriners Hospital (Springfield), Brooklyn Children’s Aid Society, New York Orthopedic Hospital

Staff

The success of camp during this period, as always, was due to a compassionate, creative, resourceful, imaginative and fun-loving counseling staff as well as a hard-working, resourceful, and professional support staff. In the words of Basil Walsh (1937):

” Our programs were carried out smoothly in every detail and we unreservedly credit its successful operation to a staff of counselors and helpers whose energy, enthusiasm, and fine cooperation kept the whole camp at a high level of attainment. Not only were these young men and women most sympathetic and helpful to our campers, but they proved very ingenious in creating a happy atmosphere which caught the interest of every boy and girl in the group.

The result speaks for itself: at the end of the season almost every camper asked to be allowed to return for another year.”

A large nursing staff kept very busy facilitating daily corrective exercises required by many campers. It was rewarding work for all staff members, as expressed in the nurses annual report (1938):

“The work with these children is most inspiring, and it is wonderful to see how patiently and courageously they bear their burdens. For these crippled and disabled girls and boys, who must face life under such difficulties, may continued help be given, so that they may sojourn again in these peaceful strength-giving hills.”

Staff members included many members of the Thorpe family; daughters Mae, Elleda, Laura and their spouses.

Daily Schedule

Morning classes included arts and crafts, plant study, and drama. The boys also enjoyed cutting trails and constructing footbridges; the more active boys cut a trail up the western slope of Cape Lookoff connecting to the Long Trail at the summit
Corrective exercises were given to many campers during a daily scheduled visit to the infirmary.
Rest period in the afternoon
Swimming was an integral part of the daily schedule. The pool (a dam across Goulds Brook) also provided a place to do hydrotherapy for children with polio. The water temperature was checked daily; the children were not allowed to swim if it was below 68 degrees. But the temperature was measured near the surface, it was much colder down below. In the words of a camper at the time (Joyce (Walsh) Heath):

” We would dive in and swim across to the shallower section as fast as we could; it was warmer there. While we swam, we’d try not to let our legs sink down into the much colder water below.”

The evening activity included group games, races (including one-brace running race, two-brace running race, peanut race, and sack race), sports, skits, entertainment from visiting performers, and starting in 1935, “moving pictures” one night a week.
Singing was an activity enjoyed throughout the day.

A railroad engine wheel shoe, hanging near the lodge, was used as a gong to signal activity changes throughout the day.

Children whose care was supervised by the Crippled Children’s Division of the Vermont State Board of Health were given a vacation from remedial exercises – freeing up more time for swimming, practicing independent living skills, and longer play periods.

Starting in 1938, when a radio was donated to the camp, listening to the radio became a popular rainy day activity.

Occasional overnight hikes to the “Adirondack Shelter” (built by boy campers in 1932) on the slope of Cape Lookoff mountain.

Weekly picnics at the pool and Christie Cabin, where corn was popped in fireplace.

A few times a year, day trips to Branbury Beach at Lake Dunmore.

At the end of each session, presentation of a play (rehearsed during drama class) by the campers.

Once a week, all campers were weighed, measured, and examined by the camp nurse. Since many of the children were underprivileged, particular attention was given to their weight. For each child, a graph was maintained tracking their weight gain through the summer. The average weight gain was 4 pounds.

A non-denominational church service was held on Sunday morning.

Governor’s Day was an annual event. The current and former Governors of Vermont were keynote speakers at the event and it was attended by many people from the surrounding area.

Facility Development

1934: Work continued on construction of boys’ lodge
1935: Arts and Crafts building constructed in girls’ camp
1936: Temporary water system created for boys’ camp
Boys lodge, with double-sided fieldstone fireplace, completed
Wooden ramps on cabin entrances replaced with concrete/stone
3000 Norway spruce planted near boys’ camp
With much celebration, an electric refrigerator purchased (the oak icebox was relegated to clothing storage in the farmhouse at the boys’ camp, where it remained for more than 40 years)
1937: Fieldstone porch and concrete ramp added to infirmary
Running water & plumbing added to infirmary (previously water had to be hauled by nurse)
1939: Playground equipment installed at girls camp (and, due to its great popularity with the girls and boys, equipment was purchased for the boys’ camp)
Architectural plans developed for new dining hall
1940: Playground equipment installed at boys’ camp
Farmhouse in boys camp completely remodeled – new foundation, 3 porches added, new plumbing, wired for electricity
New water system – a well at junction of 2 small streams near boys camp, pumping station in cellar of farmhouse – added, supplied water to boys and girls camp
Building committee formed for new dining hall

Financial Support

Camp was funded entirely during this period, as always, by the generous donations of individuals and community groups (no government funding). In the words of Basil Walsh (1940):

” It is certainly a gratification to us who are closely connected with the camp to see the development of the work from year to year and to notice the increased interest exhibited by the public at large. There are many generous people who take part in helping the work go on, and to all these contributors we extend our deepest gratitude for the successful year which has just been concluded.”

Board of Trustees

Gov. John Weeks, President – Middlebury, VT
Shirley Farr, Vice-President – Brandon, VT
Basil Walsh, Treasurer – Proctor, VT
Earl Wright, Secretary – Rutland, VT
Vena Thorpe – Brandon, VT
Dr. G. Marshall – Rutland, VT
Mrs. C. F. Moore – Brandon, VT
Benjamin Williams – Proctor, VT
Frank Bridgman – Boston, MA
Mrs. Redfield Proctor – Proctor, VT
William Wills – Bennington, VT
E.S. Kinsley – Rutland, VT
Frank Lord – New York, NY