Camp Huntington , located in the center part of the Adirondacks on Raquette Lake, is now a SUNY Environmental Education Center, but it wasn't always like this. It was once a playground for the wealthy and famous. It's a fascinating story, one of riches to rags and then back into riches of another kind.
It was William West Durant, son of a wealthy railroad magnate who began what would become known as the Great Camp style of architecture. Durant began construction of the island camp in 1877.
Called Camp Pine Knot at the time, the Durant family would go on to own the camp until 1895,and during their time as owners, the family would play host to some of the richest people in the country.Robert Rubendall is SUNY Cortland's Director For The Center Of Environmental & Outdoor Education." JP Morgan, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, the Roosevelts, they all came through here, and actually saw what could be done here in the Adirondacks. So the very beginning was as a retreat if you will, for the wealthiest families in NY City."
Eventually, Durant's business ailings left him short of money,and the Durants were forced to sell Pine Knot. The new owner was Collis Huntington, a rich industrialist. He bought the camp for 35,00 dollars, but was only able to enjoy it for five years. Rubendall explains that Huntington's death at age 79 left the camp in limbo for a long time.
" His widow and their adopted son Archer Huntington wanted nothing to do with Camp Pine Knot anymore and just basically left. They had a caretaker stay on, would send him a monthly check and periodically make sure everything was allright, but until 1947 there was no activity here at all."
It was then that a bit of fate stepped in. Two Cortland University professors who were canoeing on Raquette Lake discovered the aging property. They thought it would make a perfect location for educating their students, and the rest, as they say,is history.
" They approached Archer, who lived in Connecticut at the time, made him a proposal, and long story short, Archer donated this whole property to SUNY Cortland to be used for educational purposes."
The camp was renamed Huntington Memorial Camp, and has gone from serving the few to serving the many.
The thousands of campers which have found refuge here are schooled in a variety of outdoor skills which they integrate into their every day lives." It helps round out an education" says Rubendall " It helps people develop a sense of confidence and ability to function on their own , that I think especially in this technological and artificial world we live in is something that people miss."
Jamie McNair is a teacher at New Hartford High School. He brings his class up every year, and is a Huntington alumnus as well." We have a no cell phone rule here, and the kids aren't usually sure how they're going to handle it, but they leave them behind and at the end of the four days, they realize, I tell them it's kind of an anchor, it's a tether."
Elizabeth Cavic is a New Hartford senior,enjoying her stay at the camp." You literally cannot be distracted by social media, it's amazing, the first day you feel really stressed out about it, and then afterwards, you don't feel that anchor anymore."
Camp Huntington has been transformed by the years and by the people who've experienced it, and despite the gap of time and wealth, it seems that everyone involved has been seeking, and finding the same things,says Rubendall.
" I think the people that came here in the Durant era were looking for the same kind of thing we're wanting our students to experience, which is to get away from anything that's distracting in life, and to connect more closely with what's essential and important."
Cavic agrees. " Go outside and look at the sky ! Let your eyes adjust and look at the sky, it's amazing, it's crazy ! Go outside and go in a canoe, if you have one, if you have the chance to do that, do it ! I learned how to do it this weekend, and it was phenomenal ! "