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The History of Camp Palmer in Oxford

The Knights of Columbus established a camp for boys on the Housatonic River.

The Knights of Columbus established and sponsored Camp Palmer in 1922 when Thomas J. O’Brien, Past Grand Knight of Elm City Council of New Haven, wanted to send his young sons to a summer camp.

He found no area camps operated under Catholic auspices. Mr. O’Brien presented a resolution to the New Haven council that called for a joint conference with the other councils of the district.  Other area councils followed suit, and eventually, in 1922, the cooperative effort opened a camp on the Housatonic River near the Seymour/Oxford town line. It was the first summer camp for Catholic boys operated exclusively under the auspices of the Knights of Columbus.

 The camp was named for William H. Palmer, an Oxford resident and former United States Marshal who donated 10 acres for the camp.  The property was developed with tents for the campers.  The first year there were 14 tents, each of which was donated by a member of the Knights of Columbus.  Each housed seven boys and a tent leader.  The boys were aged 10 to 16.

 Mr. F.J. Fitzgerald was the first camp director. He had two assistants, including a medical student in charge of the infirmary tent. Two cooks were employed to prepare the meals. A limit of 10 cents a day was placed on the purchase of sweets. Sports and activities were encouraged, with a baseball field, volleyball field, an area for boxing, wrestling and other sports, as well as opportunities for swimming, boating and hiking.

Each camper was required to bring personal and religious articles. They followed a strict daily schedule: morning prayers were at 7 a.m., followed by physical exercise and swim before breakfast.

In the evening, an hour of reading was required, as well as evening prayers before bedtime. The camp had an honor system designed to encourage moral, mental, physical and social values.

 A chaplain, the Rev. Father Killion, came every other Saturday to hear each boys' confessions; the boys all received Holy Communion on Sunday morning during a Field Mass at the camp. On the alternate Sundays, the campers went to Derby for Mass.

According to an article in Columbia Magazine, dated October 1922, the program was nearly self-supporting. The cost for each boy was $5 per week. The first year, the program operated for nine weeks and the deficit was only $4,200, which was made up by the Knights.

 By 1934, Camp Palmer was operating with 120 campers. Enrollment increased to 134 in 1935.  In 1957,  a new swimming pool was dedicated. (See postcard photo.)

Unfortunately a fire closed the camp some time between the 1957 season and 1958.  (I have not yet found any news accounts and dates for that fire.  I would ask any readers with information on the fire and the date of the fire to email dottie@debisschop.net so this article can be updated.) 

After the fire, in 1958, the Town of Seymour established swimming facilities at the former Camp Palmer.  The park, which opened in July, contained 150 feet of beach and parking for cars and busses. The summer playground program provided toilet facilities and a lifeguard.  Some sand was placed on the shore for a beach. Within a few weeks, the Oxford Zoning Board received many complaints about the toilets put up by Seymour. Seymour offered to remove them. Oxford eventually agreed they could stay as long as they were screened.

Victoria Napomiceno June 15, 2011 at 04:54 PM
This is very interesting! What happened after that and what is there now?
ray dellamura August 01, 2011 at 01:34 PM
I think the dates you have for closing the camp(1957-1958) are wrong. I went to the camp in the summer of 1959 thru 1960
Bill Howard August 04, 2011 at 12:31 AM
A year or so ago I created a Facebook page about the camp. It has some tidbits of info. I know the camp was open in the early 60's. It hosted a drum and bugle corp in 1965 but I don't know if it had regular campers at that time or not. I have some pics of the site now. Stop by my page. Search for Friends of Camp Palmer...it is a work in progress.
George Upton October 26, 2011 at 10:52 PM
The camp could not have closed in 1958. I was there the summers of 1966 and 1967. While in Oxford last Spring I tried to find the site, with no luck.
Ed Rowland October 26, 2011 at 11:36 PM
George, The site of Camp Palmer has homes .It was a sand and gravel bank in the late 70's through the mid 80's.I believe the complex is called Rivers Edge or Riverbend.
Lucius Sorrentino July 03, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Hi, I was a camper there in the summer of 1963 when I was in 6th grade. So I know it was open after the fire of '57-'58. The history of Camp Palmer needs updating to reflect that fact that it was still an operational camp in the early Sixties.
Bill Howard July 03, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Yes I was there in the 60's as well. If you go to my Facebook Page (Friends of Camp Palmer) there are some pictures of groups staying there in the 60's. I believe by the mid to lae 60's the camp did indeed close. I plan to retire in a couple of years and one of my projects is to go to the library and trace the history of the camp through the years via the Sentinel (the old valley paper) and the New Haven Register archives. Sign up on my Facebook group. You would be the first member. I can't believe more people have not joined. I guess most of the staff is too old or dead and a lot of the campers that are still around don't have Facebook or don't think that Camp Palmer would be on Facebook. I loved the camp.
Bill Howard July 03, 2012 at 01:16 PM
That site is to the left of the former camp palmer site. The actual site of the camp is behind the soccer field to the right of the development. I have aerial photos of the area taken in the 60's as part of the connecticut aeriel survey. I could spot camp palmer because of the pool and the cabins. Then I looked at a Google image of the area and based on points of reference that have not changed over the years I could find the precise location of the camp. I will post the pictures at some point to my Facebook Friends of Camp Palmer page. If you recall you went into a long driveway through the woods. The driveway actually looped around what is now the soccer field. The actual camp site was pretty small. I remember it as being huge.
Bill Howard July 03, 2012 at 02:39 PM
See my reply to Ed below. I walked around the actual site of the Camp and of course nothing remains. The immediate area appeared to have been scraped clean for dirt and gravel. I have an aeriel photo taken in the 90's and the entire area looked like a desert. Today it is overgrown with small plants and trees. It is a little tricky to access. I did some research and the property is owned by a home builder who clearly is planning to put some homes there when the economy recovers. I wonder if the people who live there will ever know about the thousands of boys who spent a couple of weeks every summer swimming and having fun. I guess you can say that about just about any place ....a lot of time you don't know the history of what went on in that spot in the past. If you have Facebook you are welcome to join the Camp Palmer group.
Bill Howard July 03, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Victoria...see my comments below about the site as it exists today. I will be updating my Facebook Group for the camp with some aerial photos that show the location past and present.
Local Borough Resident July 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I was there in July, 1969.
Michael Loomis August 12, 2012 at 03:52 AM
I was there for 2 summers in the sixties...don't remember the years. Had some great times! I'd like to join your Facebook group, but searching for it gave me the dreaded "no results." can you help direct me?
Jane Sinclair August 23, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Hi! I was just going to write about Camp Palmer on a Facebook page and found this article. I looked for your friends of Camp Palmer, but couldn't find it. Is it under another name? In 1965, our drum corps the Chicago Vanguard DID stay there for a few days between east coast performances/shows. It is one of the best memories of my teen years. We have photos of Camp Palmer and I loved the photos shared here. It was a beautiful rustic place that gave us a great place to rest and practice our music. Jane Sinclair
Dan Davis September 29, 2012 at 12:15 AM
George, I was a counselor at Camp Palmer in 1967. I was in the seminary in Houston at the time, and the seminarians were given the opportunity to work at Camp Palmer during the summers. I was only there for two months but enjoyed the time spent there. Do you remember the name of the priest who was there in 1967? My name is Danny Davis. I am a retired teacher now. The only other seminarian from Houston I can remember who also was a camp counselor was Dan Gounselin. I remember some of the counselors and I went to New York when we had a break. I understand the camp has been razed and no evidence of it exists. Danny Davis dan6790@cebridge.net
Jean September 29, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Oxford Glen and the sand and gravel operation to the left of it is were Camp Palmer was. The driveway is the to the Glen, ( town has a right of way to) was the camp's driveway.
Bill Howard September 29, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Jean, again if you look at the aerial survey picture of Connecticut taken in the 60's (black and white) you can clearly see where the camp is. There were a few homes built in the area and some of the streets are the same. There is one house on an odd angle to the street. Using that as the key, I was able to compare today's Google satellite pictures of the area to the old pictures and you can clearly see the former location of the camp.
ray dellamura December 03, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Does any one remember counselor joe schear i think he became a priest in milford ct. also a guy knowned as fi. at the end of pool time he would yell everybody out of fi pool
Bill Howard December 04, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I think a lot of the counselors were seminarians. I had a guy from Allentown Pa one year. Big thick black glasses. Good guy. It was a great camp. I went to Sequassen too in Winsted which was the boy scout camp but Camp Palmer was more laid back and less regimented. Good days...good times.
ray dellamura December 11, 2012 at 04:08 PM
the counselor from Allentown PA. was frank zimmerman he was my counselor in 1960 in cabin B7
Bill Howard December 11, 2012 at 05:00 PM
It was Frank Zimmerman. You have a great memory. That must have been my cabin in '60 at some point during the summer. Thanks.
John M. May 09, 2013 at 09:01 PM
I went to Camp Palmer for a few weeks, during the summers of 1965 and 1966. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to drive on Rt. 34 to New Haven. I pulled into the Oxford Glen parking lot, and saw the remnants of an old fireplace/barbeque with a good amount of brush around it. I believe it was part of the old camp. Plan to go back and walk the area of the old camp. Good memories, a great place to have fun and grow up as a 10-11 year old. Thanks for posting the photos. They look the same as I remember it. Dorothy, thanks for your efforts.
Wayne Cooke May 25, 2013 at 11:14 PM
Went to Camp Palmer in the summers of 1967 and 1968--quite an experience. I remember scaling a rocky cliff called Big Indian and got stuck half way up. The counselors had to lasso me and pull me to the top. Also remember going to the infamous "latrines" late one night only to be greeted by a skunk waiting inside the stall. There was also a little store down on Route 34 kids would sneak to for candy, etc. but with hell to pay if you got caught. And, of course, who could forget the hike and overnight camping trip to Lake Zoar, during which none of us slept for fear of the ax-wielding "Mad Mary" emerging from the pitch black woods all around us. Overall it was an OK place, but I was glad when the two weeks were over and it was time to go home.

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