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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.