The Ockanickon Story
Compiled by Donald A. Wiater
When Bucks County Council was formed in 1927, one of the first considerations was securing land for a suitable camp. A committee under the chairmanship of Henry Palmer visited about 33 sites within the radius of one hundred miles of Bucks County. The committee finally chose land in Sunnyside, New Jersey about 7 miles north of Fleming-ton on the south bank of the Raritan River. The camp was called Buccou (Buc for Bucks and Cou for County). The Good Times Hall was donated by Mr. Palmer and the Doylestown Kiwanis Club and they built the Craft Lodge on that property. Meals were served in a large tent and campers generally stayed the entire summer, according to camp staffer Harry C. Meyers of Feasterville.
Samuel M. Snipes of Morrisville still recalls the 2 songs of Camp Buccou; “Time to Take a Swim” and “Camp Along the Raritan”. Camp Buccou was occupied until 1940, but the Scouts of Bucks County wanted a camp in their county and a determined effort was made to find suitable land. The Scout Executive and the Camping Committee visited 77 possible sites. In March 1940, the first parcel of land was purchased for the price of $17,500 dollars from Mr. Charles Larsen. This Bucks County site was selected next to Ralph Stover State Park. The flag pole from Camp Buccou was erected on the parade ground of our present camp that summer.
At the suggestion of Mr. Edward Barnsley of Newtown and with much discussion, the camp was named Ockanickon to honor the Leni Lenape Indian Chief Ockanickon who was one of the conveyors of Bucks County land to William Penn in 1682. It was impossible to move the Kiwanis Craft Lodge to the new camp, so a replica building was designed to replace it. A contribution from the family of the late Henry Palmer enabled the camp to renovate the back of the old carriage house into a kitchen for the dining hall and designated the building Palmer Lodge in his memory. This served as the camp’s dining hall until the construction of Foster Hall. In the fall of 1940, a fireplace in memory of Mr. Bruce Ford was built in Palmer Lodge through the generosity of Mrs. Bruce Ford.
In 1941 Mr. Charles J. Matthews gave council $5,000 dollars toward the construction of a swimming pool in memory of his wife Clara Matthews. The balance of $8,000 dollars was donated by friends of the Boy Scouts of Bucks County.
In 1946 a log cabin in the Tohickon Valley was purchased for the use of Explorers and named Uncas Lodge. At the beginning of the 1948 camp season, the rostrum in the chapel was dedicated by Dr. A.J. Strathie to the memory of his wife and son. The benches and the shrubbery in the chapel were dedicated to the memory of those designated on the plaques.
In July 1950 the Health Lodge was dedicated to the memory of Morrisville Mayor Thomas B. Stockham by Mrs. Stockham and the Stockham family. A brass memorial plaque on the building lists his services to Scouting and the nation. In 1951 an adequate water supply system for the pool was made by pumping water up from the Tohickon Creek. This system was presented by the son of William Fretz in memory of his father. In 1955 nine acres of land were purchased by the Council from Harold J. Freed on the southwest side of the camp, establishing two new campsites. In 1956 twenty-three acres were purchased from the heirs of Christian Snyder and two new campsites were added. Also in 1956 thirty-seven and one-half acres with a house and barn were purchased from Raymond W. Powers and the camp ranger moved there from the Administration Building. This area was known as the “Ranch” and today is part of the Science Center.
In 1960 the Development Fund Campaign gave additional gifts for buildings and facilities properly designated by plaques. In 1963 Troop and Post 20 of Newtown presented funds for a new Adirondack in Tamanend Campsite.
Through the years a number of Adirondack cabins and washhouses have been presented by various service clubs, individuals, and foundations throughout the county. Each one of the gifts bears a plaque showing the name of the donor and were dedicated in August 1953. In 1955 nine additional Adirondacks were erected.
The Order of the Arrow took over the project of building our Council Fire Ring. Seventy-two seats were sold and appropriate plates were placed on each seat to pay for the cost of materials. It could accommodate 720 people. The Council Fire Ring was dedicated July 21, 1956. The Stone Conservation Lodge was presented by Mr. S. Feinstone in the name of his grandson Joseph F. Stone who was a member of Troop 20 of Newtown. It was dedicated on July 21, 1956.
The Edward M. Happ memorial sundial mounted on a stone base at the old parade field flag pole was dedicated on September 29, 1957. This was presented by the men of Troop 52 sponsored by St. Joseph’s Society of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Doylestown and Post 18 sponsored by the United Church of Christ in Doylestown.
In December of 1960 thirty-eight acres of land east of the Tohickon Creek were presented to the camp by Mr. Edward C. Riley. In 1962 a foundation gave funds for a Troop Lodge near Quabosco Campsite. In 1963 the Grundy Foundation presented an identical Troop Lodge at the Five Star site now known as Grundy Lodge.
During the period from 1965 to 1968 the Council Service Center was completed in Doylestown. The new L-shaped swimming pool was constructed by Sylvan Pools in time for the 1969 summer camp season. Sky Lake camping property was acquired in 1969 and the first council sponsored Wood Badge course was held at Sky Lake in August 1975.
Ajapeu Lodge 33 of the Order of the Arrow contributed funds for the construction of the Order of the Arrow Memorial Lodge in 1970-1971 in memory of Douglas Booth and William J. Erkes killed in Vietnam in the service of their country. In 1971 the new Maintenance Building was built at the entrance to the camp.
The Watts property in the valley was acquired in 1971 and the adjacent property and cabin owned by the Troop 290 Association of Philadelphia were purchased for $4,000 in 1975. The Watts Cabin burned in the fall of 1976 and only the foundation and chimney are left.
Following the formation of a Camp Properties Committee in 1973 extensive upgrading of existing facilities and the development of new facilities proceeded in a more rapid and orderly fashion. From 1973 through 1979 a complete renovation of the camp kitch-en and new septic system was completed, rewiring of Palmer Lodge buildings, erection of three new water storage tanks, drilling of a new well, installation of new water system on the “Ranch” property, a four acre lake created by Morrissey Builders, three new troop sites added, a picnic grove area created, parking lot built, the renovation of the farmhouse and barn to a new leadership development area, new trucks, rowboats and a jeep were procured or completed.
The Willard L. Ross Memorial, a year-round conservation and ecology center in Stone Lodge, began operation in late 1975 with dedication in July 1976. Selective timbering at Ockanickon was also completed in 1975 to improve tree growth and life in the area ad-jacent to the rifle range.
Following extensive study and review with unit and district Scouters, the Executive Board, upon recommendation of the Camp Properties Committee and Finance Commit-tee, closed Sky Lake Camp, Bucks County Council’s wilderness camp, in 1975. All equipment was returned to Ockanickon and the property sold for $143,000 dollars in September 1976 with the funds being placed in the Bucks County Council Trust Fund earmarked for future camp property development and improvement.
In 1984, Bucks County Council acquired the old Boys Club, Camp Stern, across the road from camp and the Kessler property next to Ockanickon. A cabin on the Kessler property was enlarged and renovated in 1986 to serve as a new home for the Camp Director.
In the late 1980’s after many years of debt and poor attendance, it was time to build, replace and re-think Camp Ockanickon. In the summer of 1985 a new filter system was installed at the swimming pool and a new filter house was built in 1986. In 1984 and 1985 five new adirondacks were erected in memory of Harvey Walton. In 1987 through 1989 all structures and buildings in the camp were re-roofed. In 1990 our entire electrical plant was replaced and a $20,000 dollar new shower house was built at the pool. The entire facility was painted earth tone colors in 1991. Also in 1992 the campfire ring and chapel seating were replaced. In 1993 new pressure treated tent platforms replaced old ones. In 1994 the pool area was remodeled at the cost of $60,000 dollars.
The Trading Post was remodeled in 1994 with new counters, insulation, and electrical service. The new year-round dining facility, Foster Hall, was completed and dedicated on April 9, 1995.
In 1996 a new camp office was completed in the former Troop Lodge near Quabosco. It included private offices, central air and heat, and attractive lighting. Through volunteers it was completed at no cost to the council. New docks were built at Great Buck Lake (Chinquilipa Lake) by Ajapeu Lodge 33 and Ajapeu and Neshaminy campsites were added on the lake side of camp. Former Palmer Hall has been renovated to a Handicraft Lodge with staff housing upstairs. A new phone system was installed in the camp.
In 1996 a grant was received from Betz-Dearborn Corporation to build the first ever sci-ence center at a Boy Scout camp. The former Leadership Development Building was renovated to become the Betz-Dearborn Science Center in 1997 and the project includ-ed the purchase of a $7,000 telescope, an inflatable planetarium, and a chemistry lab. A new roof, windows, doors, and central heat and air were installed. Project C.O.P.E. was added to the camp program with the completion of the Low Course in 1997 and the High Course in 1998, adding 5 new elements in 2004. The Trading Post was renovated again and expanded and additional tent platforms placed in existing campsites. In 1999 the pool was upgraded with a commercial D.E. filter system and the pool deck and plumbing were replaced.
In October 2012, super storm Sandy caused major damage to our camp. Many tent plat-forms, latrines, and adirondacks were destroyed and there was roof damage to several buildings. We also lost many healthy trees. We were able to rebuild and repair all the structures for the opening of summer camp 2013. Gilmore Engineering donated the funds for the construction of a 45 foot climbing tower located near the pool area in 2013. In the early summer of 2015, a large pavilion was constructed for the Dan Beard program. In the fall of 2015, a lakeside canoe pavilion was erected in memory of Dr. Manual Marks, a longtime member of Troop 10 in Yardley.
A new dock for the lake was funded by David Oertel and installed in the Spring of 2016 to replace the aging wood docks. The offseason between the Summer of 2015 & 2016 also featured a heavy push into replanting and a new forestry plan. This plan featured two weekends of replanting trees with about 300 trees, shrubs, and acorns per acre. These weekends brought a total of more than 300 volunteers onto the property to plant more than 8,000 total acorns.
Camp Ockanickon is approximately 240 acres in size and offers one of the largest merit badge programs in the Northeast Region with 80 badges offered at summer camp. The outdoor adventure program includes rock climbing at Ralph Stover State Park, sailing on nearby Lake Galena, mountain biking on Cannondale bikes, and riding on MBS mountain boards. A Dan Beard Program uniquely designed for training in the Tenderfoot to First Class requirements is offered to first year campers.