Camp Downer is in the Downer State Forest in Sharon, Vermont. The 705 acre forest was donated by Charles Downer to the State of Vermont for the purpose of educational study, primarily of forestry. Charles Downer was very interested in forestry and went so far as to import trees from around the world, including some Norwegian firs that never arrived because they went down with the Titanic.
Why a camp at all?
In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the pond which we use today for boating. They also built many of the buildings. We’re doing some research into Camp William James (CWJ), and will write more about that here later.
So then what happened?
Camp Downer was originally incorporated in 1945 as Downer 4-H Camp, Inc. Its stated goal was to provide an affordable summer camping experience to 4-H members of Washington, Addison, Caledonia, Windsor and Windham counties. Originally the staff was provided by each of the counties for the campers from those counties. Cabins did not exist at first but CWJ left behind dormitories which housed male and female campers.
During the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the 4-H clubs in the various counties contributed toward the construction of the cabins. Many of the cabin signs indicate which county club provided which cabin. Other cabins, notably the original director’s and nature cabins were turned into Cabin 13 and Old Nature for campers as time went on.
Sometime in 1964 or 1968, one of the original dormitories collapsed in the middle. The ends that were left standing became the nurses cabin and directors cabins that remain in use today.
In 1974 the camp fee had risen to the astronomical fee of $40.00 per week. There were multiple stay over weekends that were staffed on a rotating basis. Most campers went home on the weekend, but every other weekend about 20 campers would stay behind. Swimming all weekend. What a great time!
In 1977, Camp Ingalls closed and our Nature cabin was built with a grant from funds from the Ingalls closing. Located at the edge of our pond, it gives a great view of a family of great blue herons that have nested there on occasion over the years.
Recent changes have included the addition of the Downer Olympics during the single remaining two-week session. In the mid-1980’s the camp added a photography program.
2004 was a year which had a huge impact on Camp Downer. Approaching its 60th anniversary, Downer, along with the other three
4-H camps in Vermont, was notified that the University Extension Service was severing its ties with 4-H camping.
Taking up this challenge, Downer 4-H Camp, Inc. formally changed its name to Camp Downer, Inc. Our commitment to providing affordable camping experiences for all remains decidedly unchanged. We look forward to camping and campers for many years to come.