Person, Place, and Experience
at Squam Lake, New Hampshire
Camping, with all its present varieties, is as American an institution as there is. Camping as temporary dwelling in the landscape began with indigenous peoples; was taken up of necessity by European explorers and traders; and emerged as a social movement first in the revivalist camp meetings of the so-called “Great Awakening”, and then the giant military encampments of the Civil War.
Then a war-weary people, hoping to avoid the summertime ravages of contagious diseases in the cities, and with no income tax to consider, began to throw together what amounted to wooden tents near woods and lakes. To these retreats they seasonally repaired with their children for fresh air, outdoor skill development, and experience tinged with self-reliance. This was an authentic corporeal education to compliment the mental one offered in schools.
The freedom and fascination of intimately exploring the landscape created in these children attachments so strong that as adults they clung tenaciously to their camp prop-erties, and the opportunities for experience they made possible for their own children. Thus were campsteads born. In turn, the desire for a more-or-less pristine wilderness, on which campsteading depends, affected the landscape itself by creating opposition
to commercial “development”, in which what is “developed” is capitalistic enterprise at the expense of both nature and the opportunity to escape the ever-probing, ever-corrupting tentacles of commercialization.
I coined the term “campsteading” to give voice to this general phenomenon. The term has since been institutionalized by conservation organizations around Squam Lake, New Hampshire, where I did my research. Old, lakeside properties can now qualify for “campstead easements” of their taxes in return for preserving the historic integrity of rustic buildings and their
Also, the architectural and cultural significance of the still-rustic descendants of those original wooden tents has been recognized by having the entire Squam Lake watershed placed on the National Register of Historic Places. For fifteen years a committee of energetic, devoted people worked, raised funds, paid for research documentation, and saw a complicated application process through to success.
I hope this heightened awareness of the value of old camps, and the authentic experiences they facilitate, will contribute to a lasting appreciation of the evolved human need to relate to undeveloped wilderness.
Campsteading may be purchased through the publisher, Routledge