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A Legendary Boy Scout Camp Named Miakonda

by David L. Eby

Camp Miakonda, which was purchased and built in 1917, is the sixth oldest of America's fifteen oldest Boy Scout camps and the oldest Boy Scout camp in Ohio. There are probably few scout camps in America as storied as Erie Shores Council's (formerly Toledo Area) Camp Miakonda. What camp is reputed to be the site of the largest hand built man made project outside of Egypt? What camp at one time had the world's longest swimming pool (480' long)? What camp has a eight sided, log lodge that was built to have blazing open air council campfires INSIDE of it? What camp had a campsite that was 32' in midair? What camp had an Indian Tipi Village staffed by authentic native Americans? [Picture] What camp was used by the earliest known honor program in the BSA (one year older than the OA)? What camp had a sea scout training campsite that was a 94' long two masted schooner on an island in the middle of a lake and was built to never sail? What camp currently lies entirely inside a city? If you answered one word (Miakonda) to all of the above, you are correct.

The first 78 acres that became Camp Miakonda was purchased in 1917 by the Toledo Area Council. When the council leaders went out to inspect the land the eight mile ride from downtown Toledo took two hours using a Willys-Knight vehicle (later called Jeep). The land had deep ravines, hills, streams and a lot of potential. The first building they constructed in 1917 still exists and is currently the Camp Museum. The building has a rather unique double fireplace that is both indoor and outdoor. The design of the outdoor one is suspiciously similar to the patch design used by the Tribe of Gimogash. The exterior plaster is still original and had two names finger written into it in 1917 when it was still wet. The names "Dutch" and "Irish" are still there and were the nicknames of the two very young daughters [Picture] of J. St. Clair Mendenhall, their executive at that time.

The name Miakonda is a native American term that means "crescent moon". It reportedly is the name of an Ottawa Indian Village that once existed on the same land. To my knowledge all the patches that ever came from this camp have a crescent moon "C" on them. There is quite a connection between scouting in Kansas City and Toledo and the crescent moon "C" seems to be part of it. The connection is by way of Toledo's first full time executive J. St. Clair Mendenhall who was the executive of Kansas City from 1912-1914 then became the first full time executive of Toledo in late 1914. He created the Tribe of Gimogash in Kansas City in May, 1914 and brought it with him to Toledo later in the same year. The Tribe of Gimogash is the oldest known honor program in the national history of the Boy Scouts of America and predates the Order of the Arrow by one year. Many councils used the Gimogash program in the teens and 1920s and they would travel to Toledo to participate in the induction ceremony. These ceremonies are believed to have taken place at Miakonda. Mr. Mendenhall was 21 when Kansas City hired him and was a very early Eagle Scout (#63) in 1913. The other thing he apparently brought with him was the Order of the Mystic Circle, a honor program that first appeared in 1915 in Toledo at their summer camp. It is known that in Kansas City in the 1920's that they had an organization that was called the "Mystic C". The patches from this program closely match the early patches from Camp Miakonda. They both have the crescent moon "C" on them. I believe the roots of the camp's logo originated in Kansas City although I have no documentation to back it up.

A famous Toledo industrialist, Thomas DeVilbiss, was Miakonda's first great benefactor. In a 12 month period during the 1920's he donated $55,000 to it. Other donations followed by numerous Toledo citizens and companies. The official name of the camp is DeVilbiss Scout Reservation.

What set the camp apart from probably all others was that it was the recipient of some major projects during the Great Depression that started in 1933 and were paid for by the Federal Government. They had to deed the camp over to the city of Toledo to qualify then the city returned it a few years later. There was no lake at the camp when they bought the land but a 10 acre lake was dedicated in 1936 just the same. A ten acre hole about 6'-8' deep was hand dug one shovel at a time and moved one wheelbarrow at a time as a public works project by the CWA and by the FERA. There was no power machinery involved with it, just wheelbarrows, shovels and a lot of men needing work. It is estimated that 1,000 men hand dug and moved 1.1 million wheelbarrows of dirt to create the lake. Three islands were built in the lake during it's creation and a massive 94' long wood schooner with two masts was built on one of the islands as a training facility for Sea Scouts (also a government project) [Picture]. It didn't move and was an actual campsite with sleeping quarters. When it was christened, the bottle of water that was broken against it's hull had water in it from the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico as well as the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Maumee Rivers mixed together. The ship was named the A.B. Newell after the man responsible for promoting Sea Scouting in the region. There were quite a number of government projects at the camp that included a massive warehouse, parking lot, cabins, snake pits and others. Two notable projects were the tree houses and the Council Lodge. The tree houses numbered eight or nine and they were about 32' in the air and each had a staircase leading to the top. Each one had four built-in bunks. [Picture] The Council Lodge building is still a centerpiece of the camp. It is a magnificent structure rising up from eight sides with a cantilevered dome at the top. [Picture] It was built to have open air campfires INSIDE of it and had a suction fan in it to help take out the smoke. They no longer build fires in it but they did for a number of years. Miraculously it never burned down. It has been estimated that the Federal Government spent $500,000.00 during the Great Depression at the camp. It was an extraordinary sum of money but a rather extraordinary camp came from it. To put that into perspective, in 1932 you could buy a forty acre farm with a house and farm buildings for $2,000.00 just north of Miakonda. The ship burned down a number of years ago and the tree houses were dismantled in the 1950's. During windstorms the trees would sway in the air giving quite a thrill to those within them.

The giant flag pole that stood at Miakonda was erected in 1921 and was very tall. It was an actual mast off a Great Lakes freighter and halfway up it had a real crows nest that sailors used before radar to visually guide the ship. It was in this same crows nest that a scout bugler opened and closed each day at camp as well as sounded off to announce all three meals each day. It was donated by the Pittsburg Steamship Company and erected by the American Bridge Company. [Picture]

The swimming pool was famous in it's day. Thomas DeVilbiss provided the funds for the pool. It was built in 1924 (the year summer camp was first held at Miakonda) and was located in a deep ravine and was spring fed (and always cold)with a filtration and chlorinator system. It was the world's longest pool at that time at 480 feet long and it was very scenic as it had trees and shrubs growing right up to it's edge. It's depth went from three feet to twelve feet and the pool held 1.3 million gallons of water. The filtration system processed 100,000 gallons of water per hour. There were three sections divided by lifeguard catwalks; non-swimmers, beginners and swimmers. Non swimmers (called sinkers) wore a fishing sinker on a string around their neck, beginners (called floaters) wore a cork and swimmers wore a special vinyl type patch on their swim trunks. Toledo's Council Executive and two scouts all drowned at their summer camp session in August, 1914 so they were quite sensitive to water safety concerns. One 1935 Eagle scout who learned how to swim there used those skills to save a downed pilot in the pacific ocean during WWII while serving on a P.T. boat. Maintenance costs on the pool eventually ended it's use but not before many thousands of boys got to use it over a period of many years. [Picture] [Picture2]

The camp dining hall was also built in 1924 and remains intact and in use. Currently named the "Ford Center", it was built as a memorial to Edward Ford, another Toledo industrialist. The dining hall in 1924 had head mounts of a buffalo and deer hanging on its walls as well as a zebra skin. The camp also had tennis courts and a shuffleboard area and it's own water tower. The camp entrance was a stone and log blockhouse that looked like a frontier fort. [Picture]

The camp had a tremendous nature museum for many years with high quality mounts of birds, animals and insects thet were used to teach nature study. During the Great Depression the Federal Government also built two stone enclosures to contain reptiles in one and animals in the other. The reptile one was known as the Snake Pit. [Picture]

Although the camp started out in the country, over the last 80 years the city of Sylvania, Ohio has managed to grow up and totally surround the camp. It now sits in the middle of this beautiful city. When you first enter the camp from the parking lot you know you are entering a special place. You can almost feel the spirit of the memories of scouting past that exists there. You cross over a very deep ravine by way of a bridge built by a railroad company in 1930 as soon as you enter the camp then you come into the large parade grounds which is where most of the excavated soil was deposited from the creation of the lake. The parade ground is completely encircled by very tall pine trees and well maintained log cabins that have served boys for many decades. (At this point you forget that there is a city around you.) Behind the trading post you take a winding staircase down and then up another deep ravine and you are at the Ford Center. [Picture] Behind it sits the Camp Museum and the awe inspiring Council Lodge building. The current camp fire bowl sits in this second ravine. It has a massive wooden deck over the ravine with seating on both hillsides. The fires are actually built on the deck over metal grating. It was this second ravine where the giant pool once existed. The original firebowl was a beauty and existed in another part of the camp. [Picture]

In 1946 after the end of World War II, the National Council decided to produce a 30 minute motivational film about scouting that was used around the country as a recruiting tool. It was narrated by vaudeville and Hollywood star Joe E. Brown, who was a native of Toledo. The camp they chose to promote scouting to America's youth was of course Miakonda. The camp from the late 1930's through the early 1950's was as close to a real life never-never land as existed for boys. Peter Pan didn't live there but they had everything else. Copies of the promo film still exist. The film is a time capsule on Scouting and America from that time period.

As stated earlier, I am not aware of any camp patches from Miakonda that don't have the crescent moon on it in some fashion (although that doesn't mean they don't exist). The earliest that I know of were round felt on felt with the crescent "C" and an oriental looking sort of "M". The swim trunk patch was the same size and design, just a different material. A smaller felt silkscreen followed then came the same size felt round patch silkscreened with the last two digits of the year included. There was a series of half circle patches that were pretty much identical with an island, crescent moon, trees and an Indian in a canoe in the center. These were used for quite a number of years and came in nine colors. They were as follows: Purple-leader's color, blue-1st year camper, brown-2nd year, green-3rd year, red-4th year, black-5th year, light blue-6th year, silver gray-7th year and maroon-8th year. Summer camp sessions were started there in 1924 and continued through 1972. They were held at the Vineyard Lake camp in Michigan from 1915-1923. The council opened the much larger Pioneer Scout Reservation near Pioneer, Ohio in 1969 but Miakonda lives on for training, weekend events and other uses. The camp seems to be in constant use.

Miakonda is perhaps the only Boy Scout camp in the country to have a historical marker placed within it and Miakonda has it's own Historical Trail that outlines it's considerable history. The trail is open only on Saturdays and starts at the museum. You need to call the Erie Shores Council office ahead of time at 1-800-241-7293 if you wish to hike and/or eat at the dining hall. The museum building was the first building erected at the camp in 1917 and is the second oldest known BSA camp building in the nation. The museum has some tremendous displays and is well worth visiting. The historical trail is just a few miles in length and has quite a unique patch available for purchase after completion. A great activity for a Cub Scout den. There is a complete food service on weekends but you must pre register to use it if you plan to visit. A picnic lunch can be brought in too and eaten outside.

If any readers ever find themselves near northwest Ohio, make it a point to visit this legendary Scout camp within a city. It is worth the drive. The camp is located at the intersection of Sylvania and Holland-Sylvania Roads in the city of Sylvania. There is a 1/17 cast replica of the Statue Of Liberty at it's entrance that was donated in 1949 by the Toledo Blade Newspaper company. The camp is just a couple of miles off of U.S. 23 at the Michigan-Ohio border.

A special thank you to Paul Myers, Joe Foxhuber and the Tindeuchen OA Lodge for the use of photos and patches.

©2000 by David L. Eby


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