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The Camps of Spofford

Camp Nitawa, An Early Lake Spofford Girl’s Camp

This is an abridged version of an original article prepared by and courtesy of the Chesterfield Historical Society.

 “Let the girls go camping. Let them go to the mountains and stretch their bodies and minds. Let them have a glimpse of what it means to get close to the earth and know the mother feel of it. Let them get the smell of forest in their nostrils.”  So goes a 1931 promotion for Camp Nitawa for girls on Lake Spofford. 

“A small, intimate camp,” it accommodated 35 girls, 5–18 years of age, with one counselor for every 4-5 girls.  The season lasted two months for $250, with one month at $135. Junior counselors, limited to 5, paid $150 for entire season.  These prices were said to be rather competitive with other camps which charged $300-400 for the same period.  (In 2022 dollars, a season would cost $4,247.)

Camp Nitawa offered all the usual camp activities, but stressed dancing and dramatics. A new performance was presented Friday evenings for invited guests. Nitawa’s private beach was described as "shallow, not tricky, and safe for all" allowed for water sports and swimming lessons.  Boating and canoeing were offered under “strict safeguards” with multiple trips to nearby “Treasure Island,” plus once-around-the-lake canoe trip per season.  Field and “Gypsy” trips opened the way for nature study, Indian lore, and woodcraft.  Horseback riding lessons took place at The Acres, a hill farm owned by the camp.  Twenty rides cost $37.50 with individual lessons at $2.25 a session.   

Camp activities started at 9AM with a short inspirational service and announcements. The morning was interspersed with various age-appropriate activities, e.g., swimming with an hour reserved for “self-expression” giving the counselors time get to know their charges.



A rest hour after lunch was followed by more activities. Evening brought boating, rehearsals, dancing, and indoor games. Camp Nitawa had a playroom and library for the younger children. It encouraged special interests including the editing the weekly camp paper “The Owl,” which was mailed to subscribers for $1/season. “Inspiring Sundays” started with a “silent dip” in the lake, a nondenominational service in the outdoor chapel, and a later “silent swim.”  Sunday evenings were devoted to classical music, Bible study, and poetry dramatizations.

Camp attire came from a “rather imposing list that sometimes shocks the parent equipping a child for her first season.” It was recommended that the white uniforms be purchased directly from McCarthy & Simon of NYC. The list also included bedding, bath towels, bathing suits colored by age, tennis racket and balls, along with a rhythm gown. Items should be packed in a steamer truck which was transferred  for $1. Laundry service was provided for an average $1.25/week.

Helen Keyes Robinson, of Nutley NJ, was the camp’s director and owner. Nicknamed the Nitawa Owl, she was educated in Child Psychology and had taught kindergarten, dramatics, and dancing.  She was an experienced camp counselor. As a child she summered on Lake Spofford and thought it an ideal location for her dream camp. 

More pictures of the camp and the interesting clothing list can be found in Bits of History at Chesterfield Historical Society.

Page updated August 18, 2022



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