Camp Cleghorn Established 1897

Aerial photo of Camp Cleghorn and Lost Lake Wilderness area
Home Located on Columbia Lake off of Cleghorn Road

Early History and Purpose

Carol Nelson – 1997

As long ago as 1881, a group of leaders in the temperance movement from Mukwonago in Waukesha County held an assembly at Phantom Lake for a period of study and training in temperance work. These leaders were part of the Wisconsin lodge of the International Order of Good Templars, a fraternal temperance group which had strong influence in our state at the time. Their purpose was not only to teach the cause of temperance, but of brotherhood and peace. The movement carried over into concern for family life and he welfare of children. It had successfully erupted into a battle for women’s suffrage so that the women fighting for temperance could also vote their conscience on all issues affecting human welfare. Temperance was a very popular cause. The movement swept the country and the western world. The organization still has lodges and groups in the U.S. and 40 other countries.

In the early 1800’s, the average person in the U.S. was consuming the equivalent of seven gallons of pure alcohol per year. That is the equivalent of 70 gallons of beer, 39 gallons of wine, or 15 ½ gallons of whiskey-per person, per year.

Alcohol was seen by many as a serious cause of poverty, crime, health problems, and destruction of the family, and it is still perceived to be a serious problem in our society today.

The assembly of Phantom Lake was so successful that the leaders decided to make it an annual affair. After only a few years, its popularity dictated that a larger and more permanent location be chosen for Good Templar Assemblies.

Captain John F. Cleghorn, one of the far-seeing leaders in the Good Templar order began a search for location and was drawn to the Chain of Lakes area, even then well known in Wisconsin and called the “Killarneys of America” after the beautiful 3-lake area in County Kerry in Ireland. Cleghorn found what he considered an ideal location for the new Good Templars Training School. It was a 21 acre plot of land owned by R.P. Dake, a prominent citizen and land holder in Dayton Township, for whom Dake Lake on the chain was named. In 1897-1898, the tax rolls of Dayton Township show land on the south shore of Columbian Lake, valued at $200, was transferred to the Good Templars. The first Camp Cleghorn assembly took place in 1898.

The lushly timbered land was on a pleasant ridge facing the clear, deep, spring-fed Columbian Lake with easy access to 12 other lakes on the Chain. This verdant camp provided space for entire families who came to set up tents and enjoy waterfront and other group activities. There were large rowboats with lazybacks and cushions for the ladies. All could participate if desired in canoeing, swimming (in knee-length swimsuits), croquet, or volleyball.

Children in those early families, like those today, would excitedly collect frogs, tadpoles, turtles, and snail shells as well as chasing butterflies and lightning bugs. For some, learning to differentiate wildflowers or birds helped residents to develop a lifelong pleasure in nature.

Coming to Camp Cleghorn

Camp Cleghorn soon was a busy place all summer long. Most Camp Cleghorn Assembly attendees came to Waupaca via the Soo Line Railroad, then transferred to the trolley which had a regular route to King, turning around at the old Grandview Hotel. This Hotel was the famous establishment on the Chain, occupying the most scenic location on Rainbow Lake, on Grandview Drive on the shore west of the King Veteran’s Home. Travelers found their way down to what was called the electric dock—due, no doubt, to the lights on the stairs to the lake—to Downey’s Dock. They paid .10 cents, climbed aboard a launch, the Dan D, with all their luggage and were soon moving through the Chain of Lakes to the dock at Camp Cleghorn. Captain Justin Wood had a fleet of steam launches to serve summer visitors on the Chain of Lakes. They stopped at the Camp regularly with new arrivals, and were also available for relaxed all-day trips through the Chain.

Families came not only from Wisconsin towns, but from other states to enjoy Camp Cleghorn Assemblies. Nearby residents also came, driving their horse and buggies on old sand or dirt roads to meetings—can you picture the “parking areas” for horses and buggies on the fields nearby? The Assembly tent was set up on the point where Timm’s cottage is now located and the Dining Hall was open for visitors to enjoy Sunday dinner.

Camp Cleghorn was like a small town in its heyday. Since most folks arrived without their own means of transportation, certain needs were provided for on the grounds.

Some Good Templars leased lots from the organization and pitched their own tents, but Camp Cleghorn also owned and rented tents for the use of summer visitors. These were not the small tents most people have today, but tents like small cottages, with solid floors, divided into rooms with furniture, where a family could live comfortably.

In 1901 the first Camp building went up—a dining room which could accommodate 125 people. This soon proved to be too small for the increasing number of families who had discovered this ideal vacation spot which combined inspiration and recreation. An even larger dining room was needed, so a much larger dining room was added which was open to any customer. Many residents chose to cook their meals over a fire, and ate in their tents, where they hung mosquito netting and burned citronella candles to discourage the insects.

Postal service was provided in the first building later identified as the Boy’s Dorm. Serving meals required that the management find well-behaved young ladies to serve as waitresses, to cook, and to clean the rented tents (and later, cottages). These girls came to Cleghorn from many parts of Wisconsin and lived at the Camp in the dormitories built above the first dining room (later used as the Boy’s Dormitory) and in the second story of the new dining room (more recently called the Girl’s Dormitory). The supervision of these girls was very strict!

Prudently placed outhouses were built promptly. Besides their primary use, they became friendly social centers, a place to make new friends.

Some of these buildings, which later had plumbing added, were still in use until fairly recent times, when state sanitation laws required that they be torn down.

After a time, the Good Templars felt able to build a Tabernacle (auditorium/church) in the center of the Camp—a large barn-shaped building soundly constructed to hold the large groups that came to the Good Templar Assemblies. The original sandy floor has since been covered with a hard surface for cleanliness and convenience and the supporting members and stage have been replaced and more comfortable pews added. Gas lights which once illuminated the attentive faces at evening meetings have been removed, and less attractive but more practical electric bulbs substituted. This structure is still in use as a worship and meeting center for Camp Cleghorn. Its sentimental value to generations of Camp Cleghorn residents makes it almost irreplaceable.

A small store building was added in the early years, next to the dining hall, for the use of campers who did their own cooking. It has also been a mecca for small children who loved the small candies and in later years “pop” and ice cream cones dispensed there. Even the adults, as they came up the stairs from the swimming dock on the shore below, enjoyed a cool cone, bought at the counter, which opened to the outside, lifting heavy window protectors like big white wings, when it was open for business. For many years, Mr. Christiansen was the Camp Secretary and operated the store. Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard Prell and their daughter, Selma, came in 1946 to provide the same services to more than one generation of Camp owners and visitors. Betty Mulligan was the last store manager for the Camp. The use of the store decreased as residents used their own cars and had access to stores with larger stocks of groceries and other supplies. A replacement store was later demolished to allow a more spacious appearance to the area of the new Fellowship Hall. Still, children now grown—feel nostalgic about the store, the candy, and the ice cream cones!

Dock and Boat Livery

The dock and boat livery were built early in Cleghorn history by “Captain” Wood. His “Mabel E.” was one of the many popular launches seen on the Chain in the days before individual ownership of speedboats, sailboats, and float-boats made their trips less profitable.

Early residents tell us that boats could come right into the boathouse; and that, since the house was built over the water, children loved to hang around, looking down through the cracks in the floor into the scary darkness of the water below. Later, Downey’s purchased the Camp Cleghorn Boat Livery. Other owners were Normal Prell and most recently, Bruce Becker, who still provides fuel, repair service, boat accessories and boat storage for the Chain of Lakes community at a new location near Indian Crossing.

Another area of fascination for children was the Ice House built in the large open area next to the Tabernacle. Each winter, ice was cut from the lake and the building was filled with layers of sawdust-covered ice for summer use during the busy camping season. Like children everywhere in pre-refrigeration days, they hitched rides on the buggy, waiting to be given cool chips of ice broken from the large blocks by the ice-man as he made his daily rounds to provide for the ice-boxes in the dining room, tents and cottages. Later there was a model “T” delivery truck driven by Chester Webster. The giant ice-tongs with which he delivered big blocks of ice were fascinating yet terrifying for small children.

The advent of electricity in the Camp caused the demise of the old ice-boxes and the daily ice deliveries.

The Builders

There were a number of builders among the first Good Templar Training Camp founders. Mr. Sporleder (Sally Anderson’s grandfather) helped to found Camp Cleghorn and was involved in the construction of early Camp buildings. His own home was built beyond the boat house, on the channel between Long and Columbian Lake.

During its early years, Camp Cleghorn was often referred to as “Tent City”. Although the tents were livable, Good Templar members who came regularly decided that cottages would be even more comfortable! They began to build permanent structures on the land which they leased from Camp Cleghorn.

The first cottage was built by Captain Wood himself and appropriately named “Killarney”. Captain Wood later built a “fishing shack” which was converted to a small cottage called “Kamp Kosy”. Sisters Nan (Baker) Woodburn and Sue (Baker) Clark are the most recent members of a family owning these cottages. Their children are part of the sixth generation enjoying these facilities.

“Bide-a-Wee” was the second cottage, built by Rev. Rufus Colby, in the early 1900’s. It was sold to Captain Wood, but repurchased later by Roy Colby. Roy’s daughter, Dorothy (Colby) Fast and her husband; his son, Don Colby, together with his wife, Virginia; and children from both families enjoyed many happy years at “Bide-a-Wee”.

Dorothy writes that early residents had to read at night to the glow of the kerosene lamps; and daily went with their buckets to a hand-pump in the Camp to get fresh water.

Numerous cottage owners can trace their families back to early Camp residents: Betty (Charlesworth) Prell; Ted Newkumet; Artie and Doris Charlesworth; Sallly Anderson; Georgia Calvo, and many others.

Many cottages were built as rentals, like the tents, and some early members such as Radley, Kurzweil and L.A. Millar owned a number of properties. The rules of Camp Cleghorn now allow no more than two cottages per owner. Eventually, all original campsites were replaced with permanent cottages.

Camp Cleghorn Assemblies and Chautauqua

It was not long before such a fine meeting facility—Holidomes not yet being available!—was added to the Chautauqua circuit. In the early days, the Good Templars held two-week assemblies where lecturers or Chautauqua programs were given on the subject of temperance. Later, the offerings were varied to include the best programs available by traveling Chautauqua speakers as well-known as Williams Jennings Bryan, “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, Dr. C.M.B. Mason—a great black leader of his time, and Senator George Norris. Senator Norris had a cottage on the Chain of Lakes and is given credit for using his persuasive powers to have the Post Office provide postal delivery on the Chain by boat.

A 1922 issue of an 11-day Camp Cleghorn Assembly program showed a remarkable and varied program of lectures, training and entertainment:

a) a choir, once led by Capt. Cleghorn, was now provided by a chorus class—trained by a Lawrence Conservatory Faculty member;
b) visiting Good Templar and WCTU dignitaries lectured on temperance;
c) Bishops, missionaries, and clergy provided sermons, daily devotion and Bible studies
d) a wide variety of music: a symphony concert, an orchestra; piano, vocal and even “whistling” soloists, and a “reader” as well.

Afternoon lectures were deleted to give campers “time to enjoy the natural beauty of the lake.” There was even an Athletic Director provided to see that the young people had organized athletic and sports opportunities in camp.

Incidentally, as most organizations soon discover, it was found that voluntary contributions were not sufficient to cover expenses, so in 1919 it was decided to charge each person .10 cents admission as well as .10 cents for each auto on the grounds!

Christian Group Camping

As the Camp and its facilities became well known, it began to serve as a Christian camp for many denominations and church-related groups. The Walther League, for instance, would take over most of the tents/cottages and also set up tents for its large group in the open fields beyond the waterfront.

Young people living in camp thrilled to the sounds of early Reveille and the mournful Taps at the end of the day resounding over the lake; they watched the flag-raising and were allowed to participate in the church services and snake dances, and listen to the talent shows and sing-a-longs like; “Tell Me Why, Camp Cleghorn, I Love You.” Competitive sports were well organized. Volleyball was enjoyed by girls in long skirts, as well as by the boys, in the same large field still used for that purpose by the scantily-clad youth of today.

As permanent theaters, movies, radio and TV caused the demise of Chautauqua, the auditorium/church was used, together with the two dormitories, as a summer center for religious education for many church young people’s groups, as well as for Girl Scouts and Boys’ Brigade summer camps.

Individual churches found Camp Cleghorn an ideal environment for a week of summer youth or family camping. Parfreyville Methodist Church closed its church for the first two weeks of August, for instance, and members came with their picnic lunches for two Sundays for worship and fun. Families came every year for large family reunions. Some residents even remember “gypsies” camping in tents in the open field, and worried about their influence.

Organization of Camp Cleghorn

The assemblies of Chautauqua faded out. But the intent of the Camp was always to maintain its basic principles. The Camp organization continued as the Good Templar Training School, still operating under its original charter. Initially people all over the country bought stock in the corporation, not for dividends, but to support the temperance causes.

Eventually the by-laws were revised, the stock was recalled and new (non-dividend) stock was issued to those with leased lots and cottages owned on those leased lots. As before, 15 directors are elected from the stockholders for 3-year terms. Officers include: President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Together with the standing committees for the church, for maintenance and grounds, trailer parks, docks, and long term planning, all are dedicated to preserve Camp Cleghorn’s rich heritage and plan wisely for the future.

Basic Principles Still Rule

A basic commitment of Camp Cleghorn residents is to Christian Family living and a continued concern for education to avoid abuse of alcohol and other mind-altering drugs.

Many of the early cottage-owners were Christian clergy, and this was true of later owners. The temperance movement had strong backing from the church and members still feel a strong core commitment to Christian issues and activities.

Through the years, the church, now called Camp Cleghorn Chapel, has been open for Sunday worship, often provided by visiting church groups or on individual Sundays by retired ministers form this area. One summer there was an Indian woman and an Indian singing group, which led our worship.

The service is non-denominational one will find the congregation includes members of a wide variety of churches who choose the Chapel for their summer worship home. The “come as you are” invitation and the coffee fellowship helps visitors feel welcome. The church offerings not only pay visiting clergy and maintain the building control, but also make possible gifts to alcohol/drugs, food, and housing programs in the area.

Cottage-owners pay an annual assessment to the camp to cover many costs and services, such as taxes, road maintenance, recreation facilities, sanitary services, garbage collection and erosion control of shoreline: Camp Cleghorn pays property tax (including school taxes) on all its land and property, and all cottage owners pay the same taxes on their cottages.

What is it Like Today?

Today, renting group camping facilities has lost its popularity. Time has taken its toll on historic buildings in Camp Cleghorn, as they were declared “unsafe for use”. Only the “tabernacle” remains. Gone are the Grand Lodge, dorms, and old dining room. No longer can children buy pop, candy, and ice cream at the Camp store. The bath house at the swimming area is no more and the boat livery and landing pier are gone; the ice shed and outhouses are a thing of the past. Now a modern tennis court, children’s playground equipment, basketball practice court, and baseball field replace the old trailer court and 18 permanently installed mobile homes are snug in the woods, and the frogs still sing in “Lost Lake” which will never be developed, but maintained as an important wetland.

A hard surface footpath has been constructed along most of the 3100 feet of lake shoreline. The crowded boat storage area is now a peaceful greenway and small docks replaced the nostalgic boat livery facility.

Present needs are met with a new Fellowship Hall, which has a modern kitchen, rest rooms, and a dining/meeting room with a lovely vista of the lake. A tall flag flies as in earlier times. Best of all, it is the location for pot-lucks and other social and business meetings for cottage owners. Members can use the facility for their family reunions. Equally delightful are the yearly German Grenadier Band concerts and the Pie and Ice Cream Social which follows. [the concerts are no longer held but the Church still holds a bake sale each year ed.]

The Women’s Organization uses proceeds from this and other activities to provide and maintain sports and playground equipment and maintenance, and to purchase a variety of special camp needs, many too numerous to mention. Cottage and mobile home owners also deserve thanks for valuable contributions of money, time, and hours of hard work for camp betterment.

Memorial money was the vehicle which provided for a cross on the church, a chapel sign and carillon, which sends beautiful inspirational music through the camp and out over the lakes.

The “graying of the population” has resulted in more full-time residents. Winter recreation on the chain and at nearby Hartman’s Creek State Park attracts residents who spend holidays and week-ends in winterized cottages. Some even find the quiet peace of frozen lake and snow-flocked evergreens, seeing deer-tracks, and enjoying cross-country skiing in the woods, makes winter the best time of all in Camp Cleghorn.

Camp Cleghorn has historical significance for the Chain of Lakes area as well as for its own members. It provides recreation for Christian families now, as it did for many of their parents and grandparents. The commitment of its members to its basic purposes remains strong.

Former and present members of Camp Cleghorn feel a strong sentimental tie to the Camp. Children of early settlers, their children and grandchildren, return to buy cottages to live in the Chain of Lakes area. The church has been the scene of wedding, anniversary, baptism, and funeral services. Jim Colby, returning for a vacation to the family cottage from his home in Massachusetts, speaks for many of us when he says, “This is my favorite place to be.”