Camp Furnace Hills History
As a wartime service in January 1943, the Girl Scouts of Lancaster County started collecting waste kitchen fats. The proceeds from the sale of this fat were turned over to the council for a camp fund account. By 1946, the account was close to $10,000.00. It represented not only the proceeds from the sale of fats, but the sale of other salvage materials, proceeds from calendar sales and gifts from interested persons.
In the spring of 1946, the council asked permission to put on a campaign for funds to purchase a day camp site. The campaign was to have been conducted by a local service club. At the time this request was before the Community Chest, the Furnace Hills campsite in Clay Township was discovered. After complete investigation and council approval, it was decided to purchase the site and to put on their own campaign for funds to develop the site.
The campaign was conducted in December of 1946 and produced approximately $75,000.00. Building began in April of 1947 with the renovation of the stone house, the erection of the dining hall, kitchen and storeroom, drilling a well, piping water to all parts of the camp, and the development of two tent units with five tent platforms, wash house and latrine. The camp was opened in July 1947 with accommodations for thirty-two girls and was operated for Girl Scouts weeks.
The land on which Furnace Hills camp is situated was believed originally to be an old Revolutionary War farm.
Many adults made up the guiding spirit behind this camp plan. Dr. Price of Franklin and Marshall College did a great deal for the idea in the field of public relations. Mrs. Walter (Miriam) Kauffman was the President of the Lancaster County Girl Scout Council at the time of the camp’s purchase and several years thereafter. Mika House was named after the first to letters of her first and last names. Irene Ciochine was the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Council and Greta Tracy, from New Haven,was the camp’s first director. Mr. Bruce Holly was superintendent of the actual beginning of the camp and it is for him that the dining hall was named. Mr. Holly’s daughters were among the first campers to use the new site.
When the camp was founded, the only building on the property was the old stone farmhouse named Mika House by the Girl Scouts. This building was used throughout the years as a troop campsite, administration building, camp trading post, and staff living quarters. Holly Hall was build in 1947 in time for the first year of resident camping. At first, it consisted of only a small dining room, kitchen and cook’s quarters, which was situated where the large walk-in refrigerator stands now. An arts and crafts wing of Holly Hall was originally built as a staff room.
Girls began to use Camp Furnace Hills in the summer of 1947 for two-week sessions. There were only twelve on the staff, counting the cook and kitchen help. Ferndell and Hillcrest, set up for twelve girls each, were usable but still under construction and workmen walked to and from constantly. The dining hall and wash houses were not entirely finished and there were no units or staff houses. One of the principal handicaps in those days was the presence of workmen on weekdays. They arrived out in the units at seven in the morning, carrying lumber up the hill to build the latrine at Hillcrest. They usually began whistling a tune at the bottom of the hill, which gave the campers some notice. The main road at that time was gravel in both directions. The girls had to go to the Fairview Stables in Schoeneck once a week for horseback riding, as there was no riding unit. Everyone rode once a week.
Other activities which the girls particularly enjoyed during the first few years at Furnace Hills were searching for the spring which was located near the primitive camp site, making cedar bowls and candlesticks on the camp’s wood lathe, and singing on the Singing Steps.
Many individuals have been active in developing Furnace Hills; far too many to list. Just a few, however, include a Professor & Mrs. John Cavanaugh of Franklin and Marshall College, who spent many summers at camp, help with nature study, crafts and story-telling. Mrs. Stephen C. Lockey, Camp Chairmen in 1942, was instrumental in getting the camp program off the ground. Mr. & Mrs. Theodore Weeks, Mr. & Mrs. William Parker, and Mr. & Mrs. Robert Myers were also active.
Camp Directors during the first few years include Greta Tracy, Mary Lou Lenker, Marilyn Houser, Anna Ruth Hess, Marjorie Stukes and Ruth Goodling.
After the first season of camping with only two units, Sunset was added. A few years later, Pioneer was built, CIT and finally in recent years, New Frontiers. The primitive unit was used as needed.
Over the years many events have taken place in Camp Furnace Hills, some funny and some frightening. One stormy July night, the horses from the paddock stampeded through the woods, down the Singing Steps and into a group of girls sleeping in pup tents outside Holly Hall. The only casualties, luckily, were a few of the steps. Another time, on visiting day no less, the bell at Holly Hall fell on the head of the campers who were ringing it.
One of the most frightening events occurred in 1954. In the process of inserting the power lines, the power crew had burned a patch through the woods. A few days later, a stiff breeze rose and fanned smoldering sparks into a real blaze in the tinder dry woods. The fire almost reached Hillcrest unit house. Only the quick work of several fire companies, the entire staff and the CITs saved the unit and perhaps a great part of camp from destruction.
Before the camp was founded, the German-Speaking inhabitants of the area told many old legends. Several of these legends were adopted by the girls of the camp and embroidered until it is hard to tell where the original legend stops and the girls’ inventions begin.
Furnace Hills continued to change. An infirmary and staff house were added. The area on the other side of Girl Scout Road has been and continues to be developed, primarily as a Day Camp area.
The Fox Fire House and the environs is a project the was undertaken in 1976 and continues to be an important part of the Camp Furnace Hills today. A new pool and bath house was installed.
The Furnace Hills camp song was written in 1953 to the tune of “Man of Haalach.” It was written as an entry in an all-camp contest and won the prize for the Pioneer Unit.
The 320-acre wooded camp near Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Clay and West Cocalico townships has been the only Girl Scout camp in Lancaster County since 1947.
It has been closed since a ferocious wind storm in February damaged many of its buildings and felled many of its trees. Camp Furnace Hills has been closed ever since.
Now, the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania the governing council for Girl Scouts in 30 counties is planning on selling it to the highest bidder. We have reached out to GSHPA to try and work with them but we were referred to the real estate agent whom said it will be appraised and listed after timbering is completed. Please help us secure this beloved property before it is to late by donating here