Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

During the turbulent nineteenth century, Americans were as mobile as wheels, waterways and ambition could make them. The population was preoccupied with carving out a new nation, emigrating, pioneering, surveying, sod busting, prospecting for gold and, fundamentally, attempt­ing to preserve body and soul. With the surge westward and the consuming desire to push on to the frontiers, there was a considerable amount of camp­ing going on, but not the familiar recreational type. Port­able, rugged gear – iron, tin, wood, canvas and leather – for cooking, washing, eating and basic living, necessary for these peregrinations, provided the traveler with camping equipment for decades. The convenience of plastics and synthetic fibers did not exist, so the iron cookpot, frypan, tin coffeepot and pails served as the mainstays of the campers’ traveling gear.

It was not until after the devastating and demoralizing Civil War years ended and the industrial boom launched in full swing that camping became recreational, a pleas­ant diversion. Only then did Americans begin discovering and enjoying the restorative powers of the deep wilder­ness. The chaotic tones of vio­lence and upheaval which had colored the bitter war years were finally beginning to dissi­pate, and learning to enjoy the magnificence of a beautiful and vibrant land became the order of the day.

The Victorians’ passion for nature and things natural was boundless. From stately build­ings to the daintiest trinket boxes, domestic and house­hold objects were decorated with a restless aggregation of twining vines, leaves, bark and sundry creeping faunae. The Victorians’ intoxication with nature bordered on zeal­ousness as those seeking to slake their thirst for the wil­derness experience journeyed over rock and rill to enchant­ingly unspoiled watering places such as the Adiron­dacks and the Catskills in New York. Adventures in the Wilder­ness by William H.H. Murray, published in 1869, and the taste for the lushly sentimental canvases of spectacular land­scapes by artists Frederick Church and Albert Bierstadt whetted the would-be out­doorsman’s appetite for the real thing. Pressures of life grew onerous and camping offered a great escape from the stresses of an industrialized society with its long working hours and overcrowded urban centers.

To those affluent enough to pursue the sometimes costly and time-consuming pastime of camping far afield, excellent advice was proffered by out­door authorities, including wilderness outfitter and author G.O. Shields, who staunchly believed in refreshing the spirit. His guidebook Camping and Camp Outfits, published in 1890, included comments by Dr. Charles Gil­bert Davis: “There is probably no exercise or method of recreation more calculated to recuperate the nervous ener­gies, which have become jaded from worry and care, or a long-continued pressure of professional labor, than to lay aside an thought to business, flee to the mountain wilds, to the quiet lake, to the salt sea, or to the babbling brook, and live with Nature; to camp under the blue sky, to breathe the sweet, pure air of heaven; hunt and fish, as did our fore­fathers.”

Outfitters and dealers supplied the armies of the Civil War with portable gear, and many later catered to the per­ambulations of a people lust­ing for new vistas and rehabili­tation of the spirit. John Krider of Philadelphia outfitted countless expeditions during the mid-nineteenth century and exhibited fishing tackle at the 1876 Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia. Writers and outdoorsmen, such as Shields, eagerly offered detailed practi­cal information on nearly every aspect of the wilderness experience. Instructions ranged from packing camp equipage and choosing a guide to protecting baggage against the “heathenish instincts of destruction” of the typical train baggageman – knowledge that today’s traveler might covet.

Experienced outdoorsmen advised campers to leave the gimmicks and novelties at home, counseling tenderfoots to first take care of the sheer necessities – shelter, provisions and clothing – and pack the basic tools needed to cope with unforeseen emergencies. The revised 1908 edition of The Complete American and Canadian Sportsman’s Encyclopedia of Valu­able Instruction included a multitude of ingenious meth­ods for constructing camp fur­niture, shelter and equipment using forest materials. By avoiding excess expenditures of weight, space and money, early campers could manage economically with just a few basic tools. “Material abun­dantly supplied from the woods in the vicinity of most any camp, and ample oppor­tunity furnished for recreative exercise will serve to while away many a tedious hour of camp life – when it’s too dry to hunt, too wet to fish, or too hot to leave the shady side of a comfortable camp in the woods.”

The problem of shelter could be solved in a number of ways, depending, of course, on means of travel, purse and personal taste. The open sided, bark and branch cov­ered lean-to or “shanty,” often a fairly permanent structure, was a favored refuge in remote areas, but a wide variety of tents was available for those who did not prefer the primi­tive shelters. Larger parties often opted for the “Sibley” tent, used by the U.S. Army for sizable groups. Many campers, as well as profes­sional outdoorsmen, found the native American tipi preferable for its spaciousness and the advantage of being able to burn a fire or stove inside it.

One of the most well docu­mented camping trips in Penn­sylvania during the last cen­tury was made by George and Henry Landis of Lancaster and Justin Roddy, a professor at Millersville College. In July and August of 1888 the trio canoed the Juniata and Sus­quehanna rivers from McVey­town to Harrisburg, exten­sively photographing and recording impressions of their idyllic journey, giving a vivid account of camp life along the river when the Pennsylvania Canal enjoyed its heyday and the Juniata Valley was still con­sidered untamed wilderness.

The brothers, whose extraordinary collections of objects later formed the foun­dation of what is now the Pennsylvania Farm Museum of Landis Valley, were on vaca­tion from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, and about twenty­-two years old. Their friend Justin Roddy was an ornithol­ogist and taxidermist. The three companions had more than a passing interest in picturesque scenery; they were all of a scientific bent, absorbed in exploring the wilderness for its flora, fauna and geological for­mations. Collecting and recording what they saw, their photographic images exhibit a keen pride in a wild America which seemed vastly different from the ancient landscape of the Old World. Their quest not only reflected the Victorian American’s enchantment with the beauty of their bountiful land, but was remarkable for their scientific and aesthetic approach to what was then a relatively unexplored region, only sparsely populated by loggers, fishermen and canal workers. Their photographs captured the people and pecu­liarities of the region, depict­ing the Pennsylvania Canal system at its peak, just one year before the devastating Johnstown Flood of 1889 has­tened the decline of this tran­sitional era of transportation. Their photographic equipment included camera, lens, tripod, focusing cloth, four dozen dry­plates, one small ruby lantern, one book of exposures and plate holders – certainly not the run of the mill photo expe­dition. Interestingly, their boat equipage included two conch shell horns which did yeoman service in signaling from mountaintop to boat when the need arose.

A wealth of ingenious gear was available for use in the complex domestic safari undertaken by George and Henry Landis and Justin Roddy in 1888. The Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commission fortunately retains the nucleus of a collec­tion of these interesting and unusual recreational artifacts. Foldable, sturdy and emi­nently portable, the pieces include tents, boats, stoves and lighting devices. One lighting device, folded into a compact 71/2″ by 41/4″ rectangle when closed, the “Stone Bridge Folding Candle Lantern,” patented in 1906, was manufactured for civilian and military use in New York by the C.H. Stonebridge Mfg. Co.

An extensive journey often involved lengthy train travel and complex logistics, making a folding boat a necessity. G.O. Shields noted that “Can­vas folding boats are now made so serviceable that I should never start on a hunt­ing-trip, in any country where I expected to find much water, without one in my outfit. For several years after the intro­duction of these, I regarded them with a good deal of sus­picion, but later investigated them thoroughly, and found them safe and reliable, if prop­erly handled.” The popular, lightweight “Osgood’s Folding Canvas Boat” was available before 1890, and during the 1900s Sears & Roebuck adver­tised a canvas boat for $19.50.

Periodicals and house­books, such as the 1874 Youman’s Dictionary of Everyday Wants, often dispensed useful suggestions for improvising inexpensive camp outfits from readily available household items. A bed tick stuffed with straw or “browse” could make a serviceable bed roll. Flat trunks or cases could be used as seating, stands or storage. Strips of carpet might make the rustic arrangements more comfortable, creating an exten­sion of the Victorian home. One need not invest a fortune for basic camp furnishings to enjoy the restorative benefits of life in the forest.

By the late 1800s, camp out­fits were more comfortable, efficient and compact, owing much to the experience of both military and civilian expedi­tions. Rail transportation enabled a party to ship a com­plete camp outfit to any part of the country. The railroad treated the outfit as baggage, requiring only that all gear be boxed and the boxes or chests be well roped or provided with handles.

Even during the Victorian period, most experienced guides and outdoorsmen set great store in concocting lists of elaborate equipment needed well ahead of the adventure. While anticipation and plan­ning were part of the wilderness excursion, it could also prove embarrassing – if not fatal – to set off without com­pass, dry matches or favorite hunting knife. The Landis boys and their friend were very well prepared for almost any eventuality. Their original inventory of miscellaneous supplies, only a sampling of their careful preparations, sug­gests that they wished to hone their musical and culinary skills as well as sharpen their woodcraft. In addition to pack­ing musical instruments and cooking utensils, they took a camp axe, tacks, needles, pins, thread, stamps, compass, watch, comb and mirror, cook­books and notebooks, tape measure, a lantern with oil and “an abundant supply of good humor.”

The Landis camp activities were, in many respects, typical of the era, but when it came to provisions, their tastes leaned toward the gourmet. Included in their lengthy grocery list were six cans of oysters, tea biscuits, (canned) boned tur­key, lemons and cantaloupes. They supplemented their sup­plies with fresh caught fish, local produce and homemade bread secured from nearby farms. They also made jelly from berries they picked.

The success of a carefully planned camping trip hinged, too, on the proper wearing apparel. Wardrobe planning for camp was a primary con­cern for nineteenth century campers. Outfitters, primarily located in large cities, pro­vided well for the unique clothing needs of the sports­men. They offered such spe­cialties as the “Isaac Walton Fishing Suit” and “English Wading Socks,” but some items were not always com­fortable or practical. Head nets designed to deter mosquitoes were “muzzles” which thor­oughly prevented one’s eating, smoking and spitting, accord­ing to Shields who pro­nounced them a “unanimous failure.”

For those not desiring eso­teric or elaborate sporting out­fits and equipment, a host of popular magazines and home­making manuals were a source of practical knowledge. Appli­cation of their ideas enabled a camper to organize a suitable camping wardrobe to “with­stand the singular characteris­tics of the landscape and cli­mate one intended to explore.” The Successful Housekeeper, written about 1875, admon­ished: “The man who is about to plunge into the woods and really forget his worn-out self, should be sure not to forget his worn-out clothes. See that your trowsers are easy, neatly mended, strong as to buttons, and not too dark nor yet too light, lest your sense of the value of cleanliness make inti­macies with mud too unpleas­antly noticeable.”

Before the CiviJ War, much of women’s sporting attire was often restyled older clothing, but eventually the fashion industry began to accommo­date the newly active woman. Published by Butterick, The Delineator, a woman’s monthly home and fashion magazine, featured a wide range of styl­ish and appropriate outing attire. The “Ladies Mountain Costume,” illustrated in June 1883, was “A truly picturesque costume, light in weight and comfortable in construction. … It will be the popular mountain, yachting, and camping costume of the com­ing season.”

Camping became important in bringing about radical changes in women’s dress­ – most athletic endeavors pre­cluded wearing the cumber­some and unwholesome corset. Shields was a staunch advocate of comfort and practi­cality for women campers. He insisted that “such an imprac­tical, nonsensical piece of fur­niture as a corset” would not be tolerated in his camp.

Women’s participation in the newly popular leisure activities – lawn tennis, cro­quet and other more vigorous sports-no doubt began to break down the rigid social barriers and highly mannered restrictions of mid-nineteenth century America. Camping was a particularly opportune chance for men and women to share social experiences, as well as to enjoy the “reanimat­ing blessings of a summer life in the depths of the forest.”

One of the great pleasures of travel, and particularly camping, was satisfying the hearty appetite developed on these arduous adventures. An uncomplicated outfit of uten­sils sufficed to prepare plain but hearty camp meals, and camp kitchenware ranged from efficient to temperamental (and sometimes downright vicious). Some outdoorsmen referred to the folding stove as “a little sheet iron fiend,” but one prominent Harrisburg family made good use of two of these stoves at the turn of the century. Now part of The State Museum collections, their outfit, from New York’s famous Abercrombie & Fitch, featured graniteware coffee­pots and pitchers, tinware, a folding handle sheet iron skil­let and flatware. Shields emphasized the importance of a good basic cooking outfit and his requirements for a camp kettle were quite spe­cific: “A convenient and ser­viceable camp-kettle is one of the most important items of the whole outfit. Its size must depend upon the number of hungry men that are to be fed from it. For a party of four, it should be ten inches in diam­eter and sixteen inches deep. ft should be made of heavy galvanized iron, with a quar­ter-inch wire around the top, a bail of the same size, and with heavy malleable iron ears. If built on these specifications, it may be packed on a horse, and if properly placed in the pack, the lustiest packer in the mountains may cinch it till his eyes stick out, and it will show up at night as sound and shapely as it was when it started out in the morning.”

For washing, indurated fiber washtubs and pails were a boon to the early camper. Patented in 1883, this com­pressed wood fiber material proved ideal because it was Lightweight and durable. The Union Indurated Fiber Co. of Portland, Maine, extolled the virtues of its product on its label, found on a dishpan, which exclaims, “Being neither painted nor varnished, it will not impart taste to anything put in it and will not further absorb either liquid or odor so as to become heavier or foul. Has no hoops to drop or rust off. It is warranted absolutely seamless and unaffected by extremes of weather.” This unusual material, however, did not cause the demise of graniteware or other sturdy uten­sils which can still be found at many hunting camps in the Keystone State.

The Landis party had their dish washing obligations well in hand. Elbow grease was an essential commodity and indispensable to the well con­ducted camp. According to Henry Landis, “Our kettles and pots were not as bright as they were at one time and I took them to the fireplace and scoured away until I could see the tin, but couldn’t get that looking glass shine on them which is in looks inseparable from tin pans; in fact, I have my doubts of any such thing. I managed to keep the skillet dean by repeated scourings but the way crusts accumulate on the inside of that skillet is wonderful. Why, I had to use a piece of firewood and some ashes and elbow grease before the iron shone. The stew kettle was becoming a beautiful chestnut color which the ashes dispelled like mist letting the shining tin be seen.”

As camping became increasingly popular, it also became for some more elabo­rate, requiring great staffs of servants to ritually pilgrim­age to secluded retreats such as the artfully rusticated Adirondacks’ “Great Camps.” These expeditions, demanding both comfort and mobility, required great ingenuity on the part of gear manufacturers and outfitters. Combined with the American penchant for diverse and unusual mechani­cal apparatus, this resulted in ever new and fantastic furni­ture forms, although the mili­tary had always found folding equipment to be essential.

Folding furniture, in exis­tence for centuries, could be elaborate or plain and ranged from camp stools to folding rockers richly ornamented with flowered carpet uphol­stery, carvings and turnings. Patents for practical and mobile furnishings continued in production during the Civil War.

Wondrous devices for camps, cottages and fashion­able hotels were patented throughout the 1880s. The “White Mountain Hammock/Chair,” designed in 1881, must have tickled the Victorian fancy both for its adaptability and its reasonable price of $4.00. According to the adver­tisers, the “Hammoquette Reclining Chair,” produced by the Lovell Manufacturing Co. in Erie, claimed to be “The Best Reclining, Resting, Read­ing, Invalid, Lounging, Sleep­ing, Steamer or Smoking Chair made. The very shadows of dreamland hover about this chair.”

The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw more sophisticated gear and cloth­ing continually being devel­oped as the camping trip became a desirable escape from the congestion and sum­mer heat of crowded cities. Catalogues advertised new and novel camp necessities, including pocket flasks, matchsafes and collapsible drinking cups which made outdoor Living comfortable, but campers were also offered such luxurious items as the inflatable bathtub and collaps­able chamberpot!

By the final decade of the nineteenth century, Ameri­cans’ lust for athletic diver­sions bordered on the frenetic. Swift urbanization engineered a burgeoning population depleted of the traditional physical outlets previously provided by the rigorous demands of rural life, and popular sports – cycling, roller skating, golf and baseball­ – were embraced by the general populace with great enthusi­asm. The wealthier fringes of society pursued more exclu­sive pleasures, a bit beyond the average reach, such as polo, fox hunting, coaching and yachting. However, camp­ing continued to appeal to both wealthy and modest alike and could be undertaken in as thrifty or as elegant a style as one’s purse could accommo­date. The Landises’ excursion, for example, cost about twenty-five dollars for sixteen days.

The casual hike or over­night outing required but little expense for Americans of moderate circumstances. Co­ed camping and outing clubs, fashionable by the closing years of the century, not only were a recreational way to spend outdoor leisure time, but provided excellent oppor­tunities for young people to mingle in a relaxed atmos­phere with relatively scanty supervision. The Times of Port Royal reported on the con­genial activities of the Ferndale Outing Club on August 15, 1894:

The Ferndale Outing Club will pitch tents on Wednesday of this week at a point on the banks of the Juniata river midway between Thompsontown and Millerstown, where ten days will be spent in rusticating and having a good time generally. This social club will be made up of some of the most agreeable young ladies and gentlemen of Millerstown, Newport, Thompsontown, Liverpool, Mifflintown, and Harrisburg. Guests and old members of the club from Pittsburg, Washington and other places, will join them part of the time at least.

Diaries, letters, photo­graphs and artifacts contained in the archival holdings and collections of the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commis­sion help document the ways Pennsylvanians spent their lei­sure time a century ago. The canoe that carried the Landises on their pleasant excursion, their diary and the original glass plate negatives that pre­serve their journey in graphic and absorbing detail remain prized pieces of the Farm Museum collections today. These inanimate objects are evocative of those halcyon dec­ades of the late nineteenth century, gilded days when America was younger and to “Go West” might have meant Lancaster, Pittsburgh or per­haps a gentle canoe journey down the Juniata River. The luxuriant landscape and the sparkling waters of the Juniata and many Pennsylvania rivers still beckon to make a float trip of a lazy summer’s day, just as the brothers and their friend did in 1888. To many, the great escape still offers, as it did then, much relief to the har­ried and the wearied cosmo­politan lifestyles. Henry Lan­dis, perhaps, captured the true spirit of camping nearly one hundred years ago in his timeless observations gleaned from his diary:

The Fragrant odor of burning pine will be fitting incense at the altar where we celebrate and appease the deities of Harbor Hol­low. For though visions of home can be seen in the gathering dusk, we expect to come again and charm the mountain nymphs with stories of “I’ve found a pheas­ant” and our camp song. The hills will listen in vain for the loud whoo! shouted from some pine­-crusted crag. The mosquitoes will hum in peace, the little birds rejoice in the absence of the taxi­dermist. We will pass along and someone will climb the hills in our footsteps, make the same hills ring with their shouts, sing the same song. If is strange that I am so sorry to leave! I have a better bed at home, better food (more comfort and convenience) and plenty of fresh air! But yet there seems to be something in one’s nature that turns with longing toward the primitive; just as sci­ence tries to simplify so one some­times feels like throwing the business, politics, duties and tax the mind only with what is necessary to live and enjoy health.

 

Quotes Related to Camping

I believe the more elbow room a person has, the more generous he becomes with favorable occupations, and that crowded life, city life and wherever men continually brush against each other, there is the best atmosphere for selfishness and egotism to flourish in. The mists are leaving the tops of the mountains and a fresh breeze is springing up. I have nothing, to do today but guard camp and I feel “bully.”

Henry Landis, Canoeing on the Juniata, 1888

 

…having camped out one season, other summers are sure to be spent in the same delightful, care-forgetting, health-restoring, brain repairing manner.

The long rambles over beautiful wild spaces, and, if within reach of water the long and strong pull upon the oars; the delicious airs that blow from the points of the needles; the forest balms; the rest from toilsome, albeit beautiful toilettes; and the calm cool nights of slumber all these are the reanimating blessings of a summer life in the depths of the forest!

The Successful Housekeeper, ca. 1875

 

The first night we set up our tent between the canal and the river and put off sleep until the next night in order to accommodate the mosquitoes. Like Samson I slew my thousands while George lay beside me entirely covered with a heavy blanket. The next night and ever since we have gotten ahead of them by sealing the tent tight with pins and then hunting them with the lantern. We killed them? Oh no, we merrily exterminate them.

Henry Landis, Canoeing on the Juniata, 1888

 

… Men are rapidly learning that camp-life is not so rough that only they can endure it, but that it is so smooth, so restful, so luxurious, that their wives and little ones can likewise endure it, nay, enjoy it, and they are invited to join the husband and father in his sylvan retreat … velvet carpets, richly upholstered furniture, cut-glass, and plate are not essential to happiness, out that perfect happiness and perfect rest are found where there is least conventionality.

Henry Landis, Canoeing on the Juniata, 1888

 

For Further Reading

Ames, Kenneth L., ed. Victorian Furniture: Essays from a Victo­rian Society Symposium. Phila­delphia: The Victorian Society in America, 1982.

Capstick, Peter Hathaway. Safari, The Last Adventure. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.

Elmon, Robert. The Great American Shooting Prints. New York: Ridge Press Book/Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.

Hogan, Austin and Paul Schul­lery. The Orvis Story: Com­memorating the 125th Anniver­sary of the Orvis Company. Manchester, Vt.: The Orvis Com­pany, Inc., 1980.

Hooker, Mildred Phelps Stokes. Camp Chronicles. Blue Moun­tain Lake, N. Y.: The Adirondack Museum, 1964.

Kessler, Hermann and Samuel Melner, ed. Great Fishing Tackle Catalogs of the Golden Age. New York: Crown Pub­lishers, Inc., 1972.

Miller, Alfred W. “Sparse Grey Hackle.” Fishless Days, Angling Nights: Classic Stories, Remi­niscences and Lore About Fish­ing and Camping. Piscataway, N.J.: Winchester Press, 1971.

Murray, William H.H. Adven­tures in the Wilderness. Syra­cuse, N. Y.: The Adirondack Museum/Syracuse University Press, 1970.

 

Gail M. Getz, associate curator of decorative arts for The State Museum of Pennsylvania, is a graduate of Western Maryland College and studied at the Cor­coran School of Art and American University, both in Washington, D.C. She served with the U.S. Army Special Services in the Far East as a recreational crafts direc­tor, taught art and held various related positions with the federal government. A past contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage, her articles have also appeared in Early American Life and vari­ous publications. The author and her family live in Juniata County along the old Pennsylvania Canal the Landis brothers took on their canoe journey in 1888.