A crumbling concrete drive, oxidized flaking bridge frames, a huge Quonset hut, and pillars with rusty cables still cling to what was clearly a swinging bridge… all speaking of happy days gone by.
Winding road coming down off of Parker Road to Camp Crag - 2014.
Old Quonset hut served as kitchen, dining hall and gathering place - 2014.
Cables to old swinging bridge - 2014.
For nearly 18 years, I have traveled on that ever-increasing crumbling concrete drive, glanced at the structures that have been neglected, and parked our Voyageur Canoe in the Quonset hut. With each descent into the valley and drive across the east branch of the Rocky River, these structures continue to beg an explanation of what happened here a generation or two ago.
With each passing year, little pieces of the story of what is now a Cleveland Metroparks property in Hinckley Reservation comes to the surface. A couple of months ago, I realized I was being followed by a car on my way to put away the Voyageur canoe. After crossing the ford and backing the canoe up to the Quonset hut, the gentleman got out of his car as if he was very familiar with the place. I kindly asked him if I could help in any way. With a gleam in his eye, he proudly began to share his memories as a child at this very location, where a thriving YMCA camp called Camp Crag used to be. I told him about our Your Parks, Your Stories project, and promised to contact him within the week to set up an interview.
Scott Hartman on left at Camp Crag in 1962. Photo courtesy of Scott Hartman
Dining Hall - Quonset hut in 1940s. Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society
Thanks to the help and coordination of Susen Batke from Hinckley Historical Society, I sat down with Scott Hartman as he passionately shared his memories as a child attending Camp Crag in the late 50s and early 60s. What follows here is the information I gathered from Scott Hartman, plus articles from newspapers and other documents provided by Hinckley Historical Society.
The history of Medina YMCA camps began in 1921 when the “Y” was said to have “purchased two camp ranges and tents for the Y.M.C.A. to be held at Whipp’s Ledges in Hinckley, August 8 – 20.” In 1924, the Medina County YMCA/YWCA wanted a permanent location, so 62 acres was purchased from a local farmer, Frances Parker, not far from Whipp’s Ledges. Those who are familiar with the old camp will recognize the Parker name. It is the road that led to what many campers called, “Nature’s Paradise.”
Within a few years of establishing this location, a lodge was built equipped with a kitchen, dining room and a fireplace, which became the most popular meeting area on rainy days.
Quonset hut and bridge leading to camp over the eat branch of Rocky River 1940s.
Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society
A dam was constructed to back up the east branch of the Rocky River, creating a favorite watering hole for swimming and boating, called Bostwick Lake. Campers had to cross a swinging bridge over the river which led to the water activities and nature trails up to the ledges.
Swimming Pond made by damming up east branch of Rocky River - 1940s.
Photo courtesy of Hinckly Histrorical Society
Swinging bridge at camp Crag - 1930.
Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society
Rusty remnants of swinging bridge - 2014.
Twelve cabins were placed in a U shape that housed 8-12 campers at a time, including the counselor. Each was donned with screens to let in the cool night air and keep out the pesky insects.
Camp Crag had activities representing nearly every interest popular at the time. Crafts, sports (tennis, baseball, archery, swimming, canoeing, row boating), nature study, hiking, astronomy, games, folk dancing, campfires, vespers, and of course, free time. Activities would change depending on the group who was sponsoring the camp that particular week.
In 1930, Camp Crag hosted week-long camps for the Medina County School band, Girl Scouts of Lorain County, Crippled Children of Medina County, YMCA, YWCA, District 4-H Institute, Medina County Girl Scouts, Farm Women’s Camp, Wayne County 4-H Club, and a YMCA Leadership training camp.
Literally thousands of children and adults attended Camp Crag from 1924 through 1970. It was reported in 1945, in a three- month period, Camp Crag housed 2,190 campers from 18 different groups that summer. Two thousand campers annually was the average for many decades.
Campers at Camp Crag in 1936. Photo courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society
Children playing in front of camper cabins in 1940s. Photo courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society
The addition of a 45’ x 105’ pool in 1950 sparked a new interest not only from campers, but also Medina County residents, who could purchase a membership or visit the pool daily and support the YMCA/YWCA efforts to keep the camp open. In 1960, a family could buy a swimming membership for $10, individuals for $5, and pay 25 cents for a daily swim for school age kids or 50 cents for those 18 and older.
YMCA membership card of Scott Hartman - 1967.
Participation badges from Camp Crag - Courtesy of Scott Hartman.
But as the old adage says, “All good things must come to an end.”
By 1970, Medina County YMCA/YWCA sold Camp Crag to a Mr. Harris, whose intentions were to create an exotic animal refuge. Nine thousand feet of steel fence was erected to keep out indigenous animals and keep his exotics in. The fence is still there today, but without the exotic animals. Because of a driving mishap by Mrs. Harris near their Hinckley Township property, the camp land was then sold to Cleveland Metroparks in 1978.
Fence put up by Mr. Harris in the 1970s. Photo taken in 2014.
The land is now used by the Hinckley Reservation maintenance to store boats, used as a winter workshop to build new picnic tables and signs, to facilitate Outdoor Recreation and Youth Outdoor campouts and nature studies.
With the passing of time, what remains of this once- grand camp locale is only a refurbished Quonset hut, rusty bridge frames, crumbled concrete, and weed-covered foundations. However, the memories still live vividly in many who spent hours, weeks and months roaming the hills of Camp Crag, learning how to swim in the pond or huge pool, learning camp songs, leading hikes, hearing spiritual stories or fine tuning their archery skills.
As people share their stories and photos with me, it is becoming ever clearer how pivotal and foundational this camp was to so many. I want to honor that and help many of you re-live those fond remnants and reminiscenses. If you are so inclined, call me and I would love to hear about your personal experiences at Camp Crag.