Reflections On: West End House Boys Camp, Maine ca. 1990s

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At the West End House Boys Camp in East Parsonfield, ME. circa 1990s. Ironic how historical plaques have become go-to-spots for me in later years. (Photo taken by William “Snoopy” Margolin)

For three summers during the 1990s, I attended the West End Camp in East Parsonfield, ME, which marked a pivotal time of my personal development. For some idea on what the camp is:

West End House Camp, founded by James Storrow in 1908, comprises 135-acres, including 4,000 feet on beautiful Long Pond. We offer affordable excellence! Each modern cabin houses 12 campers and 3 staff, including bathroom with private hot shower. High camper return rate; most staff are former campers. Health Center on site. Activities include indoor/outdoor basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, swimming, archery, arts & crafts, nature, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, tubing, water trampoline, waterslide, paddle-boarding, intercamp competition, mountain bikes, evening activities, exciting five-day Color War, World Cup and Desert War events. Indoor gym with electric scoreboard, modern dining hall, large playing fields, GAGA pit, canteen, and small library. Some financial assistance available. Make Friends For Life at West End House Camp!

In all three instances I was sent there, it was intended for all six weeks, though I never made it past two, due to what everyone know of me back then: I was homesick. Notably, things have deeply changed since then (think this is connected? I’d say emphatically, “Yes”), but I suppose this may be because I have a nasty habit of working on my own timetable, not on everyone else’s.

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This fire pit was not there when I first attended, located at the center of camp.

Now, the history of the camp is arguably very, very rich indeed, as according to Boston’s Jewish Journal article, “The Spirit of the West End House Endures in a New Exhibit“:

More than a century after it was established, the spirit of the West End House (WEH) remains strong. The history of the eminent organization that has attracted generations of affiliates is the subject of “In Pursuit of Excellence: The West End House,” a new exhibit at the West End Museum in Boston.

From 1880-1920, Boston’s West End experienced a population boom, with Irish, Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants flocking to the area, living in tenements in densely populated neighborhoods (the museum’s permanent exhibit “Last Tenement” concerns the culture of the neighborhood). Neighborhood “settlement houses” were established as places for youth to socialize and assimilate.

“The West End House was originally a boys club,” explained Duane Lucia, curator of the West End Museum, adding that many successful members graduated from the West End House, including prolific film producer Joseph E. Levine, crooner Buddy Clark and actor Leonard Nimoy. Among the many photographs in the exhibit are three of Nimoy, including one of him as a young manager of the WEH basketball team, and one of a young John F. Kennedy, who was a member of the WEH Veterans’ Association.

According to Lucia, boys joined a variety of academic and athletic teams, or inter-clubs, within WEH. There were approximately 100 inter-clubs for diverse interests such as declamation, a form of public speaking practiced by Nimoy, and speed walking. The inter-clubs competed in events within WEH and the best were selected to compete against other organizations.

“All inter-clubs required public speaking and house debates, and served as a proving ground for young men entering adulthood,” said Lucia. “It was a very successful program in terms of building literary and academic skills … [It] helped immigrant children conquer the language, and sports helped develop a sense of group loyalty between the kids and in the house.”

The success of West End House attracted the interest of philanthropist James J. Storrow, who became an early sponsor. “Storrow was one of a group of progressive Boston Brahmins who believed that everyone should be given opportunity based on merit,” explained Lucia.

In the 1950’s, the poor, ethnically diverse West End was seen as an economic drain on the city, and nearly the entire neighborhood — 23 streets in all — was razed over the next three decades. Enlarged photographs in the museum show the neighborhood as portions were demolished over time.

This early urban renewal effort was controversial. “The process wasn’t transparent. Poor people were kicked out and luxury housing was put in,” explained Lucia. “It is remembered as an injustice, and has been studied by psychologists, sociologists, urban planners and the Institute for Justice.”

Today, the West End House is one of only two neighborhood houses that still exist, although in the 1970’s it moved from the West End to Allston-Brighton, where it continues to serve an immigrant population that now includes girls, as well as boys.

“The lasting legacy of the West End House is servicing young people,” said Lucia. “That’s the legacy, that’s the mission.”

The exhibit, arranged chronologically, documents beloved leaders (Mitch Freiman, Jack Burnes, Bill Margolin and, currently, Andrea Howard), well-known alumni, generations of neighborhood boys, West End House campers (though they are separate nonprofit organizations, the West End House Camp, also over 100 years old, still thrives as a summer camp for boys in East Parsonfield, Maine, and recently the West End House Girls Camp opened on an adjacent property), and the men and women who supported the organization with a plethora of well-preserved photos, trophies from competitions and interesting mementos such as a display of dance cards. It is a trip down memory lane for those with a connection to WEH.

Stuart Snyder of Newton, who attended the boys camp from 1973-1982, is a current board member of both the WEH boys and girls camps. “My grandfather, Charlie Chadis, grew up in the West End, and the West End House was important to him and his brothers their whole lives,” said Snyder. “My personal involvement has been with the camps, but I feel a deep connection and sense of belonging to the West End House generally. Two lines from the boys camp song express the feeling well: ‘When you’re one of the boys, you’re always one of the boys’ and ‘The spirit of the House will never die.’ And since the club in Allston has long been co-ed and now there’s also a girls camp, these sentiments are true for all West Enders.”

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On James J. Storrow

Which James J. Storrow is being referred to?

None other than the Boston City Councilor, City Council President,treasurer of the Franklin Foundation, and the third President of General Motors.

Additionally, he was a stockholder and Vice President of the Massachusetts Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and fuel administrator for the Maine Central Railroad.

Finally, in 1920, he provided testimony to:


Which states the following, regarding the testimony given to Senator William M. Calder on behalf of James J. Storrow:























According to The American Contractor, Volume 41 (July 1920):

According to The Retail Coalman, Volume (November 1917):

Finally, according to A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike by Francis Russell, Chapter 5 (Summer’s End in Boston), pages 93 through 96:

As chairman of this committee he named the State Street investment banker James Jackson Storrow. Recognized event by his enemies as one of Boston’s most exemplary citizens, Storrow was a Brahmin who had somehow transcended the provincial of his city even in appearance, for with his chipped grey mustache and oval face he looked more New York financier or even the stereotyped Hollywood banker. For Boston he felt an inclusive affection that went beyond Beacon Hill and the Back Bay to embrace the anonymous little streets and the slums. Related to the Higginsons and the Cabots and the Lees, descendant of one of those ingeniously acquisitive Yankees who had founded the Massachusetts mill cities, he lived all his life in the Beacon Street town house of his childhood.  As a Harvard undergraduate of the class of 1885, he had been captain of the crew that had beaten Yale, on graduation the second marshal of his class. From 1897 to 1909 he was an overseer of Harvard and in 1910 chief marshal of the Alumni Association, and one of the founders of the Harvard Club of Boston.

After finishing Harvard Law School in 1888, he formed his own law firm, soon numbering among his clients the most proper Boston banking houses, Lee, Higginson & Company, with which he was intimately connected. In 1900 he abandoned the law to represent his families interest in Lee, Higginson. Born rich, he grew to be one of the wealthiest men of New England, director of several dozen corporations. In 1910 he reorganized and became president of General Motors, then returned to his native city to head Lee, Higginson.

With Storrow’s business interests went a devotion to public service that continued until his death. In 1902, backed by the high-minded Public School Association, he was elected to the Boston School Committee and later became it’s president and chairman. He founded the Boston Chamber of Commerce, expanded the City Club, where men of all backgrounds could meet, and gave a fortune to build playgrounds and such amenities in the slums as the West End House and Newsboys’ Club. In 1909, although a poor public speaker, he let himself be persuaded to run for mayor against the glib-tongued Honey Fitz. “Manhood against Money,” was Honey Fitz’s response as he conducted his usual slashing campaign, backed this time by his old enemies Curley and Lomasney. Fitzgerald spoke ten times to Storrow’s one, capered on the roof of a hack to sing his theme song, “Sweet Adeline,” and plastered Boston with blown up photographs of City Hall on which was superimposed: NOT FOR SALE MR. $torrow. Storrow countered by coining the term, “Fitzgeraldism,” and brought unaccustomed tears to Honey Fitz’s eyes by publishing photographs of Fitzgerald with GRAFTER stamped on the forehead. In the largest vote in the city’s history, Honey Fitz defeated Storrow by a mere 1402 votes and only then by juggling ballots and insinuating a straw candidate.

Dismayed but undeterred by this rejection, Storrow continued to work for the Bigger, Better, Brighter Boston of Honey Fitz’s tongue-in-cheek slogan. He served as chairman of three arbitration boards, settling disputes between the Boston Elevated Company and the carman’s union. In 1915, backed by the Good Government Association and opposed by Mayor Curley, he managed to get himself elected to the city council.  Whenever a mayor or governor fell back on a commission or committee to solve the insoluble, Storrow’s name was the first to be considered. In 1915-1916 he served on a state cost-of-living commission. The next year he was appointed chairman of the hundred-member Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety that reorganized the National Guard and instituted the state guard after the Yankee Division had been sent overseas. As federal fuel administrator of New England during the grim winter months of 1917 and 1918, he saw it that his region received at the least the minimum amount of coal necessary for homes and industry, even using his own personal credit to cut red tape and srart shipments.

On Homesickness and Sports

So, just why would I become homesick? Well, if you noticed above:

Activities include indoor/outdoor basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, swimming, archery, arts & crafts, nature, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, tubing, water trampoline, waterslide, paddle-boarding, intercamp competition, mountain bikes, evening activities, exciting five-day Color War, World Cup and Desert War events. Indoor gym with electric scoreboard, modern dining hall, large playing fields, GAGA pit, canteen, and small library.

Which of these things am I interested in doing as an activity? (Strike through indicates no interest)

Activities include indoor/outdoor basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, swimming, archery, arts & crafts, nature, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, tubing, water trampoline, waterslide, paddle-boarding, intercamp competition, mountain bikes, evening activities, exciting five-day Color War, World Cup and Desert War events. Indoor gym with electric scoreboard, modern dining hall, large playing fields, GAGA pit, canteen, and small library.

The library wasn’t that great  either (at a sport’s camp, duh), so I found my thinking abilities rather bored during my time. In fact, I was sort of encouraged to think less, and play sports more. The time I spent there was not largely well-thought of, and any time I would have been likely to express discontent simply being there – that was usually abruptly silenced in some fashion.

The whole ‘Make Friends for Life’ thing never really happened to the likes of me, for mainly two reasons (1) when I was not attending the camp, I was not in connection or association with those I had met at the camp, precluding me of creating the basics of brief connections, and (2) I never liked sports growing up, creating a culture clash with those at the camp, who all predominantly enjoyed and understood many sports (baseball, basketball, football, etc).

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Another picture taken at the West End House Camp in East Parsonfield, ME. Long Pond is directly behind me. (Photo taken by Wiliam “Snoopy”  Margolin)

There have been several campers to make note of, including Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein, actor Leonard Nimoy, AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League)’s lead play-by-play announcer for ESPN3 Evan Lepler, and the Phantom Gourmet‘s Eddie and Dave Andelman.

Personal Development

Although I can’t say I made any friends for life there (not for lack of trying, honestly, as I still remember the names like yesterday Micheal Berger and Adam Barr), I can say I really started to think about my sexuality. Prior to attending the camp, I had figured being with girls was just the norm, and certainly didn’t see that outside of my own world that as a guy, that not being with a girl really wasn’t an option. Attending the camp actually put this slowly developing issue much more in the front, and center, because a year before I spent my first two weeks there, the tiniest of indications that I wasn’t straight started to begin growing more and more. Accompanied with the strong amount of attention being focused on guys only being with girls around me at a constant rate, I began to realize I was somehow different, because I didn’t think I was interested in girls, and I didn’t really want to be with any. I began to realize that I was interested in other guys, and at this camp, my first crush finally developed (hardly the last, of course).

BUNKS I WAS IN: 1B, 3A, 4A.

By the final two-weeks I attended the camp, as I had skipped a year, I knew not only how different I was, but the most certain I had been that I was actually a gay man. I was also the most scared during the final two-weeks than I probably ever have been, because what if people found out?  I admittedly, gave indicators that I was not into girls, but then I didn’t really want to feel alone, or left out. Until I actually came out a few years down the road, that was all I felt though.

Did I love being there? Nope, I really despised it. But did I get something from being there? Certainly, I got the most important thing in all the world – a better understanding of me. You can’t really replace that.

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One thought on “Reflections On: West End House Boys Camp, Maine ca. 1990s

  1. Pingback: My 9/11 Experience | The Progressive Democrat

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