West Chazy Campground-Observance Present, Memories Past

DFH Volume 1 Issue 24

Continued from Vol 1 Issue 23

By Camilla [Dayton] Luckey, daughter Of Rev. Charles and Josephine Dayton.

Gerald Ralph was there, old guard and “extended family”— his mother was sister of Charles Dayton’s first wife, Gladys MacDonald, making him cousin of Izzie Hayes. Gerald was putting vinyl siding over the wood siding my Dad and I long ago salvaged from Chazy’s Miner (Minor?) Institute as it was being razed, early ‘60’s (same era as the cement block frenzy began; same era as my dad built that whole row of four or five cottages). The oak flooring throughout the Ralph cottage is still tight and gorgeous. I remember helping lay it. Gerald has changed the windows to vinyl and added an interior partition. He even has installed a hood above the stove!

Gerald stopped for a break, and we enjoyed a leisurely chat about various Daytons and about campground changes. Gerald told me about the Baptist youth group, I believe numbering a few hundred, that rents the grounds for a week or so annually. The kids are quite the “Jesus Group,” he says.  Sounds to me they are what everyone wished my generation to be.  Gerald and I also talked about Gerald’s fabulous collection of vintage woodworking hand tools and his and Carol’s recent move from Corinth to a Queensbury condo. They spend a lot of the summer season on the campground. “It’s home,” he said. They’ve had the cottage for more than forty years, first owners.

Carol was antiquing in Canada with Beth and Amy until Sunday morning, when I caught her in her bathrobe on my last lope, my third that morning, ‘round  the grounds, looking and listening for sounds of people stirring so I could say good-bye before my own departure. There were lights and sounds (these cottages aren’t soundproof) at the Ralph’s. Carol had been awake for hours, she said, but just relaxing in bed, where Gerald serves her coffee every morning!. My intended five-minute chat became a two-hour heart-to-heart; I was her flower-girl in the ‘fifties.

Saturday afternoon I slipped into the tabernacle, closed but not locked. I sat for a while on the platform steps. They seemed in the exact same place, maybe even the same steps, as in the former tabernacle, the one that collapsed under a heavy snow and was rebuilt as The Charkas Dayton Tabernacle in 1970(?). Lots to remember, lots to regret, lots to wish to re-live. Then I worked out a little minor-key melody on the old upright (piano), right next to a timepiece organ (surely not the Stevenson original?!), and finally I dared stand at the pulpit to pray and pretend. Lots of noise in those rafters and that metal roof when the place is empty, and the trees fan the wind. Of course it wasn’t really empty!

A small house in the middle of a field

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Chow Line at Old Dining Hall in early 950’s
A vintage photo of a group of people standing in front of a crowd

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The dining hall was closed except for the men on retreat, so I bought a terrific country breakfast at Guma’s, a sort-of-new (new to me) local restaurant on the edge of town and a fave for campers.  Best raspberry jam I’ve ever tasted. I assumed Guma’s was empty, as I walked in at seven a.m. Mine was the only car in the front parking lot and I didn’t know there was another lot at the side. So I was extremely startled when I heard “Cammie! Come join us!” Whoa! Where’s the ghost? And who would immediately recognize me after decades of absence?  But the voice was Phil Hunter’s. He and the campmeeting association president were seated, nearly hidden, in the corner booth. After introductions we three embarked on a conversation so engaging my eggs were cold before I touched them Truthfully, I don’t think we really did finish the conversation, just put it on pause. That’s what I hope.  I can hardly wait for more. The subject was holiness camps and the Holy Spirit. No chitchat breakfast, that one!  I liked both guys and I am pretty sure the new president liked me. He certainly seemed to enjoy our discussion. He is relatively new to West Chazy camp life. His name is Paul Robar.

As you exit the campground, if you turn your head left  (as a driver always should, before turning right) you can see, looming large, a silver silo with … ears?…propellers?…antennae for receiving  messages direct from heaven? No!….there’s a newly built windfarm on yon hill, in the direction of Altona!!

Other than that, the whole area seems as economically depressed as ever, except for the deservedly popular Guma. But the fields and hedgerows are heaven if you love native plants.

An old barn in front of a house

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Old, Original Tabernacle

The cow creek (remember the swimming hole in the back pasture?) has shifted course a little and has filled in quite a bit. I can’t imagine Bud Hewitt, nephew of Reginald and childless Jo, taking a dive, as I once saw him do. I think Dad dared him. They use the creek for baptisms now. Looks to me they’d have to prostrate themselves to get their bellies under! And they mow to the creek! The place is packed with lovely buzzing creatures, a few flowers and ferns that look to be on steroids, so rich and free.

Shirley Pauling (in his 90s and, as mentioned above, owner of Dad’s fireplace cottage near the tabernacle, between the Seaman and Stevenson cottages) is the association volunteer who mows the “back forty,” the former cow pasture that stretches to the creek. He has an eye—beautiful job, nice balance between mown grass and waving wildness. We must remember, of course, it was the time of the annual men’s retreat, so the grounds were what is probably unusually spiffy. (Meaning: freshly mown.) I hope the Paulings eventually offer Dad’s cottage to me. I have no idea how much they paid or to whom. Or why they chose my dad’s! I told Shirley Pauling,  perhaps not wisely, of the night the priest at St. Joseph’s (across street) noticed a car convoy slowly rolling, lights out, down the campground road beside the dining hall. The priest, good neighbor, called the cops. But by the cops’ arrival the crowd of kids already in the attic of my dad’s cottage was heavy enough that some kids downstairs heard a rafter crack, I learned later. It could have been a catastrophe.

Anyway, before the dissolution of Wesleyan ownership several years ago, long before the association’s re-organization,  I, not being Wesleyan, was not allowed to own, either through inheritance or purchase. How things have changed! This summer I recognized approximately half the cottage names. I wonder, how many are still Wesleyan? The president of the board is not Wesleyan. This year’s men’s retreat speaker was. And the Charles Dayton Tabernacle no longer has pews but cushy, stackable chairs!!

“Everybody” was kind enough to welcome me, a non-member never mind a non-man, at the Saturday night end-of-retreat campfire. Imagine, a crackling, ember-tossing open fire right under those trees!  And my dad was the pyromaniac?! It was a beautiful stacked-stone pit with a Scout-worthy blaze, located midway between the Perry Motel and the kiddie tabernacle area. That area is now furnished with various genuine playground equipment, gone the stony sandpile and its few rusty toy trucks.

Many Dayton readers won’t see much that is immediately personal or relevant in this West Chazy report. Never mind; I didn’t write it for you but for your grandchildren and my own.

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