A man who was once a groundskeeper at a camp for deaf children.
A woman who toured that camp with her son’s Cub Scout troop in the 1990s.
An excavator who recalls an old hand-drawn plot plan for a village.
An environmentalist whose computer program can skip through time to ascertain old land boundaries and features.
All responded to my quest in the Herald on Sept. 8 for information about a work camp, a self-sufficient community, established by 38 determined World War 1 veterans in 1932 during the height of the Great Depression. They declined to wait for the unpaid bonuses they were due and took the future in their own hands. I discovered the work camp’s existence in an old newspaper article and I was determined to learn more.
It was 90 years ago and I had hoped some of the locals had been told about it by their parents. I didn’t want the story to disappear into history. I wanted to try to pinpoint its location and see if the vets had left any trace of their camp. With the help of these four readers, I found a bit of that but I haven’t discovered what happened to the men who established the camp, why they had chosen the Upper Bucks site, who they were, where they had come from and why they left.
All of the readers who responded pointed to the area around a Lions Camp Kirby property situated in Bridgeton Township.
Kevin Kline, the groundskeeper at Camp Kirby from 1978 to 1985, also did some surveying of area properties. He said he had been told about the work camp by his father and believes it was on the cliffs off Narrows Hill Road in Bridgeton Township, near the Lions camp and his own property.
Kline said, “It was in the 1930s, up on the top where the fields are cleared. I think they planted tomatoes and some other crops, but I think the soil was so bad it didn’t last more than a year or two, he said.”
Kline also recalls a pulley system once used to deliver water from a spring at the base of the tall cliffs up to the camp site on top of the cliffs, which at several points rise 500 feet above the Delaware River. He recalls seeing the stone foundation of an old barn, the remnants of a chimney and also a cistern nearby.
Lori Gaul, who saw old buildings she thought might have been barracks when she toured Camp Kirby, said that stretch of land around Camp Kirby was the only place the veterans camp could have been. Kline thought what she saw were probably cabins for the children. He believed the veterans camp was on an adjacent lot.
Rob Schaible, now retired, told me he had done some excavating work years ago at Tom McBrien’s Haunted Woods Hayrides. He said McBrien owned several properties along the river.
He recalled, “During the mid-sixties, I saw a plan for a village. It was included with some old paperwork and attached to a deed.” The plan, he said, “was quite extensive” and showed named streets and other features.” He specifically recalled a sawmill, which the original story about the veterans mentioned.
Philip Getty definitely targeted the area above Narrows Hill Road as the site of the volunteer camp.
He said he’d done a lot of investigative work as an environmentalist. Now retired, his hobby is searching sites with his metal detector to provide information for land owners. He also has worked with the Delaware & Raritan Greenway.
Getty sent me some tax maps of the possible veterans’ site. In what seemed magical to me, he was able to pull up aerial maps from the 1930s and 1940s, to show specific features of the land, such as where it had been disturbed or where it had healed and where there had been a lot of varied activity.
He was, for example, able to find an orchard in the targeted site. The veterans had claimed the orchard would provide apples for them.
Getty pointed out in a 1938 aerial map an area southeast of Kintnersville where there is “an amoeba like clearing in the center of a field and some activity southeast of that.” He also suggested other places I could look for information.
As we all know, research is seductive, and I am caught in its time-consuming trap, so my curiosity will probably send me there next. Meanwhile, I’d be happy for more input from readers.