By Brenda Hart
In the summer of 1947, Thomas Hart officially opened Hart’s Camp (later changed to Camp Hart) with just four boys. By the time the camp closed in 1964, sixty boys were there for the summer. When the camp first opened a few of the boys came from Williamstown and Pittsfield, but in time most of the boys came from Washington, DC, New York City or Baltimore, MD. Counselors were college students that Dr. Hart recruited from Howard University where he taught and coached.
The camp provided a wide variety of activities for the young men – horseback riding, archery, swimming, baseball and hiking. Margaret Hart (Thomas’ older sister) was in charge of nature study and arts and crafts. She taught the boys about the flowers, birds and trees on the property and showed them how to make wallets and key chains out of leather. Adalyne Hart (Thomas’ wife) served as secretary, washed the clothes, helped with the cooking and made certain that the boys wrote letters home each week. Allen, Billy, “Buddy” and “Snookie” (Tom’s brothers) also helped with the operation of the camp. In short, this was truly a family venture.
During the rest of the year, Thomas Hart served as a college professor and coach at Howard University (Washington, DC). He earned his master’s degree from the University of Illinois and his doctorate from NYU. In 1959 Hart was asked to serve as Ghana’s first Olympic track and field coach. He, his wife and three children moved to Ghana, West Africa where he developed the country’s track and field teams for the 1960 Olympics which were held in Rome, Italy. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for the family!
In 1964 Thomas Hart made the difficult decision to close Camp Hart. He had accepted an executive position with Westinghouse Electric Corporation and would no longer have the summers free to conduct the camp. However, for the rest of his long life he would have young men approach and inform him that they, as boys, had been campers at Camp Hart and how much they treasured those experiences.
Another meal experience for Camp Hart involved cookouts. This entailed having the campers collect firewood so Dad (Thomas Hart, camp owner) could start building a large fire.
While he was working on the fire, the campers would search in the nearby woods for watermelons which Dad had earlier hidden among the leaves. Once the campers found the watermelons they’d take them back to the site of the fire.
The campers would then choose thin sticks on which they’d stick hot dogs. They’d then carefully roast their hotdogs over the open fire (taking care not to totally burn the meat or drop them into the flames!) before sliding the hotdogs onto hotdog buns.
Later the campers would use the same sticks for roasting marshmallows…..best if a bit charred, but always gooey. Dessert would be the watermelons which Dad would carefully slice.
Dad would then tell ghost stories to the young campers (especially about the wild, white stallion!) before escorting them back up to their cabins on the hill.
Brenda Hart is a daughter of Thomas Hart and a member of SWCA who spends part of every summer here in the Hart family cottage on New Ashford Road.