As Our Campfire Fades Away

The Abandoned Camp Mooween

Written by: Wilk

Photographs by: Lassie

“Softly falls the light of day, as our campfire fades away.” These were the first lines of the last song we always sung around the campfire on our final night of summer camp. It was an annual tradition. Somehow, it almost always brought a tear to my eye. It was sung softly, after a night of s’mores and jolly tunes. When it was over, we all somberly went back to our tents for the night. We all knew full well that the next day, we’d all be going home. And a few weeks later, we’d all be returning to school. So I guess you could say, these lines always signaled the beginning of the end. Summer camp was always very important to me. I was in the Scouts from First Grade all the way through my Senior Year of high school. It truly made me the person I am today. And every year, summer camp was always the best part.  But no matter how hard you tried, it was always over way too soon. And sadly enough, many summer camps do not last forever either.

This place was once known as Camp Mooween, located in Lebanon, Connecticut. Fun fact: the peculiar name is actually the Mohegan word for “Bear.” Which is cool. First opening in the early 1920’s, Camp Mooween was a summer camp for boys from all around New England. Nestled right on the banks of the gorgeous Red Cedar Lake, the camp featured all of the classic summer camp activities any young youth could ever ask for: boating, camping, ball fields, rope swings, and bug juice. For decades, it was a staple of the local community and a place of great joy. Sadly, the camp was abruptly closed in the 1960’s. I have scoured the internet for a reason why, but have yet to find one. Though there were efforts to revive it, the camp remained abandoned for many years. It wasn’t until decades later that the area would re-open as a state park. Luckily, it was through the efforts of former campers to preserve their old stomping grounds and christen it as “Mooween State Park.”

I had honestly never heard of this place. In all of my research throughout the years across the area, nobody had ever covered Camp Mooween. One summer day, we were heading to a family dinner in Lebanon. Since it was later in the afternoon, we decided to try squeezing in a quick hike before our cookout. After a quick search of parks in the area, this one caught my eye. And it was honestly a nice surprise. What many people do not know is that the town of Lebanon is bloody huge. It is honestly one of the biggest towns in Connecticut. And getting to the abandoned Camp Mooween ended up being quite a journey. But when we finally did reach our destination, it was well worth the trip. After a short walk in along the banks of the Red Cedar Lake, you are greeted right off the bat by an old abandoned car. It is a bit hidden, but still very much alive. Do not ask me the make or model. I have no idea because this thing is bloody rusted to Hell, and damn near buried in the foliage.

To the untrained eye, this park is just another nice wooded area for a quiet hike. You honestly have to do a little digging to find the abandoned remains of Camp Mooween. There are many rogue fireplaces with chimneys left standing in random corners of the woods. There are overgrown ball fields and vacant lots scattered across the park. Junk of all sorts rots into the fertile forest floor. But the star attraction of the abandoned camp is undoubtedly the remains of the great hall. If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you know this is where bloody everything happens. Meals. Announcements. Skits. Everything important happens at the great hall. Lying off the beaten path, you are suddenly greeted by this former installation. The concrete framework still stands. The stone hearth is crumbling. An old staircase leads you into what was once the kitchen, where plenty of old equipment has been left behind. As someone who spent many hours working in a summer camp kitchen once, it was pretty cool to see the old stoves were still here.

But sadly, aside from the great hall, there really isn’t too much to see here. Old reminders of what once was still haunt this quiet forest. And it honestly feels like a treasure hunt sometimes. You never know what you’re going to find off any of Camp Mooween’s winding trails. It could be some random piece of camp equipment, or another foundation of a building. I wanted to write about this place because I can really relate to those that have tried to preserve it. Though she now lies in ruin and despair, this place clearly once meant a lot to these people. You can still feel the love as you walk through these now empty woods. And I can honestly really empathize with that. Summer camp was always a place of magic for me. It was a time and place where you could escape from your parents and home life for a brief time. Whether it be for just a week or the entire summer, the memories and friendships made here last a lifetime. But it always ended with those fateful lines of that somber campfire tune: “Softly falls the light of day, as our campfire fades away.”

  1. duhquiller says:

    Thank you for writing this heartfelt tribute to what remains of Camp Mooween. My Dad, who passed in January of 2019, spent many happy summers as a boy there. All throughout my own childhood, my Dad would sing, with great glee the camp song. “Dear Old Camp Mooween, where a fellow has to be a regular guy” I can still see my Dad’s face light up like the 4th of July, as he remembered those magical days of his youth, – and your beautiful article, which sadly I just discovered and cannot read to my Dad, has brought me just a little closer to a time in my Dad’s life that was so dear to him. With all my heart, thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Shel Aron says:

    I came across this article while doing some planning for a road trip to Mystic Seaport. I was a camper there for 3 years between 1963-1965. It was known then as Camp Sherween- Mooween, having been the reincarnation of Camp Sherwin which was located in 1962 in Eastern Conn.

    I was 13-15 years old and have many memories from then and am still in contact with some people from the old days. I plan on being in the area in the spring and definitely plan on making a visit.

    Thanks for the memories

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael H. Hart says:

      I was a camper at camp Mooween in 1944 and 1945. I wish that any other men who were campers in Mooween (any years) would contact me. My phone number is (410) 451 – 1687.

      Michael H. hart.


      • I’m working on an exhibition on Edwin Herbert Land, a Camp Moween boy from 1921 to 1926 (the last as a counselor) and would love to acquire images, stories. etc.! Thank you! 860-425-5560


  3. Arthur Gilman says:

    Having attended Camp Mooween from 1933 -44, though missing ’41 due to illness, The Camp tried being co-ed before it’s demise in the 60’s. It was founded in 1921 and run by Barney Girden, who had been Captain of NYU’s wrestling team a few years earlier. He dammed Red Cedar Swam, creating a lovely lake, and was guru to some 200 campers every summer from then until ’46. His successor lasted a few years more, before it faded.

    I hosted the 75th anniversary of the most successful Camp “bunk”, the Sinawas of 1944, last September. Six campers and our counselor attended, along with wives and significant others. Camp reunions had been held annually from mid ’50’s to about 2012, when even they peetered out.. At our get together, we sang several songs and remembered a few of those no longer with us. Sadly, the Coronavirus has prevented a repeat of last year.
    The Camp was a “oner”, with such innovations as group therapy, hypnotism, an original camp show that went to off-broadway for a few performances in the mid thirties, and that wonderful “private”lake.

    Note: the Great Hall you referred to was merely the Mess hall from Camp days. The “Social” Hall had been about 100 yards away and closer to the Lake.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Please add the following to my earlier comment: Almost all who attended Mooween for a few years, took away a new Ethos of Sportsmanship , fellowship and life lessons learned.


  5. Ilan Fisher says:

    Thank you.

    Mooween 1952


  6. Majorie says:

    Thanks for the info on Camp Mooween. I attended for 2 years AFTER it became Co-Ed – probably 1961 & 1962. I remember mu mother saying how it had been sold and became a religious affiliated camp after that (and maybe just for boys).

    I had forgotten about Mooween as I connected more with my 2nd Sleepaway Camp in the Berkshires which I attended for more years.

    Looking at a map of CT to see exactly where a friend had moved to:
    I saw the town of Old London and remembered how we had Camp Day Trips to the beach at New London. So….I googled Camp Mooween, Gilman, CT.

    Also read an article in Hartford Courant everyone else might like:





  8. David Gilbert says:

    I went to Camp Mooween in 1961 and 1962. In 1963, the camp was closed and the people who ran the camp moved it to Glenwood New Jersey. I beoieve the camp closed because of the pollution to the lake. There were no septics, etc., and I remember Milt Barnhardt talking about it. My dad was a counselor there in 1937. I remember addi8ng my name to the social hall wall where my dad had painted his name. Fond memories. I went there several years ago. What a lost opportunity. It was a beautiful camp, which should have been preserved for tourists and events.


    • Mallika Thanky says:

      Milt Barnhard was my grandfather! My grandmother (Ruth) kept pictures and told stories about Camp Moween until she passed in 2013. My mom (Tracey) and her brother (Glenn) would always reminisce on the great times. My mom and I were just talking about it this morning, and I went online to see if I could find what happened.


  9. Jeff Weiss says:

    My dad was a camper/counselor 1933-1948. I cannot begin to describe the impact Moween had on his life and his fellow campers. Cap Girden was a hoot…an the experiences the campers had back -all extraordinary – then would make moms today pass out. SATF -Strong At The Finish – was one of Cap’s many teachings campers took with them through life.


    • Anita Kaplan Verbeke says:

      My brother went to Mooween back in the mid 1940’s when Cap Girden owned it. My father was one of his accountants so while Joel was a camper, there were week-ends when my parents and I (three years younger than Joel) stayed in one of those “railroad-cabins”. I remember rides in the camp truck, Old Bedelia. Starting in 1946, I attended Camp Odetah, the “sister camp” in Fitchville. Went every year thru the end of college. Oh my….the songs both at Mooween and Odetah….still know the words to “My Caravan” and “when a buddy meets a buddy down at Camp Mooween”. Terrific camping experiences for both my brother and me.


      • Paul Plotnick says:

        I attended camp Mooween only one summer – I think the year was 1945 – but I remember many details as if it were yesterday. My mother Selma Plotnick was a counselor there as well that summer until she quit when Cap Girden made a play for her. The camp was recommended by Ted Wechsler, a family friend, who had gone there at the same time as Eddie Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera. I remember a counselor Don Mufson who caught an 8 lb. largemouth bass and kept it alive in a rain barrel, and yelling “Buddies” and raising your hands when in the lake. There were whippoorwills calling in the woods every night and schools of yellow perch in the lake. Many years later, I took my wife and kids up there to look for the camp. There were few remains still there – pieces of wood from a privy, some fireplaces. There were signs advertising a development that never was built. Now it’s a state park. I heard there were reunions in New York for a time with Av Weston, a TV executive. It was a simpler time for sure.


  10. Shel Aron says:

    I visited the campsite this month June 2022. I found the 2 chimneys and it was really hard to tell which buildings they were from. One was near the remnants of a foundation which could have been the mess hall or the social hall. One of them had a basement level which could have been a storage room. My brother seems to remember that the sports equipment was stored in a basement. By its closeness to the lake I concluded that this was the social hall. Anybody have ideas on this?

    But what was interesting the discovery of an asphalt plot which had marking of a parking lot. It was facing the lake and in the direction and location that I remembered, to the left of the dining hall.
    The second discovery was a larger asphalt area which had two basketball hoops on it. They were newish but again the court was in the general area which I remembered. Who would play there now?

    All in all it was an interesting nostalgic visit. Its a shame that all the area is overgrown with trees and brush and the bunk area is nowhere to be found.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure now the year was 1944. WW2 was still on. There was a reunion plan “after the Armistice” published in the Mooween Brown Bear.


  12. Michael H. Hart says:

    I attended Camp Mooween for two years (1944 & 1945). I would like to talk to anyone else who attended Camp Mooween.


  13. Virginia Cazort says:

    I am relishing these memories of others that I can now add to my own about the magical summer I spent as a counselor at a nearby girls’ camp. I was a bit of a curiosity at both camps— a southern girl from a Methodist family encountering for the first time in my life the tradition of Jewish prayer before meals, the first line of which I remember and recite before my dinner: “Baruch Atah Adonai….. (however it’s spelt)”. Both Moween and Brae Mar were so welcoming to me. I was a bit of a curiosity, but I felt loved and accepted. And better still, I fell passionately for the beautiful Adonis son of one of the camp’ owner/directors. He obliged this infatuation with mild interest which soon faded, though mine still lurks in my memory as a good thing. There was a gentleness and regard for the natural world to be found here by inner city children who had no other means of finding such a treasure of treasures. I am pushing 90 and remember with gratitude the welcome I felt that summer. I live alone in the woods after a gratifying urban life. I think I know why.


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