Posts Tagged ‘Litchfield County’

Illumination

The Abandoned Columbia University Instrument House

Written by: Wilk

Photographs by: Wilk

“In Lumine Tuo Videbimis Lumen.” This is the official motto of New York’s Columbia University, one of the most prestigious educational institutes in all of the United States. And in true educational institute fashion, this phrase is Latin. The translation is “In thy light shall we see light.” Believe it or not, this comes from straight from the Bible. What this official university motto is supposed to inspire has often been debated. Most scholars agree that this is a calling to find God’s light and move forward in faith. Others have said that this pertains more to always seek knowledge and truth in whatever you pursue. As a non-religious person, I agree with the latter. Knowledge truly is power. Especially in 2022. In a world full of clickbait and misinformation, it is so important to always be smart and learn what you can when you can. There is so much out there to know and to learn. And sadly, most people just aren’t interested in it. They are content just believing what they are told to believe, think what they are told to think, and buy what they are told to buy. That’s probably why our world has become as tribal as it is. Think for yourself and always seek knowledge. I am no student of Columbia University. In fact, I attended a much lower tier Connecticut state university for my degree. But that is how I interpret the motto of this prestigious institute. Oh, and by the way, did you know that Columbia University once had a satellite campus here in Connecticut? Talk about a segue.

That’s right. A long time ago, in a town most people have never heard of, Columbia University once had a presence here in the Nutmeg State. Our story begins in the late 1800’s, in the town of Morris, Connecticut. Located in the beautiful hills of Litchfield, the town attracted the attention of Columbia University’s Engineering School. Slowly but surely, the school began to migrate it’s summer classes over to the small and affluent community. And in 1903, they finally purchased a plot of farmland with the intention of establishing a rural summer campus. Thus it was christened as Camp Columbia. Over the years, the small campus grew in size and shape. Every summer engineering and surveying students studied their chosen crafts amongst the quiet community. During the First World War, students intent on joining the Officer’s Corp got first hand military training. The now famous observation tower was constructed several years later as a gift from the Class of 1906. According to local legends, Dwight D. Eisenhower once used the campus as a hunting ground and the New York Giants held several practice sessions on the campus sporting fields. But prominence during the 1950’s eventually led to a massive decline during the next two decades. With a changing culture, interest in the campus’s structure and program decreased drastically. And in 1983, Columbia University was finally forced to close up shop and sell the land. What remains now resides in Camp Columbia State Park.

We weren’t entirely sure we were going to have an article ready for this quarter. I have been more busy with movies in the last few months than I ever have been in my entire life. And Lassie has been equally busy working as the best damn educator in the state. While we greatly enjoy our success, it hasn’t left much time for exploring. Plus, our host site (WordPress) keeps becoming increasingly uncooperative and difficult to use. It may be time to migrate to Squarespace…but that’s neither here nor there. Speaking of movies, I had a series of night shoots out in Fairfield County recently. Night shoots are just as much fun as they are grueling. But the funny thing about night shoots is the call times are always very late in the day. So I had some time to kill. That’s right. This was another solo piece, where I went exploring without my partner. I don’t like it any more than you may, but sometimes it’s good to go on an adventure by yourself. That’s how you learn who you really are. And guess what? The old Camp Columbia just happened to be right around the corner from where I was working. With good weather and high spirits, I decided to go take a look. I arrived at Camp Columbia State Park as one of only two other visitors. It is a very quiet and quaint park, that is maintained just enough to keep it walkable. And honestly, these are my favorite kinds of parks. It’s the kind of place that nobody knows about, except for the people that are really going to enjoy it.

When the state of Connecticut bought the former Camp Columbia, they demolished most of the campus buildings. But not all. The main attraction is known as The Instrument House. This beautiful stone building once housed all of the campus’s surveying instruments and equipment. And while she was clearly left standing for a reason, the years have not been kind to her. The stone exterior is very elegant, but the interior of the house is completely devoid. The wooden roof is slowly collapsing in on itself. Spray painted graffiti is everywhere. Old pieces of lab equipment and such have been scattered across the dusty floor. With that said, it’s still an absolutely captivating structure with a strong foundation. It provides a very nice look back on the bygone era of the former campus, casting a strong sense of prestige and academia. Just like the nearby observation tower. Though not abandoned, the Camp Columbia tower stands very close by to the Instrument House. I was expecting something more along the lines of Scott Tower, but was pleasantly surprised to find the tower in moderately good condition. It definitely has a vandal problem, much like the nearby Instrument House, but it is a nice site to see and provides a wonderful view of Litchfield County. Other relics of the past are scattered amongst the underbrush. An old basketball hoop rusts into oblivion. A team of derelict picnic tables rot into the fertile forest floor. Trails of lead piping pop up across the fallen leaves.

On my travels, I encountered a very nice elderly woman taking her chocolate lab named Libby for a walk. She was kind enough to warn me that there was a hunter in the area, at the corner of the red and orange trail. He was perched in a tree stand, like a coward, and had all of the permits to be there. She checked, and she’s a total badass for doing that. I greatly thanked my fellow hiker for her warning, especially since neither of us were wearing orange, and continued on my walk. I was sure to whistle old classic rock songs very loudly to clearly identify myself as a human being. No deer is going to do that…at least I hope. With the light fading and my time just about up, it was finally time to head back to the car and off to movieland. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to find at the abandoned Camp Columbia. But I’m very glad that I got to see it. There’s just a wonderful mix of history and intrigue here. There isn’t much to see in regards to real deal urban exploration, but it’s absolutely worth a look if you’re a history nut like myself. The Instrument House is a haunting relic and climbing the observation tower is a really fun experience. It just goes to show that you never know what’s out there until you go looking for yourself. Sometimes the best journey you can go on is with yourself. And sometimes the most interesting things to learn are in places that you never thought to look. Never stop seeking knowledge. Never stop seeking the truth. Never stop seeking the light.