We've come a long way from beds fashioned of pine boughs laid on the ground and meals cooked in kettles over an open fire beside the lake in the 1920s! But some things never change. At the end of the first summer camp on the site that was to become Pilgrim Cove, the Rev. Claton Rice wrote, "Mosquitoes added a certain piquancy to our assemblies. But hikes and boating and swimming and botanizing expeditions kept us busy and happy." That was in 1927.
Others wrote of the trip up to the camp in those early days that, "It was indeed with much faith and a brave heart that one drove the road from Horseshoe Bend to Smith's Ferry... on the treacherous road above the Banks."
After holding summer camps with the Presbyterians on their site on the Wood River for two years, and then on leased land at Smith's Ferry from 1924 - 1926, Rev. Rice, the Vice Superintendent of the southern Idaho and Utah Congregational churches, sought to find land for a permanent camp site. He purchased the first two lots in 1926 on what was then called Glen Cove.
That first year, most of the ministers and their families, and other "hardy souls" spent their vacations clearing space for a camp out of virgin forest. They cleared much downed timber and underbrush and partially drained swampy lakefront areas. While working in the swamp, one of the young campers discovered springs, which were subsequently used for drinking water, replacing lake water
Of that first summer in 1927, Rev. Rice wrote, "We are located in the firs and spruce and tamaracks on the banks of the beautiful Payette Lakes. I wonder if any other young people's camp this year has been fed 29 meals, all of them good, for $5.50 per individual. We did it, and had a bit to spare."
In a nod to the history of the Congregational Church, one of the youth suggested the name Pilgrim Cove. The group at camp was called the 'colony', and the camp's director was the 'Governor.'
In 1928, to fund operations, campsites on the lower level were leased to church members at $25 for a 25-year lease, where they pitched tents. It was that year that the first permanent building was constructed. During the previous fall and winter, a commercial logging outfit "cut the tallest, straightest tamaracks in the upper section of the campsite ... and peeled the bark from the sixty-foot logs. Specially trained horse teams dragged huge logs down the hill to be stacked for drying," wrote Jean Calkin. "To supervise the (construction), they hired Gust Gustafson, a Finnish craftsman who built log cabins during the summer in the McCall area, and in the winter worked as a butcher."
According to Mrs. Stanley A Curtis, "Every morning at daybreak the men started hammering, and worked in the evening until dark. All day long Mr. Phelps whittled pegs, (as) no nails were used in the building except for the floor and roof"
Many recalled how the men and boys would pull, and hoist a log into place, rolling each one in and out three or four times before Gust was satisfied that it was cut to fit perfectly. No chinking was needed, as long as the logs were cut by Gust and placed as he directed. By the end of the six week camping season, the building was finished and dedicated as Ye Rice Meeting House, in honor of the founder of the camp. Also in 1928, that arm of Payette Lake and the surrounding land were renamed Pilgrim Cove, after the camp.
In 1929, as new lots were acquired, the tent sites were moved up the hill to make room for group activities around Rice assembly hall/ dining room. It was during this time that 'corduroy roads' were built around the camp to make the transport of supplies easier. Logs were laid side by side, then covered firmly with dirt.
As cabins were built to replace tents, they were named in honor of our Pilgrim forefathers and foremothers and their journey: Winthrop House, Brewster's Brig, Priscilla's Boudoir, John Alden Hall, Plymouth Place, Leyden Lodge, Scrooby Cottage, Miles Standish Manor. Those cabins were used through the seventies, and a few still stand today in their original locations, while others have been moved to the parking lot area to house summer staff
The 193Os brought the installation of a water system, and the remaining marshland was cleared by the CCC.
During the first decades, a major focus of the camping program was to garner support for overseas missionary work. Each summer, through the early sixties, a missionary served as 'guest faculty,' bringing information to Idaho church members of the people with whom they worked. Over the years, missionaries or inhabitants of Korea, India, China, Lebanon, the Philippines, Japan, and Rhodesia spent a summer at Pilgrim Cove. Some summers a rabbi served as the guest faculty, to give campers a greater understanding of our Jewish brothers and sisters.
In the forties, three more lakefront lots were purchased from the state. During WWII, campers had to have ration books. In 1944, Irma Curtis wrote, "In a world gone mad with struggle, Pilgrim Cove stands a guiding light for a new and better tomorrow."
Electricity came to camp in 1948. Camp historians recorded this fact not with regard for the lighting, but for the technology it made possible: "the use of a slide projector and phonograph." This was also the first year that that campers came to Pilgrim Cove in one-week segments divided by age groups. Previously, the camp had been open for about six weeks, and families came whenever they could, with all ages at camp together.
Money was made for camp improvements by the sale of lumber from the property in the fifties. The first permanent resident manager, Don Calkin, was hired in 1952. Improvements he recorded that decade include the construction of a floating dock at the swimming area, which was just below Ye Rice Meeting House, where not far from shore a large boulder rose above the lake's surface, dubbed 'Plymouth Rock.' The camp was once again using water pumped from the lake and laced with Purex for drinking and washing. Garbage was disposed of in an open pit dug on the grounds. A walk-in cooler was added to the kitchen attached to Rice to replace the ice boxes.
In 1955 Pilgrim Cove began using well water from the State Park water system, and a shower and laundry building was constructed on the upper level. These facilities were used only by the staff Four new cabins were built on the upper level in the late fifties, including Freund, Brown, and Paddock. A vespers chapel was built on the upper east edge of the camp, down the road that ran in front of Freund cabin.
As the sixties dawned, campers brushed their teeth under spigots that rose on pipes from the ground. Swimming was the only 'bath' during camp, and one of the daily camp duties was dumping lye down the outhouse holes and scrubbing the wooden seats with bleach. When on KP (Kitchen Patrol), campers washed the dishes in large metal dishpans, then rinsed them in warm water with bleach, and again in cold water before drying them with flour-sack towels. The open area below the current dining hall was covered with dirt and accommodated a volleyball court and two horseshoe pits.
A new lodge was begun in 1962 and named New Rice Memorial Hall. With its completion, campers for the first time had flush toilets and showers. At teen camps, dances were held nightly in the upper room with the deck, and the lower level served as storage for newly-acquired canoes.
At the same time, the swimming area was moved from below 'Old Rice' to the newly-cleared beach where it remains today. No dock connected with the beach. Instead, a waterski-style 'float' anchored to a cement-filled tire on the lake's bottom served as a deck for swimmers.
During the 1960s, a major focus of camp programming shifted from missionary work to the Civil Rights Movement and to peacemaking, and a generation of campers learned about being active co-creators of God's realm on earth.
In the 1970s, Trumbo cabin, located where the present dining lodge sits, was remodeled into a new kitchen, complete with dishwasher, to meet modern sanitary standards. A canvas-roofed room was attached to serve as the dining hall. Meant to be temporary, it was used for the next quarter century. It was sometime in this decade that the upper vespers chapel was abandoned due to the plethora of uncontrollable, pesky mosquitoes at the site.
Leahy Lodge was completed in the late 1990s, and the current dining hall and lodge was dedicated in May 2004 and named for Alan D. Creech, a member of the Nampa church, and a long standing supporter of the camp who died in a tragic aircraft accident near Atlanta, Idaho, while searching for an off-site youth adventure camp.
Generations of youth and families have spent time at Pilgrim Cove Camp communing with God and nature, making friends, learning more about themselves and about the world we live in. They have made wonderful memories singing around the campfire, sharing meals, sweeping out cabins, swimming and canoeing in the lake, roasting marshmallows for smores, crafting art projects, putting on skits, worshipping, listening to stories, and holding hands in nightly friendship circles before retiring to their sleeping bags. And today, that legacy lives on. In addition to church sponsored youth and family camps, Pilgrim Cove hosts weddings, family reunions, camps and retreats for civic and business groups, schools, and non-profits, not only in the summer, but year round.
We invite you visit Pilgrim Cove, and when you do, be sure to take a look at the wooden plaques in Old Rice and Alan Creech lodges, filled with the names of more than eighty years of campers. And as you stand on the beach and look out on the stunning lake view, listen to the sounds of the waves lapping the shore and the wind blowing through the conifers. You just might be able to hear also the laughter, the singing, the joy that inhabit these grounds. We hope you will be called to spend some time here making your own memories of this special place called Pilgrim Cove.