Camp Uncas gate in 1899
New York Map
William West Durant
Backstory and Context
. 1. The camp was built of logs felled on the property, and all iron hardware was forged on site. In the main lodge and dining hall, the log construction was unusual in that the logs were not interlocked, as in conventional log buildings, but rather were pinned together at beveled corners. The scale is massive: the dining hall is 24-by-36-foot (7.3 by 11.0 m), the walls 12 feet (3.7 m) high at the eves with a cathedral ceiling 20 feet (6.1 m) high at the ridge, with a huge fireplace at one end. Floors, walls and ceilings were all of polished planks and peeled and polished natural logs.
Because of financial difficulty, Camp Uncas was sold by Durant in 1896 to J. Pierpont Morgan. The camp stayed in the Morgan family for the next decade. The next buyer of the property was the widow of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. Mrs. Margaret Emerson entertained many guests such as General and Mrs. George Marshall, Bernard Baruch, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. In 1947, Mrs. Emerson donated Camp Uncas to the Damon Runyon Fund, a cancer research group, to use as a retreat center. In the next few years Camp Uncas passed again to new owners and then to Herbert and Margaret Birrell. During the Birrell family’s ten-year ownership, they operated Camp Uncas as a historic site open to the public for two years and leased it to the head of the national A&P supermarket chain for five years.
In 1965 Camp Uncas was sold to the Boy Scouts of Rockland County, New York. Until that time, the property had been maintained in excellent condition with all the original furnishings and décor intact. For the next ten years, unfortunately, the Scouts did not maintain the camp and put the camp through extremely hard use and little or no maintenance. By the time they decided to sell it, it was in poor condition. No damage was done to the structures, but roofs needed replacement, grounds were untended, and after ten years of institutional use, the interior décor had become dowdy and unattractive.
In 1973 the Scouts agreed to sell Camp Uncas to New York State for incorporation into the State Forest Preserve, planning to invest the proceeds in their other scout camp closer to Rockland County. If the sale had occurred then, the “forever wild” provision of the New York State constitution would have required that all the buildings of Camp Uncas be destroyed. Because the state was in financial difficulty and declared a moratorium on all land purchases, they suggested that the Scouts sell the buildings and a few acres at Camp Uncas privately, and as soon as they could afford it, the state would purchase the 1500 or so acres of land for the Forest Preserve (which they did). In 2008, Camp Uncas was designated as a National Landmark.