In the summer of 1925, Massachusetts teachers William “Chief” Brewster and his wife Onie set their hearts on starting a boys summer camp in Maine in the lakes and hills region. They knew the state from their summers working at a camp on the coast. But Chief and Onie wanted their camp to sit on a freshwater lake so campers could enjoy swimming and boating, along with the natural beauty of the Maine sunsets. Their goal was to forge a community in the woods, rooted in traditions that celebrate adventure and achievement. Chief recorded their credo in a camp diary:
“A boy cannot grow solely on food, sleep and safe living and playing conditions. He also needs the challenges of something new to learn and explore, the close contact with nature, and many kinds of challenges to meet and master other than those he can find in his home or his school.”
When the Brewsters walked through the pastures and the maple grove on the side of McWain Hill and looked out over the lake, they were enchanted. At the shore, where they happened upon a graceful white birch tree growing on top of a huge boulder – the birch on the rock – they knew they had found a home for their boys summer camp in Maine.
Birch Rock opened on July 1, 1926 with 13 campers, a main lodge, 5 cabins and a washhouse. Camp enrollment doubled in 1927 and tripled in 1928. The Brewsters ran the camp until their deaths in 1973 and 1982. For the next 23 years, Brewster family descendents continued at the helm. In the 1990s, two campers returned to Birch Rock to lead it into the next century: Rich Deering and Mike Mattson. Mike and Rich continue to guide the camp in both maintaining traditions and in accomplishing new initiatives. Under their leadership, critical capital improvements, new programs, strategic planning, and improved alumni outreach have revitalized the camp.
Today, Birch Rock is a Maine non-profit 501c3 corporation, with a 30-member board of trustees made up of alumni, parents and friends. The camp operates under a 100 year lease from the Brewster family, who remain an integral part of the camp. Thanks to the Brewsters and the dedication of the camp’s alumni, parents and campers, Birch Rock now serves 135 boys each summer, with a seasonal staff of 45. Boys ages 7 to 16 can choose to come for a full or half summer to this incredible place. Birch Rock also offers a two week introductory Cubs Camps for boys ages 7 to 11 and a three week Maine Wilderness Adventure Program for 14-year olds. The camp is an accredited member of the American Camp Association and a member of Mainecamps.org.
The Brewsters’ dream of a nurturing and empowering environment for boys in the Maine woods lives on today. Boys learn new skills each summer, challenging themselves and building confidence as they leave the pressures and distractions of their everyday lives behind. Campers are taught to take responsibility for themselves, and to live by the motto established long ago by Chief and Onie: Help the Other Fellow.