Camp Airy in Thurmont, Md.

Maryland’s Oldest Sleep Away Camps

08/09/2022
By Dana Cohen

Since its inception, summer camp has been an escape for kids in the United States, beginning in the 1870s and 1880s when the first sleep away summer camps were formed. Much like today, sleep away camp was an escape from modern (industrialized) society and a chance for children to experience nature and life outdoors. The first documented sleep away camp was said to be founded in 1861 in Connecticut, but Maryland is also home to sleep away camps that have been serving families for close to a century – or more. 

Camp Letts – 1906

In 1906, YMCA’s Camp Letts was founded on five acres along the South River in Edgewater, Md. The camp moved to its present location in 1922 when Letts also invested in a unique farm program that later provided food for the camp. Camp Letts officially became co-ed in 1975.

Among many outdoor activities for campers, it’s notable that in the 1980s, second in size to the U.S. Naval Academy, Camp Letts had a fleet of 40 to 50 laser sailboats.

Today, campers enjoy activities like canoeing, camp fire cooking, and dance.

Camps Airy & Louise – Thurmont, Maryland

The only brother-sister Jewish overnight camps in the country

Camp Louise – 1922

Local philanthropists Lillie and Aaron Straus founded Camp Louise in 1922 to offer Baltimore’s immigrant women an outdoor respite from the city’s cramped working conditions. Young Jewish women soon migrated each summer to Camp Louise, as they do today, 100 years later.

Camp Airy – 1924

The Straus family soon recognized the need to create a similar space for young men and in 1924, Camp Airy, Louise’s brother camp, was founded just down the road. To this day, both camps remain separate but enjoy intermingled activities.

Recently, Camp Airy’s historic 1920s “White House” building, the camp’s dining hall, was lost in a fire. The camp plans to rebuild the dining hall in 2023.

Camp was so important to the Straus family, that their vision that every Jewish child be given the opportunity to enjoy summer camp regardless of their families’ ability to pay is still alive today, thanks to the camp’s Awesome Fund.

 

Dana Cohen · Director of Communications

As an award-winning communications professional who creates and manages strategic campaigns, Dana works with our team and partners to tell the stories about our important preservation work and highlight what makes Maryland’s historic buildings, communities, and landscapes special.

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