Island Journey with the Evangel 10

The Evangel Goes to Camp: Long Island and Woody Island

 

The Evangel Goes to Camp! Part One: History

The Evangel at Long Island and Woody Island (Camp Woody Begins)

 

Celebrating 50 Years of Camp Woody: 1956 to 2006

 

This rare photograph shoes the Evangel tied up at the Army dock in Cook Bay, Long Island, in 1953.  The World War II barracks of the administration center of Fort Tidball, long since abandoned, served as a good site for camping.  The buildings still had windows, and still sported their wartime camouflage (although the Army had re-covered the drab roofs with bright red tarpaper roofing when the fort was decommissioned after the war).  The dock remained usable until the early 1960s, but was swept away in the Tidal Wave of 1964.  (From the Camp Woody collection)

 

Author’s Note: The Evangel is remembered by a generation of Kodiak Island residents as the way to get to camp.  The boat was the main transportation to and from camp on Long Island in the early 1950s, and the ferry to Camp Woody when the camping program moved permanently to Woody Island in 1956.  The Evangel was an integral (many say unforgettable) part of the camping experience.  It would be impossible to tell the story of the early days of Christian camping in the Kodiak area without including the little boat that got everyone there.  So this part of the journey spends a little time ashore as well.  The time period of this brief history covers the early locations used for camping, the reacquisition of the property on Woody Island, and the early years of Camp Woody.  The companion article will take the reader along for a week at Camp Woody in the 1960s.  Later chapters will feature the 1970s, when people of my generation began to take on leadership at the camp. 

 

A Beginning at Fort Abercrombie, Summer of 1952

In the frantic early years of World War II, Alaska did not fare very well.  America was thrust into war by a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, but Alaska had the distinction of being the only US soil actually invaded and occupied by an enemy during that conflict.  The Japanese took and occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Chain, and bombed the base at Dutch Harbor. The military began a huge project of building fortifications, bases and outposts along the Alaskan coast, including many in the Kodiak area.  A very large Army base was built on Women’s Bay near Kodiak, with Navy facilities as well.  Gun emplacements were installed at Fort Smith at Chiniak, and Fort Abercrombie at Miller Point, and roads were cut connecting these facilities with the town of Kodiak and the main base.  Long Island, a narrow, twisting strip of land with a large natural harbor, several large lakes, and a series of seaward cliffs, became Fort Tidball, an extension of the larger Fort Greely in Kodiak.  The war eventually moved on, leaving a picturesque island littered with barracks, Quonset huts, bunkers, gun emplacements, radar towers and searchlight depots. The main base on Women’s Bay became the Kodiak Naval Air Station and Coast Guard Base. 

 

The program which eventually became Camp Woody actually began when several churches, including the Community Baptist and the Protestant Chapel at the Navy Base, collaborated to begin a youth camping program.  My parents, Norman and Joyce Smith, Estelle Marlin and Bill and Zelma Stone from the Kodiak Baptist Mission, and Rev. and Mrs. John  and Dorothy Molletti of the Community Baptist Church were part of the founding group of Christian workers who established the first camp at Fort Abercrombie in the summer of 1952. That extensive facility was well-suited to camping, with many remaining buildings, a beautiful lake, and good road transportation to and from the town of Kodiak. 

 

The girls’ quarters for the Christian youth camping program begun at Fort Abercrombie (1952 – Camp Woody Collection)

The first group of campers and staff pose for a group shot in the summer of 1952.

 

The pioneers of Abercrombie: the staff of the first Christian camping program in the Kodiak area.  Estelle Marlin is in the pink dress with gray sweater.  Joyce Smith is in the middle of the back row, with a white collar.  Rev. Norman Smith is on the far right.

 

Rev. Norman Smith leads a group of campers at a campfire at Fort Abercrombie, 1952 (Camp Woody Collection)

 

The Long Island Experience, 1953 to 1955

The easy access of Fort Abercrombie by road from Kodiak was its undoing as a campsite, and the following year, the churches decided to look for another suitable site.  Long Island, several islands out from Kodiak, had similar facilities, but was remote enough to provide the privacy needed to run a camping program.  Long Island camp began its first season in the summer of 1953.  The camp was established in the old Army administrative center barracks at the south end of Cook Bay.  At that time, most of the buildings still had windows and even working electrical systems.  Two of the barracks were converted into boys and girls’ dorms, and the long mess hall in the center was used also as the chapel.  All the cooking equipment, food, beds, mattresses and such were donated by the Navy or local churches, and brought to Long Island every season on the Evangel. 

 

The Evangel heads to camp, mid-1950s.  This was a typical sight every summer for the next quarter-century.  The Evangel is tied next to the Fedair IV, which served as the ferry for the FAA on Woody Island.  This is the old APA dock, where the Star of Kodiak rests today.

 

Some camp visitors head back to town on a beautiful July evening in the early 1950s. The Long Island dock featured ten-foot wide ladders for quick access by arriving troops.  The dock was between the main barracks area and a long warehouse.  It was usable until the Tidal Wave roared through in March of 1964. 

 

 

Long Island in 1953 still had windows in all its buildings, and the electric wiring worked.  By 1955, the camp had to bring windows and plastic sheeting as vandalism and deterioration took their toll.  The second floor of this barracks shows a stovepipe the camp staff installed for a wood-fired heater.

 

Camp at Long Island had great features, such as a dock just a few steps from the camp buildings.  This view down the beach shows a campfire, with the dock and huge piles of empty oil barrels that were left after World War II.  The oil drums became a fun amusement for the campers, who tried to have races while running on the rolling barrels.  The Tidal Wave of 1964 took out the dock, and scattered the barrels, but left the buildings, which had no doors or windows by that time.  The building to the left is the generator shed (in the 1960s someone eventually took the generators and attempted to restore them) and the building to the right is a warehouse that was dismantled for lumber in the mid-1960s.

 

That first summer of 1953 was also my first summer.  I went to camp as an infant, in the care of my mother, who was working as a girls’ counselor.  A letter in Yule Chaffin’s files reports how one of the other counselors, on staff at the Mission, took great exception to my presence.  I had a couple of fussy nights, as infants sleeping in abandoned buildings are wont to do.  The letter read in part, “I can’t understand why Joyce doesn’t just take her baby out to the Evangel and sleep out there!  None of us got any sleep last night due to the baby’s constant crying!”  So apparently in the early days of camping, I wasn’t really much good!

 

 

A camp group holds a Bible study on a little hill above the main barracks area.  They are beside a small log cabin, probably built during the War as a camouflage, to make the area look more like a village.  The main buildings were painted in camouflage, and had mosquito netting over them as well.  The military added the red tarpaper roofs after the war as a way to preserve the buildings and to signal their decommissioned status.

 

Another group of campers hold a meeting at the beach in front of the barracks complex.

 

Joyce Smith leads a Bible Study on the dock at Long Island in 1954.

 

A Long Island chapel service in the mess hall, 1955.  The windows have been broken out by vandals, and replaced with plastic sheeting, but the lights still work, using the Evangel’s portable generator.  The song words on the flip chart say, “I’d rather walk with Jesus than roam the paths of sin; I’d rather have His friendship than Earth’s best honors win…”

 

It’s skit night at Long Island.  Joyce Smith has her face toward the camera in this photo from the Camp Woody collection. Since the forts were abandoned, people would go through and trash the buildings for fun.  The fact that the camp would later try to use the buildings made life difficult for the staff. This photo shows the double doors to the mess hall, and the plastic sheeting that served as windows after vandalism. 

 

 

In this restored photo, taken from the dock, campers swim in the cold ocean waters of Cook Bay with the old barracks buildings in the background.

 

The Long Island camp was, by all accounts, very successful and popular.  The buildings were funky and deteriorating, but the island was gorgeous, and the camping program was run by people who loved kids and loved camping.  On many occasions, large groups of kids from the outlying villages came to camp on the Evangel, giving them the opportunity to experience a dynamic Christian environment and meet other believers from town.  Several other island missionaries, including the couple at Afognak, participated in the camp and brought in kids from their villages.  Many of the campers remember the little pump organ that we would bring ashore from the Evangel, and of Norman and Joyce Smith leading the singing in the mess hall chapel services. It was a wonderful beginning, and the start of many camping traditions.  But Long Island as well soon became an unsuitable spot to run a camping program. 1955 was the last season of the camp on Long Island.

The campers hold an outdoor chapel service at Long Island, 1955.

 

This view of the same meeting is taken from the opposite direction, and shows the mess hall.  All the buildings still featured their camouflage paint from the war years.

The last camp at Long Island pauses for its portrait in the summer of 1955.  The little kid in red on Mom’s shoulders in the back row is the author.  To the right is a fake “village house,” with its dilapidated shed, which were the only thing removed from the headquarters area in the “Aleutian Cleanup.”  If you know the reason for this mystery, please email me. Although 1955 was the last year camp was held on Long Island, it remained a popular site for day trips from Camp Woody for the next twenty years.

 

A New Home: Camp Woody’s Early Years, 1956 to 1964

 

Campers wave goodbye to the Evangel as it leaves after visiting the camp on Long Island.  For the longer camps the Evangel crew sometimes made trips to some of the villages before returning to ferry campers back to town.  After the 1955 season the camp left Long Island for good, and took up new quarters on Woody Island.  A new era of camping was about to begin.

Campers pile onto the Evangel in a photo probably taken in 1956, the first year of operation for Camp Woody.

 

The main camp building as it looked in 1956.  The ramps on the side served the upper floors, which had been converted by the CAA (FAA) into four apartments.  Two of the three downstairs apartments were converted into the kitchen and dining hall for the new camp.  As I write this in 2005, the main camp building may be the only surviving and usable World War II barracks out of hundreds that once dotted the Kodiak area countryside.

 

A composite photo, spliced together from two images at kadiak.org, shows the original Woody Island mess hall as it looked in World War II, situated where the craft shop now stands.  The recreation hall, originally camp’s Boys Dorm, is on the far left (still in use today).  I believe the fire plug is also still there. The camp was grateful for the new facilities, but it would have been nice to have that building.  Clearing out the wreckage of the collapsed mess hall, and removing the walls of two apartments from the main building, were a major hurtle for the camp staff to overcome in the short weeks between receiving title and the start of the 1956 season.

 

The author, Timothy Smith (Timmy back then!) plays with bricks left from the mess hall’s chimney in the summer of 1959.

 

In the spring of 1956, the US government undertook a program called the “Aleutian Cleanup,” designed to render remaining weapons at remote sites harmless, destroy sensitive equipment, and return commandeered land to its rightful owners.  Long Island became off-limits for formal camping (such as using and adapting the buildings, or reserving structures exclusively for camp use), because it was leased to a cattle rancher.  However, a much better site was about to be dropped into our laps.  The Kodiak Baptist Mission orphanage had been originally established in 1893 on over 600 acres of land on Woody Island.  Although all the staff and children had moved across the channel to new facilities in 1938, the Baptists had re-patented their claim to the land as recently as 1940 (the government had blazed a road across Mission land without permission to put up the three long-range navigation towers in the middle of the island, and the Baptist officials were sufficiently incensed that they reestablished the ownership, but that’s another story).  As a result of that 1940 land patent, the entire 600 acres was suddenly returned to the Kodiak Baptist Mission when the records were reexamined after the war.

 

The only surviving original Mission building was this old washhouse (foreground) when the Baptists regained control of their property in 1956.  This photo was taken in 1970.  The Navy warehouse (used as the Mission barn) is above the washhouse, and still is in use today.

The remains of the old Mission foundation are visible on the road down from the barn to the dock.  A couple of rusted radiators are barely visible behind the alder branches.  Travis North photo, 1969.

 

Above the ruins, in the woods, the graves of Mission children who died in a smallpox epidemic could still be seen as late as 1970.  All traces of those graves are gone now.

 

Early in 1941, the Navy had commandeered the Woody Island property, and built a submarine net depot. Across Mirror Lake, on the site of some of the original Mission buildings, the Navy built a large barracks, warehouse, dormitory for bachelor officers, and a mess hall. They also installed a water and sewer system in the buildings, and built a pump house and large water tower.  The main buildings had been converted into apartments for the CAA (which later became the FAA), but recently they had built a much larger facility on the other side of the island.  So all of the facilities constructed on Baptist land were now in the hands of the very people who needed a new site for a Christian camp! 

 

In the first eight years of Camp Woody, the lake below the camp served as a swimming hole.  When the Tidal wave of 1964 washed out the dam, it became a brackish lagoon.  The campers now hike across the middle of the island to Ehuzhik lake for swimming, because nearby Tanignak lake is the water supply.

 

This photo is of the same group of swimmers as above, but from a different angle.  It shows the old pilings sticking up through the lily pads, the last reminders of the time when ice from Tanignak Lake was cut, packed in sawdust, and shipped to San Francisco and other ports in the years before refrigeration.

 

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  The camping season was only a few weeks away when the papers and formalities concluded their bureaucratic rounds, and the Mission was informed that the property had been returned to them.  All the facilities had to be gotten ready for a new herd of campers!  In addition, the winter of 1955-56 had included some of the worst snowfall in years. The original Navy mess hall, in the center of the Woody facility, had completely collapsed, leaving piles of dangerous debris.  In order to make a new site for the camp, the building had to be removed.  But the camp now needed a new dining hall.  The adjacent two-storey barracks had been converted into seven small apartments for the CAA workers.  So the decision was quickly made to rip out two of the apartments on the ground floor and make a dining hall out of the space.  The Evangel hauled volunteers and materials at a furious pace for weeks, as everyone with a spare minute came over to help build a new camp.

 

Joyce Smith leads a Bible Study above the main camp building in the summer of 1958.  The picnic tables were all Navy surplus and brought to Woody on the Evangel and on John Molletti's boat the Gray Goose.  Many are still in use in the dining hall today.

 

Finally, and on time, Camp Woody opened its doors for its inaugural season, in the summer of 1956.  The foundation of the destroyed mess hall still cluttered the plateau above the main building.  Each of the cabins featured various hanging pipes and wires, and the remains of old Venetian blinds graced the windows.  The dining hall was a wonder, made from multiple rooms of the CAA apartments.  Every few feet the walls were a different color.  The floor was a patchwork of painted wood and linoleum tiles.  And there had been no time to remove the two restrooms (they did get the water and plumbing to work, and had a pump to keep the water tower supplied).  So the first season, the dining hall was in the shape of a U, with two restrooms right in the middle (to this day, the plumbing for the upstairs restrooms drops right through the middle of the dining hall).

 

The Camp Woody dining hall, around 1958.  The kitchen is to the right, behind the counters, made from an apartment kitchen and bedroom.  The rest of the dining hall is the space left after clearing out the remaining walls of two apartments.  Miss Estelle Marlin, one of camp’s pioneers, sits in a yellow chair, wearing a pink sweater.  Behind her is the plank box containing the pipes from the restrooms above.  The other blue posts are from the original barracks construction.

 

None of this mattered in the slightest, for these buildings were ours to keep!  Camp Woody was an immediate hit.  Right in front of the main camp building was pretty Mirror Lake, and a short jog around it to the other side, there was a fine swimming hole.  The Evangel’s two rowboats became part of the camp equipment for the summer (as did the generator we used in Larsen Bay in the winter).  Beside the camp, a little higher than Mirror Lake, lay beautiful Tanignak Lake, the source of the Navy’s drinking water (and the source of this website’s name).  We promptly procured a pump and began using the same pipes for the same purposes. 

 

 

Rev. Norman Smith leads a chapel service on the beach in the 1960s in this faded photo from the Camp Woody collection.

 

We had many reasons to thank the practical and efficient US military for many of the things that made Camp Woody a superior site.  Among these was a sparse but practical road system which basically divided the island into thirds.  Running through the camp, and winding its way through the trees, was a decent road which came near several of the wonderful beaches that grace Woody Island.  Our favorite picnic place was across the island at Sawmill Beach, the site of the first Army sawmill before they built the Afognak facility. That road branched off from the main one, and snaked under the tall towers and (by means of logs laid crosswise – a “cordeuroy road,” the military called it) across several swamps before terminating right at the beach.  Of course, at the end of the main road, on the edge of the other third of the island, the FAA ran a village-sized facility, but under the direction of Darrell and Yule Chaffin, they were the best neighbors (and friends) that we could ever have asked for.  It seemed that every FAA family that was stationed on Woody Island developed the same intense love for the place that we had.  Darrell and Yule Chaffin eventually purchased a plot of land from the Mission, built a log cabin, and retired on the island, to our great benefit and delight.

 

 

Camp Woody expands in 1961: the old power house for the three towers on Woody became the new Camp Woody chapel.  Here a crew prepares to move it off its foundation (which had four huge concrete blocks on which generators were mounted) in preparation for its long slide across the island.  In the background is visible the lower portion of one of the 300-foot towers that provided aircraft navigation from 1940 until they were dismantled in 1964.  From the Camp Woody collection.

The concrete foundations for the generators still remain (far right) at the site where the camp chapel once stood.  This photo was taken in the early 1970s, on the road to Sawmill Beach.

 

In the first few years, Camp Woody changed a lot.  The dining hall finally was open space when the two restrooms were removed.  The last vestiges of the old Navy mess were cleared away from the plateau above the dining hall.  A shiny new metal roof on the main camp building replaced the leaky tarpaper one the Navy had left.  And the camp acquired two whole buildings from the FAA, which were towed across the island with a Caterpillar tractor and became the chapel and the craft house.  But it would be almost twenty years before the old Cellotex cardboard walls of the dining room gave way to smooth sheet rock (Larry Le Doux and I lost a hammer somewhere in the walls…that’s another story).  At least it was all painted (cream over turquoise), but the floors remained a checkerboard from the many rooms of the previous apartments for many years.  All of this just added to the charm of the place.

 

This photo, from the Camp Woody collection, shows a banquet at the end of a camp (notice the streamers) around 1958.  As many as nine World War II picnic bench-style tables could fit in the dining hall, and maximum seating capacity was over sixty.

 

This photo shows the same banquet.  The young man whose forehead is visible in center left is my brother Noel.  Notice the ex-Navy mugs and plates.  The cupboards in the rear were left from the kitchen of one of the apartments. (Camp Woody collection photo)

 

So what were the early days at Camp Woody like?  First of all, there is no overstating the beauty of Woody Island.  It seems all the best meadows, the longest sandy beaches, the most stunning old growth spruce forests, and picturesque lakes in the Kodiak area took a vacation on Woody Island and decided to stay.  Secondly, surrounded by such beauty, it is easy to turn your attention to God and His creation. To be honest, from my perspective, many of the Christian workers in the old days seemed to frequently be caught up in an uptight, Puritanical mindset that was repellent to many people, including me.  But on Woody Island, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior.  That included me, too.  It was a spectacular place to be a kid, and to grow into manhood.  I’m blessed to have spent the first twenty-one seasons at Camp Woody.

 

Another feature of Camp Woody, one which it still boasts today, was its ability to draw good people to it like a magnet.  Many of the townspeople became avid camp supporters, “without which none of this could have happened…” as someone’s thank-you speech might say.  The hall of fame includes Ruth and Cecil Belcher, Lois and Morris Burnham, Estelle Marlin, and Bob and Marianne Boko, and of course, many others.  The Bokos lived in Kodiak in the late 1950s, and later moved to Fairbanks.  But they packed up everything and headed to Kodiak to help at Camp Woody every June, and stayed until early August. The Bokos became like family members. It was wonderful to have such dedicated people to keep the place running and in adequate repair. Bob Boko passed away in March of 2005, after years as a band teacher at Lathrop High in Fairbanks, city council member, professor of education, and founder of the community band in Fairbanks.   

 

Rev. Norman Smith, running the 18-horse Evinrude, takes some passengers into Kodiak in the early 1960s.  The author is facing the camera, with brother Kelly to the right.

 

My parents, of course, were fixtures of Camp Woody for the first two decades, as they had been at Abercrombie and Long Island.  Rev. Norman Smith, my dad, served by providing transportation using the Evangel or a skiff, by keeping the pump and generator running, and generally holding the place together.  But he also was resident pastor for the staff, and stepped in as pastor for the various camps whenever the need arose.  Mom Joyce provided the training and orientation for all the counselors, played the organ at all the chapel services, and stepped in to help the cooks or counselors as needed.  She also served as camp nurse.  They were the camp directors for many years, and outlasted most of the original founders, serving every summer until Dad retired in 1977 and went to work for the city of Ouzinkie. In 1996, Norman Smith went home to be with the Lord, and in 2005, the camp dedicated a park bench beside Mirror Lagoon in his honor. Mom Joyce was on hand to be the keynote speaker. The service united enthusiastic campers of many generations, together for a joyful time of praise, worship and remembrance.  The ongoing ministry of Camp Woody is the legacy of these many pioneers.

 

The Evangel crew at Camp Woody, summer of 1957.  Left to right: Noel (with camera), Norman holding Timmy (the author, looking a little squirrelly), Joyce, with Robin in front, and far right, Jerilynn.

 

A new Smith joins the Evangel and Camp Woody crew: Kelly Smith enjoys his second summer at Woody in 1960.  Kelly spent every summer at Woody until 1977.

 

So far, I have given a brief overview of camp history, and of course, that story needs to be told. And this version is brief, leaving far too much out, and covering only the first few years.  The task of a thorough history of Camp Woody should go to someone else.  Besides, on all the other voyages with the Evangel, I have told my own story, as it happened. The next installment is a personal narrative of life as it was at Camp Woody in the 1960s. So let’s go to camp!

 

Joyce Smith, in the mess hall at Long Island, 1954, plays the pump organ from the Evangel for two ladies who are singing a duet.  Together, Norman and Joyce Smith led camping on Long Island and at Camp Woody for over twenty-four years.

 

Rev. Norman Smith poses on the Evangel, taking campers back to Kodiak, around 1956.

 

In this rare photo, the Evangel arrives in Kodiak from Camp Woody, summer of 1957 (Bob Railsback Collection – his daughter was on board!)

 

 

Next stop: A week at Camp Woody in the 1960s

 

PayPal Link to Donate to Camp Woody: (Note: Funds go directly to the Camp Woody Board)

 

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com)

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