What do crafts, sewing, sports, hiking, tenting out, telling stories, and swimming all have in common? They are all activities of your typical New England summer camp. Summer camps for children got there beginnings back in the late 1800’s. Up until the mid 1800’s, rural children typically went to school in both the Winter and Summer and had time off during the spring and fall to help the family with the spring planting and the fall harvest. Children living in the larger cities schooled for the majority of the year with only small breaks. As times changed, the Summer months took hold as a good time of year to give students and educators a hiatus from their classrooms. Many of the early Summer camps offered children from urban environments such as Boston and it’s suburbs the ability to ‘get back to nature’ for a week or two at a time during the Summer months.
One such Summer camp existed right here in Milford and gave thousands of children the opportunity to experience a great summer retreat. Camp Holiday was owned and operated by the Girls’ Friendly Society of Massachusetts. The Girls Friendly Society was an organization associated with the Episcopal Church and originally began in England in the mid 1870’s. Shortly thereafter, chapters of the GFA started to appear in the United States. The organization’s primary goal was to provide recreation and friendship to “working girls” that were often forced to withstand miserable working conditions. The Massachusetts chapter was the first in the United States and worked with urban girls that worked in the industrial mill buildings of Lowell and other Massachusetts cities.
Camp Holiday operated at the top of Federal Hill here in Milford, NH for 89 years, from 1896 to 1985. The camp sat on 25 acres of land that spanned both the eastern and western side of Federal Hill road just after its intersection with Foster road when you are heading south towards the Hollis town line. The property was originally known as the Duncklee farm and passed through a couple of owners before landing in the hands of a Reverend Hutchins from Concord, MA. The original farm house is still standing today and when it was part of the camp, it was known as Restcroft. The building that became the primary facility for the camp was a barn that sat on the west side of the road directly across from Restcroft.
In the year 1896, Reverend Hutchins donated the land and buildings on the West side of the road to the Girls’ Friendly Society of Massachusetts. Architect E.M. Machado of Salem, Massachusetts drafted a plan to convert the barn over to a home that would accommodate a large number of girls from the Friendly Society. With the conversion of this barn into what would then be known as “Broadview” or “Holiday House”, the 89 year run of operations of Camp Holiday were underway.
Upon entering the Holiday House from the front entrance, there were very large rooms. One large room was the library and reading room. There was also a large parlor room and a chapel room as well. In the rear of the first floor was the kitchen and dining area. The dining room would accommodate 60 girls at a time. The second floor of the Holiday house contained 27 rooms and all were bedrooms.
Four years later in 1899, Rev. Hutchins donated the property and house known as “Restcoft” across the street from Holiday House to the Girls’ Friendly Society. In 1899, Holiday House was opened and Restcroft was formally dedicated on June 26th. With this additional property and facility, the camp had enough space to accommodate up to 60 girls at a time. Sometimes girls came just for long weekends, but it was more common for girls to come for a week or two at a time. The camp season typically ran from late June through the early part of September.
Though there were other smaller buildings at the camp, nothing was as big and grand as the Holiday House. Across the road to the South of Restcroft was another building called Bonicroft. In later years, Bonicroft was used as an arts/crafts facility. As of this writing in October of 2018, the Bonicroft building is still standing, surrounded by trees, but can be seen on the east side of Federal Hill Road.
In the camp’s later years, tennis courts, a swimming pool and other luxury’s of modern day were installed. In the 1970’s, the camp would be host to Boy Scout Camporees and other camping activities. Though I have seen some mention of new owners at some point in the camp’s later years, I do not know who or when. It would appear that 1985 was the final year that the camp operated. As best I can tell and unfortunately not in my memory, the Holiday House building sat vacant and deteriorating for about 10 years before it was eventually taken down around 1995. Besides a couple of the out buildings of the camp, you really can’t even tell today where the Holiday House physically sat. On the eastern side of Federal Hill road, directly across the street from where Holiday House sat, the Restcroft house is now a private residence. This was the original house of the Duncklee farm.
For 89 years, thousands of girls from the cities of Massachusetts came to Milford via train and automobile to ‘get away from it all’ for a couple of weeks in the Summer at Camp Holiday in Milford. Across New England and the United States, I’m sure there are still shoeboxes full of pictures, scrapbooks full of memories, and once young girls that frequently think back to the times they had at Camp Holiday. We would love to hear of your memories!