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21 April 2017

Locating the Remains of White Birch Camp (near Bethlehem, NH)


This is a story about a small piece of trivia related to the history of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  And although it conveys nothing of monumental significance, it's harmless enough to sometimes get wildly enthusiastic about little things.  As Henry Thoreau is quoted as saying: "None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."

And so, in late Winter of 2017, a Facebook friend of mine asked if I had ever visited the remains of a place named White Birch Camp.  Initially, I didn't recognize the name and asked her for more details.  I was surprised by her response which pointed out that one of my old blogs contained an image of a vintage map, and on that map was a spot that was labeled as White Birch Camp.

The blog posting she referenced was totally unrelated to White Birch Camp, but once I took a look at the old map, things started to fall into place.  I then recalled that many years ago I tried to locate White Birch Camp.  However, I had picked the worst possible time to do so.  Visibility was poor due to fully-formed leaves on all the trees and underbrush, plus it was at the peak of tick season!  Several ticks found me, but I found nothing on that exploration.


Oftentimes, things have a funny way of working out.  Had it not been for the question posed to me by my Facebook friend, I might have never again gone searching for the remains of White Birch Camp.  However, her query rekindled my interest, and so I eagerly embarked on another exploration.

Having learned from the poor timing of my previous attempt, I chose a day in early Spring, well before the emergence of leaves and the dreaded ticks.  Having no other information to rely on, I went to the same GPS location as I did several years ago.  And upon arriving there, I once again found nothing!  HOWEVER, since the underbrush was still flattened from the winter snowpack, it enabled me to see a faint pathway.  This faded corridor was followed for about 300 feet and it led to a dilapidated stone chimney which presumably belonged to White Birch Camp.  Eureka!


Now, you might ask several questions, such as what exactly was White Birch Camp, and when was it built, and when was it abandoned, etc?  Unfortunately, at this point I have no answers, despite having reached out to several historical organizations and knowledgeable individuals.  

All I've been able to discover thus far is that vintage editions AMC's White Mountain Guide (WMG) contains mention of White Birch Camp within the text, and this name appears on maps beginning with the 1931 edition of the WMG, and is last seen in the 1969 edition.  So, presumably the camp must have been in existence for about 40 years, at least.

As to why White Birch Camp no longer appeared on WMG maps after 1969, who knows?  Several hypotheses have been suggested to me, such as the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) purchased the land where this camp was located, and after that, the camp ceased to exist.  Or, perhaps the camp was abandoned when the WMNF authorized an extensive logging operation in the vicinity where the camp was located?

There are many other interesting questions about this White Birch Camp, but answers might never be forthcoming.  For example, it would be fascinating to know things such as whether this was camp was purely a private family camp, or perhaps was a place that could be rented, or maybe a youth camp, or whatever.


Shown below is an excerpt from the 1940 edition of AMC's White Mountain Guide (WMG). A red arrow points to the location of White Birch Camp.

Excerpt from the 1940 edition of AMC's White Mountain Guide (WMG).  Red arrow points to the location of White Birch Camp.
In addition to being shown on WMG maps, it's also mentioned in trail description text, such as the excerpt below from the 1934 WMG:

"Gale River Trail:  This trail leaves the Daniel Webster Highway opposite the point where the road from Bethlehem Station enters from the N. This junction is known as “Five Corners” and is a few hundred yds. N.E. of Gale River Forest Camp.  At 0.7 mi. the trail diverges L., leaving the telephone wires, at a sign ‘White Birch Camp’.”

It would be wonderful to see a vintage photo of the signage mentioned in the old WMG, and/or of the old camp itself.  However, the existence of any such photos is probably doubtful, at best.

Without a photo of White Birch Camp, one can only fantasize as to how it appeared when intact.  Perhaps it might have looked something like the drawing shown below?
Could White Birch Camp looked something like what is seen in this drawing?


If any significant information about this old camp becomes available in the future, I'll update this blog posting with an addendum.

In the meantime, shown below are some snapshots taken during my exploration of White Birch Camp during early Springtime of 2017.
Remnants of a stone structure which presumably was the chimney for White Birch Camp.
Collage of other snapshots taken of the stone structure from different viewing angles.
Some glass fragments were seen around the stone structure. However, nothing was recognizable other than the piece of bottle shown in the LEFT panel.  Perhaps it was a milk bottle such as the one shown in the RIGHT panel?
A few feet from the stone structure is a curious depression (LEFT panel), and near the depression is a partially exposed metal pipe (RIGHT panel).  The pipe heads steeply DOWNHILL toward a nearby brook. So, maybe the pipe was some sort of drain, or perhaps there was a mechanical pump to bring water UPHILL from the brook to the camp?
This picturesque little cascade is a few hundred feet from the camp. It's not visible from the camp.  But it's definitely within earshot. I could clearly hear it from the camp!



Karl said...

Hi John,

Wow, this is cool stuff. So you don't know any other hikers/historian's that have visited this camp in the recent past? Did it look like any relics were propped up from others who have visited, like the bottle? Hopefully this post will help unearth someone who has some clues as to what this camp was used for. Really cool stuff!


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Karl,

Yes, I’m also hopeful that this posting will serve to unearth some additional information about White Birch Camp. However, I’m beginning to suspect that there might be nothing forthcoming, unless by some chance I can somehow come in contact with a living family member who is a descendant of the owner of the property. Such a person could provide some valuable information . . . and who knows, maybe even an old photo!

Perhaps a likely scenario about this camp is that it was nothing more than an insignificant structure that just happened to be located near a hiking trail, and it was simply used as a landmark to provide guidance to hikers. Sort of similar to using a natural land feature such as a large boulder, etc to tell hikers where to make a turn.

Regarding your question about relics, literally all I found was the exposed segment of pipe shown in one of my photos, plus the fragment of a bottle. As mentioned, there were a number of glass fragments which were shattered beyond recognition, possibly as a result of being used for target practice by hunters over the years.


Rita Wechter said...

I agree with Karl that this is really cool stuff, John!
It reminds me of my last post about the Sinagua ruins in Arizona. A real mystery!
I wish I was a novelist. Wouldn't it be great to let your imagination run wild creating a story to go along with the origin, use, and disappearance of White Birch Camp?
Also, great quote by Thoreau at the beginning of the post!

1HappyHiker said...

Rita, thanks for reading my blog and posting your thoughts.

Regarding your comment about writing something such as a genre fiction about White Birch Camp, there's always an appetite for a good story that can transport readers to another place and time. I don’t have the inclination or the talent to create such a piece of work . . . but who knows, perhaps this posting might inspire someone to use White Birch Camp as a backdrop for a novel. :-)