Y members — and those of us who went to summer camp there — know exactly what “Mahackeno” is. But plenty of non-members — and newcomers to town — don’t.
In 1938, the Y started a camp along the Saugatuck River near the new Merritt Parkway. Six years later, they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the camp.
F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said that his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.
Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion: $10,000.
In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.”
A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who, in 1639, met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.
Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away a rope swing that hung from the parkway bridge.
Today the camp includes a 12-acre canoeing and fishing pond; a climbing wall; playing fields and basketball courts. There’s still room for camp activities like archery and leather making, which Chief Mahackemo might recognize. It serves up to 250 children (grades 1-10) per 1-week session.
This Saturday (May 21, noon to 2 p.m.), the Y hosts an open house for new and prospective campers. There will be tours, and a chance to meet director Jennifer Perrault and her staff.
There’s also a noontime planting of a new “teaching garden” (weather permitting). The Y and Green Village Initiative are teaming up to help campers eat healthily. So much for s’mores and bug juice.
Fun fact: This Saturday marks the 80th anniversary of Edward T. Bedford’s death — go figure. No, I’ll do it for you: He was 82, and the Y he founded was just 8 years old.
After more than 70 years, Mahackeno is a venerable Westport institution. But it’s a tradition that may take a hiatus in 2013 and ’14, when the new Y is constructed on part of the property.
Y officials will explore the possibility of holding their camp elsewhere, perhaps at a public school.
As always, they look on the bright side. In 2015 — if all goes according to plan — Camp Mahackeno will reopen. There will be access to a water slide and a large gym, among other additions.
That’s something that Chief Mahackemo may not recognize, were he to return.
Then again, he’d be over 400 years old.
(For more information on Camp Mahackeno, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org)