Chief Mahackemo

Mahackeno” has become shorthand for the Westport Y‘s future home.

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.

Canoeing -- a timeless Mahackeno activity.

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.

The Camp Mahackeno pool staff -- in 1985.

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

Mahackeno staff and campers -- a timeless tableau.

10 responses to “Chief Mahackemo

  1. I remember canoeing TO CATCH THE PAINTED TURTLES! And doing a surival test in the river (to see how long we could tread water).

  2. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I remember going up there with our family for some kind of family day. We swam in the river and played on a huge black tube we called “Moby Dick.” Anyone else remember that??? It had to be in the mid to late 50s. I remember it well and how much fun we had there.

  3. I worked there one summer – maybe 1963? – and wrote the Camp Newsletter! Great fun!

  4. Whether at camp or just wandering the woods, I made Mahackeno my summer backyard. Biking the trails from clearing to clearing, playing tag, hide-and-seek, capture the flag or a myriad of real-life childhood fantasy games made every day something to look forward to! Poison ivy be damned!

    I also liked the corporate picnics that you could crash on the weekends.

  5. I was a Mahackeno camper for years. Friends I made there I encountered again in high school and remain my friends more than 50 years later. Nancy, there were two big inflated rubber rafts moored in the Saugatuck — Moby Dick (named in honor of the Gregory Peck movie of the same name that was a hit in the 50s) and Moby Joe.

  6. Nice write-up, and a treat to hear others’ memories. More memories might be spurred by this photo gallery showing scenes of Mahackeno from the late 1940s (maybe early ’50s?):!/media/set/?set=a.10150199046343241.312256.175856988240

    And I have seen a photo of the “Moby Dick” inflatable that used to be anchored in Lees Pond. Will try to scan and get posted that so all can see; it looks really cool!

    Capturing these memories of Mahackeno for posterity is something the Family Y hopes to do, perhaps in partnership with our friends from the WHS. Stay tuned — and dig out those old photo albums and summer journals!
    Scott Smith
    Westport Weston Family Y

    • Great photos. I wish I had known about them — I could have stolen (I mean, borrowed) them for my post. Thanks for the link!

  7. Catherine Burnett

    Wasn’t the the 1st Friday the 13th filmed there — with many cast members from the Staples class of ’83?

  8. Ari Lehman was in it (as “the hand coming out of the water,” as I recall) — but I don’t think it was filmed there, nor do I think it included other Westporters in the cast. It was, however, directed by Sean Cunningham, who lived in Westport at the time.

    Here’s the info on IMDB:

  9. Catherine Burnett

    Yes, Ari Lehman as Jason! Also, the campfire scene at the very beginning has several ’83-ers. Of particular note is Maria who was on the girls varsity soccer squad among them.