The founders of Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan had a vision of finding a location for a summer camp for the young people of the North Shore Area Council, BSA. The organizers sought to provide an outdoor experience that youth could not achieve in their home area, as well as a location with ample land on which to expand. The first Scout Executive, Walter MacPeek, was assigned the task of locating a site. MacPeek spent 10 days searching around Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Failing to find what he wanted, a chance meeting at the Elcho Inn with Winnetkan who had a interest in the Thunder Lake Lumber Co. brought the suggestion of land near Pearson, Wisconsin, as a site. With major gifts from General Wood and Albert P. Snite, the purchase from Walter J. Hammond and the C.W. Fish Lumber Company was made possible. The foresight of these men led to buying the land surrounding the lake, so the original 240 acres of present East Camp at Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan was increased to 450 acres within a few years. The founders’ dream of purchasing their own summer camp was fulfilled on July 26, 1928 under the leadership of Walter MacPeek. The location was exactly what they were looking for and more.
Since its conception, Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan has become of the North Shore Area Council’s, and later, the Northeast Illinois Councils, finest and biggest assets. It has provided countless young people, adult leaders, and their families with an opportunity to enjoy the Northwoods of Wisconsin. By attending Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan, all participants were given the opportunity to learn Scout skills, develop leadership abilities, grow as individuals, and establish long-lasting friendship.
Under of the leadership of Scout Executive Walter MacPeek, the Camping Comittee developed a plan for a summer camp. It was decided to erect numerous building to prepare for the grand opening of the camp in the summer of 1929. Among the structures built were a dining hall, camp office, waterfront boathouse, icehouse, and many other buildings. on 240 acres, campsites were cleared out close to the camp office and dining hall. The primitive campsites had no running water and used simple latrines and washstands. At the time, the camp used wall tents, as is the case today. The scouts who attended Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan in the early years would take a train to Elcho, Wisconsin, from Highland Park, Illinois. After arriving in Elcho, they would be transported to the west side of Spring Lake. Scouts would unload their gear and place it in a large US Navy barge, which would take it across to the barge dock on the east shore of Spring Lake, which would later be unofficially renamed Lake Killian.
East Camp comprises the “original” land of Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation, and thus has all the atmosphere and rich tradition of one of the oldest scout camps in the nation. The aquatics area is still situated on the sandy beach as it was back then, and other features are unchanged by time. But, much of the camp was altered in the 1970’s to allow for more scouts to enjoy this incredible facility. Other sights to see in the East Camp included the original Order of the Arrow Lodge, the birch bark canoe hanging in the dining hall, and the majestic view of Lake Killian from the fire bowl.
Following World War II Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation began a long period of growth. Expansion of the current camp was not enough to keep pace with the scouts journeying to the Northwoods for the MaKaJa Spirit. Under the leadership of Scout Executive Edwin A. Schwechel the Northshore Area Council began the process of adding a second camp to the West shore of Lake Killian. Buying additional property from farmer and staff member Burnam Skidmore, the council began building the needed facilities to double Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan’s opportunities. Finally after two years of planning and building, West Camp opened in June 1959 turning Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation into a two camp facility. Through the years both camps have continued to expand with West Camp opening two additional campsites from its original frontiersman named sites. In recent history West Camp has seen improvements to its Ecology Lodge, Field Archery, and the addition of new program areas Pinnacle & Trailblazer. Troops and Staff still line up twice a day circling the Flagpole in the giant field for morning and evening flag.
Images of America – Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan
Former staff members Matt Horbal and Ian Hopkins published abook about the history of Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan in 2014. Check out a copy of the book at our camp store or buy it here on Amazon.
• CampMakajawan.org. The Unofficial Camp Archive