Fall is the time to reflect on the joys of summer. For many prominent Geneva residents of the last quarter of the 19th century, this meant remembering their annual August camping at Fossenvue on Seneca Lake – near the southern Seneca County line.
In July 1875 a group of seven friends gathered at the Lochland home of Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Miller wondering how they could have a good time this summer. Someone in the group suggested a camping adventure. By mutual agreement, they began to make their plans. They gathered fairly simple equipment and supplies – a few kitchen utensils, two oil stoves, two tents, a large Wilson rowboat, plenty of provisions, and a sufficient supply of blankets and “raincoats”.
The group and a dog departed from Geneva on one of the steamboats that regularly sailed Seneca Lake. They landed at Fassett’s (also known as Faussett’s and Caywood) Point, a mile north of North Hector (today known as Valois) on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, as they knew c was a good place for a picnic. Thus began the foundation of camp life that spanned more than a quarter of a century at a location that is still known today as Fossenvue or Camp Fossenvue.
To this camp each August came these seven founders, their children and many friends and several famous people such as Susan B. Anthony and Louis Agassiz Fuertes (an acclaimed ornithologist and illustrator). The camp became known for its gathering of the elite for recreational, creative and artistic pursuits, and its association with many eminent personalities from Cornell and Hobart and William Smith colleges. These visitors came by steamer across the lake or by train and then walked to the lake from the Lodi-Watkins road.
The original group of seven included: Elizabeth Smith Miller, her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller, her best friend Ruth Lesley Ver Planck, Emily Dilworth Snyder, Anne Palfrey Bridge, James Fowler and William Fitzhugh Miller. Many of these people, but especially Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Ann Fitzhugh Miller, were prominent leaders of the Geneva area woman suffrage movement and of the Geneva Political Equality Club. During a friendly competition for a camp name, Elizabeth Smith Miller suggested “Fossenvue”, which is an anagram for “we seven”. His prize was a kitchen apron.
For most of those years, campers spent the entire month of August at Camp Fossenvue. Daily activities included swimming, lounging in water hammocks, lawn tennis, hiking and archery, composing poetry, letters or music, singing, drawing, discussing the writer and philosophical artist John Ruskin or other writers and philosophers. The camp motto was “Kindle Friendship”. Campers ate outside under an open striped tent. Their diet included plenty of fresh eggs, fish, fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. Elizabeth Smith Miller was known for her superior cooking at home and at this camp. Every day there was a specific “feeling” or thought, which was read and discussed at every meal. As a rule, it was a writing by Ruskin. Poems were read at dinner. Some of the campers rowed south to West Agamemnon, some played the banjo or the piano, and some just spent the days sitting in the shade.
Initially, there were only tents. At first, small wooden buildings were built. In September 1899, the “regulars” presented Elizabeth Smith Miller with a new building for her 77th birthday, which became known as Queen’s Castle. The Queen’s Castle is a one-room wooden structure that is roughly square, 17 feet 6 inches by 18 feet, with a high ceiling and a massive stone fireplace. It was designed by North Carolina architect Arthur C. Nash, born in Geneva. It is perhaps no coincidence that the castle is the result of the work of seven men, the work started on the seventh day of the month and completed in just seven days! This building was placed on the national register in 1999, which was the 100th anniversary of its construction.
Annual August camping continued until 1901. In 1924, the site was sold to the Elmira Boy Scout Council for Camp Seneca. This Boy Scout camp continued to operate until 1989. In 1996, the United States Department of Agriculture purchased the property and made it part of the Finger Lakes National Forest.
Queen’s Castle is the only surviving structure of Camp Fossenvue.
Most likely, many who read this article will fondly remember their family’s summer camp, whether along one of the Finger Lakes or in the Adirondacks.