“You are a stranger here but once.”
For more than six decades, Camp Tuscazoar served as a Boy Scout camp, owned and operated by the Buckeye Council, headquartered in nearby Canton. The first scouts who camped in this area had no idea that this would become a full-time council camp. They just knew that they were going to spend the weekend at Bill English’s farm near Zoarville. Mr. English was one of the first commissioners in the McKinley Council (a predecessor of the current Buckeye Council) and a great friend of Scouting. So, whenever they could, the first Canton scout troops would escape the city and head down to the farm.
Troop 5 Cabin & Wilderness Camp
In 1920, Canton’s Troop 5 began building a cabin in the area. A year later, the newly-formed Canton Scout Council chose an open meadow a half-mile away for its summer camp. That first summer camp was held in 1921 at what is now the Johnny Appleseed campsite, and the camp then received a name: Wilderness Camp. The program and the popularity of the site continued to grow, and council leadership recognized the need for a permanent camp where the scouts could have their programs and activities. Thus, in 1924, council benefactor Frank G. Hoover provided the funds that bought the first tract of 65½ acres and placed it in trust for the benefit of the scouts. The next year, the name “Tuscazoar” was selected as the name for the new camp—a combination of the words Tuscarawas and Zoar, as both have played a significant role in the history of the land composing the camp.
Pipestone Camp Honors Program
Also in 1924, a camp honors program was developed by C. L. Riley, Charles Mills, and George Deaver. Known as “Pipestone“, the program was eventually expanded to five degrees, one of which could be earned each summer. The Pipestone program, which continues to this day in the Buckeye Council’s summer camp, has been very popular with campers over the years and is credited with Buckeye Council’s high repeat attendance at summer camp year after year.
The camp continued to take shape. Cabins were erected, wells were dug, a parade ground was built, and other facilities were constructed. In 1927 the centralized camp plan, used since the first Wilderness Camp, was changed to three troop villages. A nursery was started at the present Turkey campsite to launch a reforestation program for the many fields and clear-cut areas of the camp. In those days, Tuscazoar did not have many wooded areas. Eventually, craft houses were built in each of the villages and Scouts learned to make useful ceramic items fired in George “Chief” Deaver’s pottery kiln.
George M. “Chief” Deaver
“Chief” Deaver served as both Scout Executive of the McKinley Area Boy Scout Council and as leader of the Pipestone program. Because of this dual role, he became known to all Scouts as “Chief” Deaver, or simply as “Chief” to those who knew and worked with him. The relationship between “Chief” Deaver and Tuscazoar lasted more than 30 years.
By 1930, the camp was comprised of 160 acres and operations were in full swing, with almost all of the new camp buildings situated right along the Tuscarawas River. There were a number of reasons for this, the most pressing of which was that river access was important for swimming and bathing because the camp lacked shower facilities!
However, in the 1930’s trouble began brewing for the camp. Authorities announced a new WPA project for the area, a huge cement dam and reservoir to be constructed just below the camp under the authority of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. Plans called for water contained in the reservoir to be backed up into the camp’s central area. In addition, the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad, which ran between the camp and the river, would have to be relocated to a higher, newly-built, right-of-way. In order to construct this new right-of-way the hillsides along the river, on which many of the camp buildings sat, would have to be blasted away.
A higher railroad, demolition of most of the camp’s buildings, and a huge lake in the middle of the camp, taken together, meant the end of camp operations—and the council seriously contemplated abandoning Camp Tuscazoar. The council and the Conservancy District were also unable to agree on values for the camp’s buildings and land, and a lawsuit ensued. Things were settled in 1937 when George Markley, president of the Tuscarawas Mineral Land Company, agreed to sell the council a 336 acre tract south of the camp’s 160 acres, which included such camp landmarks as Buzzard’s Roost and most of the remaining Zoarite Iron Ore Mines—where the Separatists who founded Zoar mined iron ore to feed their furnace located just north of the camp.
Most importantly, this purchase provided land for the reconstruction of central camp facilities and persuaded the council to stay at Tuscazoar. Also, the Conservancy District agreed to construct an access culvert under both the old and new railroad rights-of-way to allow the scouts continued access to the river, and announced that the Dover Reservoir would be a dry reservoir, to contain water only when necessary to control flooding downstream. The old camp buildings were then demolished, the railroad relocated, and central camp rebuilt where it is today.
With the camp rebuilt, life at Tuscazoar settled into summer after summer of boys coming to camp, learning about the natural world and growing into healthy and productive citizens. Although attendance remained high throughout the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, the council determined that it was necessary to obtain a new camp and combine the operations of Camp Tuscazoar and its sister council camp, Camp Buckeye near Beach City. Thus, in 1984 Camp Tuscazoar was sold by the council to the Kimble Family of Dover, ending more than 60 years of Boy Scout ownership. The last Boy Scout summer camp held at Tuscazoar was over the summer of 1986. After the final week of summer camp ended, Camp Tuscazoar was closed and all useable equipment was transferred to the new council camp near Kensington, known as the Seven Ranges Scout Reservation.
Almost immediately, Camp Tuscazoar alumni formed the Camp Tuscazoar Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation with the stated purpose of “acquiring, perpetuating and maintaining Camp Tuscazoar.” The founding members believed that the camp was a valuable resource that should be kept open and maintained for the benefit of youth, families and the community and set about accomplishing those goals. The Kimble Family agreed to lease the camp to the Foundation and scouts began camping there again in 1987.
Zoarville Station Bridge
Another huge milestone was reached in December of 1989 when the Kimble Family generously donated 110 acres containing the central camp area to the Foundation. Several smaller purchases of land in 1997 from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District along the Tuscarawas River added a hiking trail, and later that year the Foundation accepted the donation of the Zoarville Station Bridge from Charles Lebold, which included a permanent right-of-way for a hiking trail from the bridge to SR 800. With the restoration of the bridge, Tuscazoar patrons can now access the Ohio-Erie Canal Corridor and safely hike north to Zoar and Ft. Laurens.
The Foundation has continued to strive to acquire the remainder of the camp while improving camp facilities. Several more structures have been added, including the W. C. Moorhead Museum, a repository of Scouting and camp memorabilia, and the Richard Belcher Memorial Lodge, a cabin dedicated to Dr. Richard Belcher, a now-deceased former camper from North Canton. In 2006, a grant from the Clean Ohio Fund enabled the purchase of another 241 acres of the camp by the Foundation. And, in 2022, with grant assistance from the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, another 184 acres were acquired, increasing the camp’s total size to just under 800 acres.
The camp has hosted numerous groups for a multitude of activities, from college students fulfilling community service degree requirements to weddings. The Foundation has also re-established a good working relationship with former camp owner Buckeye Council. The Foundation is a Friend of Scouting and strives to assist the council whenever it can. Scouts still camp at Tuscazoar, as their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them began doing more than 100 years ago. These youth, and the friends and families that now call the camp home, help us “keep the spirit burning.”
In the words of early camp leader I.W. Delp:
“Reluctantly we must turn away from the past so rich in glamour, and get ourselves back to the realities of the present and the promises of the future. The river no longer feels the dip of Indian paddle. No more do the stealthy feet of the red man tread the trails. Stilled forever are the sounds of Zoarite mining, and the felling of trees for the charcoal burners. A new day is at hand, with problems no less perplexing, and requiring no less sterling qualities of manhood for their solution. As the wilderness built sturdy bodies and splendid characters so necessary for its conquest, so does it now for the living that looms ahead. In its few years, a thousand boys have come to love Tuscazoar. In their turn, a host of others will do the same. As with those who have gone before, they, too, will climb the hilltops to ponder the heroism, labors, and sacrifices of those who have built this valley, and to resolve to meet the world with as high ideals and noble purposes. – When in that distant day, if ever it comes, and a final taps sounds for Tuscazoar, may it truly be said, “Here was done a good work.”