Nature as Educator

In the early days of the school, when the weather was particularly nice, Mr. Gunn would declare a school holiday and lead his students on walks through the woods, which became their classroom.

His students recounted times when the whole school camped at Steep Rock in the summer.

In 1861, he led 30 boys and a dozen girls on a 40-mile walk from Washington to Welch’s Point in Milford, Connecticut, on Long Island Sound, where they camped for 10 days and performed military drills in preparation for their service in the Union Army. The students called in “gipsying.”

In the 1870s, the school shifted its focus closer to home, establishing a summer camp at Point Beautiful on Lake Waramaug. The lake’s “nearer waters, good fishing, and picturesque shores made it an ideal spot for a summer’s holiday,” Mr. Gunn’s students wrote in “The Master of The Gunnery.”

These summer camps were discontinued when the school year was altered to include a longer summer vacation instead of an extended winter break, but it is because of these activities that the American Camping Association credits Mr. Gunn as the founder of recreational camping in the United States.

“On these tramps, those who were fortunate enough to keep close to Mr. Gunn were filled with information about every bird and animal, tree and flower. The name and purpose of every natural object, the habits and haunts of every living thing seemed stored away in his mind and always at his command, and he loved especially to help his boys on to something of the same knowledge. A bird’s egg found by some sharp-eyed youngster, and borne up to Mr. Gunn in triumph, would call forth a chapter upon ornithology; and thus we all grew into closer relations with nature and her ways.”

"The Master of The Gunnery"

Camping on Lake Waramaug

The whole school, along with friends and colleagues of Mr. Gunn, populated the camp at Point Beautiful, participating in activities that included hunting, fishing, boating and swimming. According to his biographers, students would wake to a morning bugle call, followed by a second call for breakfast, and a later call for “Family Meeting,” which was conducted under a large elm. The boys listened to “words of advice and caution” from Mr. Gunn, who appointed “a committee to take charge of the swimmers,” captains for each boat, and two squads, one to supply wood for the campfire, and one to fetch fresh water from a nearby spring.

First camping trip at Welch's Point, Milford, 1861

“At night, we camped in two or three big tents, and the close of the second day found us settled down at the Point, with the salt waves breaking on the bluffs a few rods away,” Mr. Gunn's students wrote in "The Master of The Gunnery," noting that the lively trip was distinguished by “its sport in the surf, its evening songs, its dances on the turf by night, its ballgames...”

Note that some of the students are dressed as Zouaves in French-military inspired uniforms. On the far left are the donkeys and carts mentioned in Brian Back’s book, “The Keewaydin Way, A Portrait: 1893 ‒ 1983.”

Students preparing for camping in front of Conroy House, 1861

Students preparing for camp - 1860s

Female students camping at Milford, 1863