The rules were pretty simple at Camp Nepaug: No handouts and 24 hours of work per week would get a man a clean bed to sleep in and three meals a day. But fight or get drunk and you were sent to the camp jail. This was the life for hundreds of men sent to the camp in the wilds of Burlington in the 1930s.
Many of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Federal Transient Bureau camps of the 1930s have been razed, with only their concrete foundations and fieldstone chimneys remaining from the time they served to assist young men through The Great Depression. But somehow Nepaug's old jail — the only camp remnant left standing — escaped the wrecking ball.
I found myself on the steps of the jail on a hot and humid summer morning last week. Unfortunately, much of the interior and front of the jail serves as a blank canvas for local spray-paint artists — no reverence for local history. But much of the side and back mortar and fieldstone walls of the jail are clean. One can easily imagine the young men of the Civil Works Administration building the jail that serves as kind of a gateway into the ghostly camp.
Camp Nepaug was the first camp set up by the Federal Transient Bureau, and according to a Hartford Courant article from April 1934, the agency was created to "stop the wandering of persons, principally of men and some boys, from place to place always hoping they'll get a job in the next town."
After parking at a turnoff across from the jail, I made my way north along the dusty road. Old unmarked trails and asphalt roads will take visitors into the heart of the old camp where the New England forest works to cover up all traces it ever existed.
"In appearance it is not unlike a summer camp or hunting lodge on a large scale," the article read. "Not all transients will reach the camp, not all stay long at the shelter. Some cling to their hope of better times in the next town, and go away."
Along with the jail, an old map of the camp depicts two barracks, a dormitory, an ice house, an incinerator, a garage, a dining hall, the pump house director's home, a log cabin and a classroom. It's a sort of treasure map for those looking to go on a scavenger hunt for the old foundations.
I found a huge old chimney, the old garage and a foundation for one of the barracks. The foundation, at the edge of the woods, is losing its battle with the forest as large roots grow across the crumbling concrete. The path passes through a white pine forest, the ground covered with a deep carpet of orange needles to more foundations of the old camp.
"As a class they are not the oldtime hobos, gentlemen of the Jungle who knew and loved the road and sideroad," the Courant article read, "and preferred cooking in a tomato can in a sketchy camp beside a railroad track or down by the river. They are depression victims."
So come take a hike in the wilds of Burlington and visit the ghostly remains of a camp where men gathered to work, eat, sleep and hope for better times.
If you go: From Route 177 take Burlington Road to George Washington Turnpike and left on Stone Road. Follow and look for the jail on the left. Visit http://bit.ly/1xcHYKs http://www.burlingtonlandtrust.org/files/Nassahegon%20Working%20Plan%201943%20-%20Transient%20Camp.pdf for an old map of the camp.Copyright © 2015, CT Now