The Highlands Archives
Since 1904: Oldest Camp west of the alleghenies
Welcome to the Camp Highlands Archives! 

The Parent Site of the Highlands Archives is: 

    Welcome to the world of Camp Highlands nostalgia. How fantastic to get these images out of their boxes in the back room of the Office and onto the World Wide Web.  You won’t find a more All-American collection of photographs...anywhere!  Highlands is baseball and apple pie.  There is a provocative treasure trove of writings here as well, enough to keep you coming back over and over again.  Our archives remind us Highlands could only have happened in the United States.  To be more specific, Camp could only have happened in the glacial lakes' region of Northern Wisconsin!  If you could choose any spot in the world to create a summer camp, any spot at all, the northeast end of Plum Lake would certainly be a contender!  
    What a special set of circumstances it was that drove our founder to get on a train in downtown Chicago to go ‘Up North’, to the ‘end of the line’, with his small band of boys from the University of Chicago Laboratory School.  (We credit the parents, who were apparently tuned in to the few camps back east to precede us, with prodding Mr. Gillet to start a camp.)  What a wonderful location they found at the northeast end of Plum Lake!  What a beautiful culture they, and their successors, built for us.  Highlands has been the beneficiary of so much love, and is the source of so many wonderful memories for so many.  For some of us, Camp Highlands was the highlight...or is the highlight, of our lives.  This is the sentiment behind The Archives.     

Diving Into The Past - The Early Years

    We come to Highlands for the same reasons today as our founders did in 1904: nature, fellowship, physical and personal growth, tradition, and of course fun!  Highlands has always been a haven from the troubles of the world.  In 1904, there were no roads into the area (the automobile was still a novelty).  There were several railroad lines in the Northwoods, and this is how camp came to be on Plum Lake. The railroad existed because of the forests, which were clear cut by the logging industry in the late 1800s.  The railroad companies took advantage of the logging rails to carry up those looking to escape the city, in our case a dirty Chicago. One of these groups of escapees was the Principal of the University of Chicago Lab School and his small band of first time Highlanders.

    The first summer was consumed with cutting trees, pulling stumps, making dirt paths, and clearing underbrush while living in a small cottage and just one tent.  Everything was done with man (and boy!) power, horse power and the Highlands Launch.  There was no electricity, no telephone.  Provisions were purchased in Star Lake City and boated to camp. (Eventually, camp had a large garden, now the golf course.)  Ice was cut by the caretaker in the winter and stacked in an icehouse to cool food in the summer time.  

    The land/lake connection grew, as row boats and canoes were purchased, piers built, and a boathouse constructed. Fishing was popular, as evident in the pictures on the site.  (There were more fish then than now, of course!)  Diving was part of the regimen as well, and as you can see, we had some talented Seniors, and an excellent diving coach in Dr. Angus Frew, our Senior Head Counselor from 1905 - 1940.  A small area on what we now refer to as Junior Hill was Camp’s heart.  Softball was played here (referred to as “indoor”), and eventually tennis. And of course, wilderness tripping has always been a huge part of the Highlands culture. 

    By 1917 camp  had (with the hard work of ALL of the men and boys) built its own tennis courts and ball field.  We use these same areas today.  This was also the time Doc began building “lodges” where tents had been.  In 1922, Doc built the first version of the dining hall we use today.  The first week of June, 1925, the new dining hall burned to the ground.  The season was delayed several weeks while a near replica was built in about a month!  It seems amazing that such a solid building, still exactly the same today as it was in 1925, was built in such a rush.  In 1924 the first version of the Tom Monilaw Memorial Clubhouse was built.  Doc’s son Tom, pictured holding his prize Musky at the top of the page, was one of the passengers tragically killed in a car/train accident in the fall of 1921.  He and his fraternity brothers were driving to a U. of C. football game against Princeton.  (Read the whole story:  Tom Monilaw)

    The money for the new memorial clubhouse was raised by Dunlap ‘Dunny’ Clark, the U. of C. fraternity brother of Tom’s who was in the heart wrenching position of reporting the news of  Tom’s death to Doc and Mabel at their home in Hyde Park in Chicago.  Dunny Clark was one of the first true Highlands’ Men, and this moment was certainly one of the most traumatic in the lives of the Monilaw family...and Dunny as well.  Dunny admired Doc greatly and had helped get Tom into his fraternity.  In 1916, he had written the Camp Highlands version of Robert Service’s poem, Goodbye, Little Tent, read to this day by Mike Bachmann at the Banquet... 

    The Wisconsin camping industry grew up around Camp Highlands.  The year after CH was founded, Camp Minocqua had its first season.  CM was founded by Dr. John Sprague, a teacher at the Chicago Latin School.  He had been approached by the school’s director, who had received about 20 or 30 inquiries from parents about sending their boys to camp.  So again, it was the parents driving these developments.  And it was no accident this had happened, Chicago Latin and the University of Chicago Lab school have always been closely tied.  Sadly, Camp Minocqua eventually ceased operations in 1973.  The friendly rivalry between CH and CM had been a source of many happy adventures.  In the early years, it took a full day to get from one camp to the other.  The trip included travel by boat, wagon, and train.  Campers and Counselors camped out for two nights on the lake of the host camp, and ate in the host camp’s dining hall.  A full day of competition was had, usually in baseball, tennis, and swimming.       

    Several synchronicities led to a boom in Northwoods’ summer camps in the first half of the 20th century.  Train travel into the area was gradually outmoded as the automobile opened the area up to anyone with access to a car.  And as America was drawn into World War 1, there was a realization boys raised in the city were not physically prepared for military service.  Summer camps evolved to play more of a role on this front.  Of course, camp was a ball, and word of mouth took hold as well.  CH still has many historic friendships in the area, including Red Arrow Camp on Trout Lake (1920, Boys), Clearwater Camp on Lake Tomahawk (founded by Sara Holiday, Dr. Sprague’s wife, 1933, Girls), Red Pine Camp on Clear Lake (1937, Girls), and Camp Nicolet on Franklin Lake (1944, Girls). 

Historic Perspective - The Highlands Way

    Like Henry David Thoreau, who left the city behind for a cabin on Walden Lake, we enjoy the simple life at CH.  Both Harry O. Gillet and William J. Monilaw were of Thoreau’s time, both born in the heart of the 19th century. By 1904, America had moved completely into a paradigm that valued going ‘back to nature’.  Nature had become something to cherish, not fear and conquer.  Cities had become toxic, and if nothing else, a trip to the Northwoods offered a marvelous antidote.  We believe in this antidote today!...  

    Nature.  At Highlands, things that separate us from the earth are left at home.  Indeed, this goes as far as cabins without running water or electricity.  Natural rhythms, inner quiet, the feeling of lake water on the skin and the sounds of a wild forest...are all part of life at CH.  The five senses are not only used, they are thoroughly enlivened.  The body winds down with the sun, and as we go to sleep we feel the presence of the moon rising up over Plum Lake, and are awed by the millions of stars in the black North Woods sky; between dreams, we hear the cries of loons and the croaking of bullfrogs.  As the sun comes up over the pines across the bay, the day is welcomed with a bracing dip into the ‘drink’!  Camp is a way back to era’s past, to a life where no watch is necessary - where there is time to listen, time to play, and time to just be.

    Fellowship.  Friendships at Camp are formed through time spent in this natural environment.  We play and learn to see what’s inside, see what we can do, to live life fully and experience the process of self-improvement.  When a boy is himself, he forms real friendships.  He is known for who he really is.  Perhaps this is why Highlands friendships seem so easy even decades down the road.  The ‘real world‘ matters a whole lot less.  All materiality, all pretense, is meaningless the moment you come to Camp, and the magical woods and lakes make this truth all the more evident.       

    Physical and personal growth.  To quote Mike Bachmann, “The kind of person you are” is what life is all about - and is at the root of Camp Highlands.  Principles passed down from generation to generation form our genealogy.  If over the summers a camper adopts the mores of an old-fashioned American gentleman - well then a Highlands Man is he!  Being number one is not the goal.  Yes, challenge.  Yes, situations that require courage.  Yes, perseverance and self control.  Opportunities for growth are everywhere at Highlands:  Jumping off Tower Three for the first time.  Swimming to Sayner.  Thinking like a team player.  Helping a cabin mate cross a portage.  Being on your own.  Mastering a sloop.  Skiing on one ski, or no skis!  Living the Honor Camper Qualities.  Making it all the way across Isle Royale with a 25 pound pack on your back.  Awakening to the idea of consideration - and putting others first.  An ever deepening love of the wild.  Sharing what you are good at.  Being yourself!  These are all things we celebrate at CH.      

    Tradition.  Our past is our present, and our future our past.  The great traditions established by Harry O. Gillet and Doctor Monilaw lie at the heart of life at Camp:  lantern slides, kerchiefs, A.C.s, Senior Honor Tripper, Dinglebats, the morning dip, turkey dinner after Sunday Assembly, canoeing the Boundary Waters, hiking Isle Royale, the Porkies, (and now Pictured Rocks), sailing (and now sea kayaking) the Apostles, Stunt Night, Capture the Flag, the Steeplechase, and Fourth of July track meet, inspection (yes, inspection!), the Honor Camper qualities, I’m Third, Banquet.  The list goes on and on!

    Fun is old fashioned fun!  The simple act of diving into Plum Lake is a daily pleasure -  we swim, and we swim again!  We hike and then we hike again the next day, and the next.  We gather for meals in the dining hall, picnics on the Hill, and toasted marshmallows at the campfire.  We play!  We laugh, and laugh some more!  We watch eagles soar, and listen to the wind in the pines.  And we sing!  We sing at breakfast and we sing at Assembly, and we sing at Sunday Night Sing!  

Here’s a song we have sung for one hundred years!:

“Highlands Loyalty”

Camp Highlands we’re true to you, Wisconsin Highlands ever dear!
Camp Highlands we’re true to you, that we are loyal never fear.  Rah, Rah!
Camp Highlands we’re true to you, we greet you now with cheer and song!
With deeds of worth and tested courage strong, Camp Highlands, we’re true to you!

Highlands, Highlands, High - lands, Yea!
Highlands, Highlands, High - lands, Yea!
The Camp, the Camp, the Camp, Yea!

(repeat indefinitely!)



Clockwise from upper left:  Grandpa James Frew, Camp’s colorful baker from 1909 - 1928 helps celebrate the first Camp Birthday celebration in 1914, Doc’s first year as owner.  The Camp Birthday is now celebrated the 2nd Saturday of Second Term.  Next: Diving Towers Extraordinaire!  Senior campers show us their stuff, 1921.  Next: Tom Monilaw, Doc’s only son, holding his prize circa 1914.    Next: Dr. Angus ‘Froctor’ Frew and Dr. William J. Monilaw (‘Doc’) shake hands in the 30s.  “Froctor” was the son of Grandma and Grandpa Frew, and Senior Head Counselor from 1905 - 1940.  Next: “Going for the Mail”, a picture taken by James Colby of the Northern Photo Company, was taken standing on the edge of the boathouse pier with Hooks Point in the background.  The driver is Camp’s first caretaker, Ernie Alton.  Ernie was also the first Mayor of Sayner.  The Highlands Launch was purchased in 1905, retired in 1960,  and sits in front of the Vilas County Historical Museum in Sayner today. 

Above Left:  The wild, storied peninsula across from Camp: Hook’s Point, as captured by Senior Head Counselor Ross Freeland in 2009.  The views around Camp have not changed.  (See the Archives Magazine for more on Hook’s Point.) 

Left:  Clearing Trees. We see the genesis of Camp Highlands (our only photo from 1904), as this small group of University of Chicago Lab School students and Malcomb Kester (Harry O. Gillet’s first staff member) cuts a trail along what today is the path from the clubhouse to the office. 

(Note: "Oldest Camp West of the Alleghenies" refers to our status as the oldest private camp west of the Alleghenies.  There are several YMCA camps that are older than CH.)

“Off to Tenderfoot”  The old boathouse, constructed in 1906, just west of where cabin 8 stands today.  A camping trip departs with a warm sendoff, 1916. 

“All In!”  The first Senior swimming pier, 1916. On the pier is ‘Froctor’, Dr. Angus Frew, camps Senior Head Counselor (in white hat) and world class diving coach!  


William ‘Perch’ Reeve, University of Chicago Lab School educator and CH counselor, and camper, hold up several days’ catch from the area. 1914

Read more about the Chicago Lab School:

The Lab School is one of our nation’s elite schools:

The parent site of the Camp Highlands Archives is:

Camp’s historic cabins have the lowest possible carbon footprint:  Zero!

Left:  The first cabins were built in 1917, and burned in the Dining Hall fire of 1925.  This photo is taken looking towards the Marina from where Cabin 14 stands today. 

The magic forest along the shores of Back Bay.  On a trail like this, problems disappear, ego vanishes...only the sights and sounds of the forest exist.  The woods say to us, “your troubles are really nothing.  Just be.”

Highlands Friends:  Highlands’ Hall of Famer Fred Winter, center, and his Senior Row staff.  1940s

Staff member Al Pfanstiehl took wonderful portraits of campers and counselors in the mid to late ‘30s, including this one of John Ambruster, a first generation CH man.  His son (David) and grandsons (Forest Ambruster & Tyler Sherry) have since been with us.  You can view our Pfanstiehl collection on the Monilaw Years page.  Aerial shot of the east end of Plum Lake (we think taken in the ‘20s) is a contribution of Jane Field.  Jane’s family has owned Wilmot’s Island (foreground) since 1908.  Five Pines Island, Hooks Point and the CH peninsula are all pictured here!

In 1928, the Whang Doodle was erected.  This only lasted about ten years.  The trapeze was a good tool for entering the water in strange positions - not a good thing!

The Camp Song was adapted for CH from the University of Chicago fight song by J. Beach Cragun, known at Camp as ‘Kewpie’.  Taken here from the 1916 Dinglebat.  ‘Kewpie’ was at the University and taught music at Camp.  He lived at 6120 University Avenue, Chicago.  See Kewpie and his orchestra pictured in the Monilaw Years.

“Chicago Loyalty”

Chicago we’re true to you!  Our Alma Mater ever dear!  Chicago we’re true to you!  That we are loyal never fear!  Rah, Rah!.... 




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