Inside the Wigwam: The Early History of Camp’s “Hub of Activity”

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Now regarded as the central building at Camp, the Wigwam is a staple of the Arcadia experience. It’s where Campers check in when they first arrive for vacation; participate in ping-pong tournaments, play cards, and work puzzles; and enjoy an ice cream cone while visiting with friends and family. As we celebrate Camp’s 100th Season, we’re taking a look back at the early history of “the hub of activity for Camp” that is the Wigwam. 

The Wigwam was built by former caretaker, Leo Tondu, in 1947 to create space for the blossoming Camp functions which the Assembly building—formerly known as the “Administration Building”—had outgrown.  Not only was the “Ad Building” used for Camp’s office, men’s dormitories, and a gathering hall for guests, but it was also full of the games for indoor recreation and housed Camp’s ice cream shop. After 25 years, it was time to expand into a new space. 

Camp Arcadia is known for its historic buildings—the Inn, Assembly, and Wigwam included— but a fascinating piece of the RKD story is Camp’s decor, which has livened the guest experience since early on. The Wigwam building is no exception, as its two main guest areas are embellished with memorabilia, including the decorations in Camp’s indoor game and recreation room, the Round-Up. Stephanie Jass describes the space’s purpose in Days Filled with Sunshine: 100 Years of Camp Arcadia:

The Round-Up provided a badly needed indoor recreation space for everything that had been crammed into the southwest end of the Assembly: a piano, a two-way bowling alley, ping pong tables, and indoor shuffleboard. In addition, there was a large fireplace and tables and chairs, meaning the entire space could be used to conduct programs on cold or rainy days.

After visiting Camp, guests won’t soon forget The Round-Up, with its numerous games, big fireplace, and over-the-top Western-themed decor. In fact, some might wonder how we came to acquire some of the trademark features of this treasured space that create an atmosphere which some guests describe to be “like stepping back in time.”  

[su_image_carousel source=”media: 16206,16204,16205″ slides_style=”minimal” crop=”16:9″ columns=”3″ align=”center” max_width=”1000″ arrows=”no” dots=”no” link=”image” outline=”no”]One season, Camp’s first director, William “Chief” and his wife Hildegard “Mom” Weiherman were headed from Chicago to Arcadia for the summer, and they stopped at a barn sale along the way. They came across a huge pile of horse collars they decided would make the perfect decor for the newly-built indoor rec room. As the story goes, Chief first looked at the car, then at the pile of horse collars, then back at the car, and finally at Mom. He proceeded to drive Mom to the closest train station and dropped her off, saying “I’ll meet you at the other end.” Chief then returned to the barn sale, paid for the pile of horse collars, and drove along the shore to RKD with a carload of repurposed decor. After unloading the pile, he promptly drove to the train station to pick up Mom. 

The Weihermans went to great lengths to create a unique experience for all guests, as evidenced by their devotion to extravagant decorations. If you stop by the Round-Up this summer, be sure to make note of the antique horse collars framing light fixtures which keep the space well-lit for ping-pong players and card-loving campers. 

As Arcadians know, a trip through the Wigwam lobby will take them from the Round-Up to Camp’s ice cream and merchandise shop, the Trading Post. The concept of the Trading Post dates back to early on, when Campers would sneak off to Martineaus’s drug store in town to purchase ice cream and other treats on warm summer days. In an effort to keep the camp community together on-site and accommodate the sweet tooth of many young campers, the Weihermans began serving ice cream out of what we now know as the Assembly. The ice cream shop business was successful enough to deserve its very own space in the new building, and thus, the Trading Post we know and love was born. Stephanie Jass writes about the opportunities the new space afforded: 

RKD finally had a soda fountain that rivaled Martineau’s drug store as the place to get ice cream and snacks—the Trading Post even had a grill for burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches! The added space allowed the Weihermans to sell more items like glassware, postcards, pennants, T-shirts, and songbooks, which had always generated steady income for Camp.

The TP is another interesting example of Camp’s preservation of the Weihermans’ legacy. The hand painted walls and trim in the Trading Post are the handiwork of Mom and daughter Esther, also known as “Rinkie.” Rinkie, a talented artist, was responsible for the design of signage camp-wide. Camp’s Archives Department works to preserve her signature lettering and designs found throughout the Wigwam, in the TP, and on the columns and sign at the building’s entrance.[su_image_carousel source=”media: 16201,16200,16199,16196″ slides_style=”minimal” crop=”16:9″ columns=”3″ align=”center” max_width=”1000″ arrows=”yes” dots=”no” link=”image” outline=”no”]

Camp upholds the Weiherman legacy by preserving much of the original decor, which can be found sitewide to this day, but the TP didn’t always look the way it does now. Before the Wigwam was renovated in 2002, most of the space where you find booth seating now was designated for merchandise. In addition to her passion for decorating Camp spaces, Mom Weiherman was proud to provide all kinds of souvenirs for purchase in the TP. In the rocky period preceding the formation of the LCA, most of Mom’s souvenir glassware was either discarded or sold for as little as a penny. The same group of concerned Arcadians who spearheaded Operation Keep Arcadia saved the last batch of her treasured glassware.  Today, in Mom’s honor, Camp displays the remaining glassware campers might have once purchased in the Trading Post’s patio-facing windows. Keep an eye out for it the next time you visit the TP for a Chief Shake or a Mom Pop. 

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As we approach Camp Arcadia’s 100th Summer Season, we would love to hear your Wigwam memories and stories. Be sure to check out the 100th Anniversary webpage for opportunities to share what Camp Arcadia means to you and pre-order your very own copy of Days Filled with Sunshine: 100 Years of Camp Arcadia



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