You can’t go too many places in South Jersey without running into someone who attended one of our camps in their youth.
Even those who didn’t attend one of our summer camps have likely visited Ocky for class trips, family friendly community events or one of our special weekend retreats. Many others participate (or have participated) as members, and have hiked or biked our many trails or taken a dip or a canoe trip in Lake Stockwell from Cherokee Beach. These days, our camp property is a glorious, bustling place, well known to locals and to those from afar.
But back in the early 1900s, this lovely parcel of land that YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Inc. now inhabits was an abandoned mill and cranberry bog, hidden deep within a forest of pine, oak, cedar and laurel, and far from any development.
YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Inc. was established in 1906 by the YMCAs of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Monmouth counties as a place for young men to spend their summers, and in the process, strengthen their characters. Prior to finding a permanent home in Medford in 1926, the camp was held in a number of locations, including sites on the Delaware River and in New Egypt.
The camp’s name honors Ockanickon, Chief of the Mantas Lenape tribe and an early Native American friend to the settlers in Burlington County. Henry Stockwell, a prominent Moorestown attorney, was responsible for the acquisition of the camp’s current home off Stokes Road in Medford. The camp’s main lake and day camp now bear Stockwell’s name.
In 1937, development of the property led to the opening of an overnight camp for girls – Camp Matollionequay, named for Princess Matollionequay, Chief Ockanickon’s wife. (Prior to 1936, female campers went to Ockanickon for a special girls-only two-week session late in the summer.)
Year-round programming started in the 1950s and 1960s, as nearby towns such as Medford and Medford Lakes developed and became more populated. Lake Stockwell Day Camp (Co-ed) was started in 1990, giving area children and teens a multitude of summer options. Member services became prominent in the 1990s as well. In the mid-1990s, New Jersey State Green Acres funds were used to protect the camp property from any future development. In 2011, camp acquired more than 200 contiguous acres to expand the property.
Today, our camp property consists of approximately 800 acres and our organization is well established as an integral part of community life throughout New Jersey and the surrounding mid-Atlantic States. We continue to welcome thousands of boys, girls, families, schools, corporate groups and others to our beautiful facility each year.
Chief Ockanickon, who died around 1861, is buried under a huge sycamore tree in the Friends Meetinghouse cemetery in Burlington City, NJ. A boulder near the tree bears his mark and a bronze plaque is etched with his final words: “Be plain and fair to all, as I have been.” To this day, our principal mission is to honor his words, by encouraging the Golden Rule to all who visit here: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
With that at its core, the camps have provided a foundation for countless lifelong friendships. They have instilled in the hearts of young men and women the courage to push beyond the familiar, and they have provided a safe place for them to integrate all the pieces of the puzzle known as growing up.