More Than a House

by Adam Kaplan

There are, I believe, two particular places in camp that serve myriad purposes. One is the Rec Hall, which is a dining hall, a talent showcase, a rainy day respite, a repository of history, etc. The other is the Big House, which actually has served as all of that over the years, too, as well as an office, a home, a project site, a gathering place, a museum of sorts, even a kind of beacon on a hill. In other words, to call it simply a big house is to sell it short.

First, consider its age. It was built in 1898. That’s the year the Spanish-American War began and ended. The first American-built automobile was sold. Baseball’s 12 big league teams had names like the Cleveland Spiders, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, the Boston Beaneaters. Vladimir Lenin and Annie Oakley and Teddy Roosevelt and H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds) were making impacts.


It was built to be a home – for John Phillip Weyerhaeuser, who oversaw construction of a white, frame, Palladian structure. Three stories. Eight bedrooms. Five fireplaces. When the property of the Lake Nebagamon Lumber Company became the site of Camp Nebagamon for Boys, the house served various purposes. It was a summer home for the Lorber family, but it also was… a dining hall (during the first few years, campers ate in shifts in the dining room), an infirmary (in the early days, this could be found in what became known as the “phone room” outside the first-floor bathroom), a stage (the earliest Follies took place on the front porch), a winter camp for boys (once, in 1940), even a wedding site (Nardie Stein and Sally Lorber in 1955). It was also, I might add, a model – for the replica Boathouse, built in 1902, that dominated the Waterfront until 1944.

As I write this, the Big House is a 125-year-old structure. The floors creak and the beds squeak (as do the occasional varmints who find their way in), but it remains remarkably sturdy and bustling with activity. Campers in the living room and the kitchen. Administrators in the office. Staff members sitting around the dining room table. Residents trudging up and down the two stairways.

Sometimes, there is activity on the third floor. That’s where you might find a counselor rummaging through THE COSTUME CLOSET (see story). To my mind, that goofy collection of unfashionable fashions combines two primary elements of the Big House – as a center of activity and also a sort of living history museum. Most folks who set foot in the Big House don’t quite realize how much history resides in the building, not only simply through the institutional memory of the place, but also (quite literally) in the form of artifacts too numerous to recount in full. But we’ve managed to explore quite a few, and you can take a tour in the BIG HOUSE TREASURE HUNT story. And in the DID YOU KNOW tale, you can learn more secrets of the Big House, as gleaned from the memories of Sally Lorber Stein, who spent much of her childhood living there and much of her adulthood working there.

So sure, it’s a big house. But its impact on camp and its role in camp history loom much larger.