“MR. CAMP’S NEW RESIDENCE. Mr. Ferd Camp has his plans ready and is now awaiting the arrival of the brick, when he expects to begin the erection of his new brick residence on grounds fronting South Main street, and directly in front of his large barn. It will be a modern home in every respect, although it will not be so very large, the size being 38×32, one story and a half high, but the building will be extra well built and will cost him at least $6,000 when completed. The old tennis grounds, that have afforded much pleasure to lovers of the game in years agone, will soon be occupied by a handsome home for our good friend. May himself and wife live long to enjoy the same” (The Wellington Enterprise, 5-3-1916, pg. 1).
When Fergus and Julia Camp decided to move from their four-hundred-acre horse farm in Homer to the more urban setting of Wellington in 1906, they purchased the three-story home and grounds belonging to O. P. Chapman. (They left their only son in charge of the farm in Homer, though Fergus made frequent trips back to participate in harvesting and horse sales.) Camp was a wealthy man and even before relocating to the village, he commissioned “quite elaborate” improvements to the South Main Street property, which was then only twenty-five years old. The tennis courts mentioned in the notice above may have been one such addition.
By 1906, the Camps were both in their sixties. Fergus–called “Ferd” by his friends–was a white-bearded, wiry man who had lost a hand in a combine accident. I conducted an oral history with a gentleman who knew Camp at the end of his life, when he himself was a boy. He described Camp as a womanizer, drinker and gambler, though I have been unable (not surprisingly) to find published accounts that substantiate those assertions. He knew that Camp had lost a hand, and recalled that he often wore a hook in its place, and held the reins on his horses with the opposite hand.
Camp’s wealth enabled him to pursue his passion, raising Percherons. I noted in my previous post that the story of O. P. Chapman’s carriage house had become a bit garbled as it was passed down the generations. By the time my family came to own it, we were told that Fergus Camp had built it to house trotter horses, which he raced on a track that was later adapted into the present-day circular driveway. While I am by no means an expert in matters equestrian, my understanding is that Percherons are renowned as draft horses, used both on farms and also to pull earlier forms of public transportation. I do not know if the story about the track is accurate, but I do know that the barn predates Camp’s occupation. He did not build it, though it may have been what convinced him to buy the Chapman property.
Fergus Camp was one of the first residents of Wellington to own an automobile, possibly as early as 1906. He seems to have used the car for the routine trips back to Homer. “Mr. Camp handles his auto with ease and grace, and by the way, he has a smart car, with plenty of power,” the paper reported in 1911. That same year, Ferd became one of the founders of the Wellington Motor Club. There were just eleven members in total, of whom three were doctors, which perhaps suggests the socio-economic status required to own and operate such a vehicle at that time. (In 1911, a new Ford cost between $600 and $1,200.) “The principal object of the Club is to obtain the written pledges of candidates and present members of the Board of County Commissioners, that the 4-mile stretch of quagmire and holes, called a ‘main road,’ between Wellington and Pittsfield be ‘piked’ the coming summer” (Enterprise, 11-22-1911, pg. 7). Five years later, Camp’s car was hit by a train at Spencer. “It was smashed some,” a reporter noted dryly, but the seventy-one-year-old driver somehow escaped uninjured.
In 1915, just nine years after the Camps purchased the Chapman residence and moved to Wellington, they decided to build a brand new home. That summer, the family sold 318 South Main Street to Charles Jones of Brighton. But they held onto the adjoining land and carriage house. Their plan was to build a modern, Craftsman-style bungalow on the lot, then occupied by their own tennis courts.
Oddly, the Camps opted to sell their home before construction on the new building had even started. Instead, they moved directly across the street into a small wooden house previously owned by the late Calvin Sage. Sage had been a longtime insurance agent (Noah Huckins was part of his firm in the 1880s), and according to the 1870 federal census, he had lived with Oren and Ella Chapman in Huntington before they all relocated and became neighbors in Wellington. Sage’s home is still known today as the Huntington House, as the Greek Revival structure was supposedly transported from that town sometime after the railroad came through Wellington in the mid-nineteenth century. Fergus and Julia Camp would be tenants in the house for nearly eighteen months.
Weather during the building season of 1916 was poor, and bricklayers were difficult to employ, because the Union School was erecting a large brick addition that same year. It was almost twelve months after a notice first appeared in print announcing Camp’s intention to build the bungalow that the Enterprise finally reported “the Camp residence begins to look like home” (9-27-1916, pg. 2). Over the course of the following six months, wiring was installed, the grounds were landscaped, and “Mr. Ad. Wadsworth” was employed as the decorator and painter of the house. The last notice I have located pertaining to the construction reported that “Culver” had just finished laying a stone walkway from the porch to the street in July 1917.
Fergus and Julia were finally able to occupy their residence in February 1917. They were both more than seventy years old, which may account for the origin of the “retirement home” story I mentioned in my previous post. All the published notices during the building process stressed the beauty, modernity and costliness of the new structure. The Craftsman style had become very popular in early-twentieth-century America, a clean-lined and elegant response to the clutter and fussiness of Victorian architecture and decor. Though we do not know precisely how much the house cost to build and furnish, the 1930 federal census estimated the value of the Camps’ bungalow at $10,000. By comparison, the much larger house that Camp sold to Charles Jones at 318 South Main Street was estimated to be worth just $6,000. (It is possible that the value of the carriage house accounts for this difference, but the census question does specifically ask for “value of home.”)
Julia Low Camp died in her modern bungalow in 1936. She was ninety and had celebrated her sixty-eighth wedding anniversary a few months before. Fergus Camp survived his wife by just twelve weeks; he was ninety-one when he passed away in the house. The gentleman with whom I conducted the oral history asserted that Camp died heavily in debt. Court papers filed two years before his demise show the estimated value of his personal property–including ninety-four sheep, stock in the First Wellington Bank, the dwelling in Wellington and the farm in Homer–at $23,900. Attorney (and later amateur historian) Robert Walden petitioned the court to sell ninety of the sheep and some miscellaneous farm equipment “for the support and maintenance of his said ward and his family and for the payment of some of his debts,” but made no mention of a necessity of selling the more valuable real estate assets.
Camp’s probate documents include a room-by-room inventory of the contents of the bungalow in 1936. Notable items included a “marbletop” table; a clock and “statue”; a Victrola and records; a piano and bench valued at $15; oil paintings; an ice box in the kitchen; a washing machine in the cellar; and a “Buick car” parked in the barn worth $10. Camp’s Wellington lots were appraised at $8,500 at the time of his death.
According to my oral history subject, the bungalow was then auctioned “by invitation” to local businessmen. The sale was reportedly conducted in the dining room. The winning bidder was a man named Florian Schweller (1898-1976), an immigrant from Austria-Hungary who owned several enterprises in town over the course of his life, including the Wellington Candy Company at 122 West Herrick Avenue. Schweller had known Fergus Camp, but fearing possible prejudice against foreigners, he sent a representative to the auction and bought the house anonymously. The Schweller family occupied the little brick residence for almost fifty years. To this day, three decades later, the house is still known to many people in Wellington as “the old Schweller place.”
I have one final coda to add to my tale of the Camp family’s thoroughly modern home. On State Route 18, just west of the village, is a small brick bungalow that is its mirror-image; the floor plan is identical, but reversed. That house was built for a man called Winfield McConnell, perhaps around 1925. I have spoken with the present owners, as well as members of the McConnell family. Not much is known about the history of that house, though it is believed to have been constructed by Delton Mohrman, McConnell’s nephew. Mohrman was a “jack-of-all-trades,” a farmer, carpenter and builder in the non-growing seasons. I do not know if Win McConnell and Ferd Camp knew one another. It has been suggested to me that the two bungalows were assembled from identical kits, but I am not sure if that makes sense given Camp’s wealth and the emphasis in the written record on how expensive (and slow) his new construction was going to prove. If the first house was not a kit, did McConnell visit and like the look of it? Did he ask Camp to share building plans? Or was Delton Mohrman somehow involved in the construction of Camp’s house and then shared his knowledge with his uncle?
What a wonderful centennial birthday gift to our bungalow it would be if I could learn more.