Lake Strause, nestled in the valley between Blue Mountain to the north and Little Mountain to the south, is today a small Bethel Township community. But in its past, it was Camp Strause — a Boy Scout camp built thanks to the generosity of a lumber businessman.
The story begins with a man named Samuel Strause. Strause was born in Berks County in 1866 to Monroe and Hettie Strause. The family moved to Pottsville in Schuylkill County shortly afterwards, where Samuel would reside for the rest of his life.
By 1916, Samuel Strause had founded the Strause Lumber Company and in that year established a logging operation in Lebanon County. Strause, along with his son Amos, acquired 3,000 acres of land south of Blue Mountain and began logging. At the time, the area was known as Chetolah, in honor of a Native American who had been buried nearby.
A narrow gauge railroad line constructed by the Reading Railroad Company cut through the woodland and connected the logging operation back to a siding track at Trout Run, near Swatara Gap. According to late local historian Francis Ditzler, the timber from the Strause operation was of particular use to the Lincoln Colliery coal mine in Schuylkill County.
At some point around 1921, Strause erected a dam on Monroe Creek, which formed what is the Lake Strause of today.
The logging operation at Blue Mountain operated until around 1923. Two years later, Strause leased 500 acres of the land to the Lebanon Boy Scouts council — the land that would become Camp Strause. Strause had previously permitted some Boy Scout activity on his property, including boating on the lake, and he believed that the Scouts’ activities were “a real asset to the life of the [Lebanon] Valley.” He arranged to lease the land out for 20 years in exchange for one dollar.
Construction of camp facilities began in the same year and included a telephone line, kitchen, mess hall, and a rec hall dubbed the “Lions Den.” The camp also gained at least five cabins (16 square feet each) for its scouts, two of which overlooked the lake; an infirmary; a boat house and landing; and an “Indian Village.”
A massive fire swept through the Strause land in 1926, but a team of firefighters managed to put it out before it damaged any buildings.
In 1929, Strause’s generosity was made permanent when he deeded 55 acres of land to the Boy Scouts, a tract that included the southern shore of Lake Strause and stretched further south for over 1,200 feet. The camp had become quite popular over the years, drawing in hundreds of boys both from Lebanon and places as far away as Brooklyn, and had developed its own “Camp Strause” song. After the dedication, a Memorial Lodge was erected in the camp, itself a gift from an anonymous Palmyra citizen.
Camp activities included hikes around the mountain, swimming, boating on the lake, and more, frequently accompanied by the sound of traditional scout bugle calls. Activities were held more or less throughout the entire year according to reports at the time. The camp was visited by Boy Scout officials on both regional and national levels.
A “letter” published in the Lebanon Daily News in 1926 described the camp as “free from mosquitoes, practically free from snakes, and the atmosphere is the purest that can be found anywhere.”
Camp Strause was used by the Boy Scouts until 1937, when operations were moved to Mt. Gretna. Over the years, a community of homes, mostly occupied in the summer, was built up around the camp area. The Camp Strause Fire Company No. 1 was established in 1955.
Besides the logging business, Samuel Strause also worked as a director of the Schuylkill Haven Casket Company and vice president of the Cressona National Bank. He died in 1947 and was buried in Pottsville.
The Strauses left their mark on the area in other ways, as well. In 1925, the same year that Samuel leased the acres to the Boy Scouts, he established the 3,200-acre Auxiliary Game Refuge No. 18 through a lease agreement with the State Game Commission. Amos Strause and brother-in-law Harry Beck began construction of Twin Grove Park in 1930, which is today an RV resort and cottage rental park.
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