Lost Bridges of Camp Ondessonk – Unique Bridges of Camp Ondessonk
By Pati Egan
When cars pulled up to the Camp Ondessonk parking lot in 1959, the iconic Covered Bridge was not the first thing they crossed to begin their Camp journey. According to the 50th Anniversary Book, a small path took campers across the parking lot to the Chapel and Original Dining Hall.
In 1968, the people of St. Mary’s Parish in Centralia, Ill., under the direction of long-time Board Member Fred Schultz, built the unique Covered Bridge. It has withstood the test of time, with the help of volunteers, to become a true symbol of arriving at Camp. Covered bridges are not that common in Illinois. According to Wikipedia, there are only nine “authentic covered bridges” in Illinois. I am not sure if our bridge would count as an “authentic covered bridge,” but it is authentic enough for us and for many campers to be the only covered bridge they have ever crossed. It is almost magical! It is a transformation from your everyday life to Camp O life.
The functional and beautiful Amantacha Bridge is often the subject of photographers. Its expanse and setting give it a very special vibe. This bridge is not the first bridge to get campers to the Rifle Range, numerous popular hiking spots, and of course, Amantacha.
Gone But Not Forgotten Bridges
Well, you sure can’t cross this bridge anymore! This bridge was in the same spot as the Amantacha Bridge but built much lower in the canyon (notice the steep hill going down and coming up from the bridge). The first-year Camp opened there was no Lake St. Isaac. This was the only way to get to Riflery or Blue Pool. Blue Pool was where campers went swimming prior to the building of Lake St. Isaac. One camper from the very early years of Camp recalls that she would cross this footbridge on her hands and knees. Notice there are no handrails. Since this was probably taken in 1959, it’s pretty doubtful any of these women had on tennis shoes – heels would be terrifying!
This was the first improvement to the little footbridge. This bridge served campers well until Lake Echon was built. It was called the Swinging Bridge (now the Amantacha Bridge). It was the first suspension bridge at Camp. Notice the canyon below, which now holds the water of Lake Echon.
It doesn’t look terribly high, right?
Lake Echon – The Game Changer!
Bridges became more necessary when Echon opened. The Swinging Bridge did okay at first, but in a few years, the Swinging Bridge no longer “swung” – it sank! Norb Garvey recalls, “That same bridge evolved into the floating bridge after Lake Echon was built, the water level being higher than the bridge, and the float barrels worked well for about ten years before they rusted through, dragging the bridge into the water 4” to 6” which made for a lot of wet feet.”
This fix was always a temporary fix. Norb recalls, “Royce’s idea was to crank the cables tighter and lift the bridge, and it worked for a bit, but then stretched a bit and went under again. One afternoon [around 1975] Royce and I put a chain hoist on it and he had me cranking on it, cheering me on, it came up out of the lake and then the cables snapped. Royce said, ‘darn it,’ and we cut it all loose and sank it into the lake.” I imagine there is a treasure trove of artifacts at the bottom of Lake Echon – this bridge is one of them.
Daniel was not always located on the shores of Lake Echon. It was on the rocks near the location of the dual zip lines.
One way to get to the unit was by way of a bridge. This bridge was located very close to where the road is to get to new Daniel. It was more stable than it looks. Since the only place this bridge went to was Daniel, it was only used by that unit.
Pakentuk is one of those places that a camper in 1959 could have visited, and a camper in 2023 can still visit, and the experience will pretty much be the same. Cedar Falls still falls; the lily pond below it was changed to a full pond in the late or mid-1970s. The buildings, cabins, and footbridges are long gone, but the ghosts of these images can make your imagination run wild! Pakentuk was a Boy Scout camp that was the dream of the Scout Master Roy Manchester.
One small footbridge spanned the crevice above Devil’s Icebox / Eagle’s Nest Rock. This little bridge is long gone, but at one point, campers would either jump across the crevice or take another route.
The bridge pictured below was replaced about four years ago. Dan King and Danny Clancy built it on the same spot as the bridge above to facilitate a 10-mile trail race.
The last long-lost bridge is the Larry Garner Bridge. At 210 feet long and twin towers 50 feet high, the bridge was a magnificent addition to Camp. This bridge was built in 1968. It lasted until the mid-1990s when the support poles became structurally unsound due to woodpeckers.
Bridges at Camp have changed throughout the years in design and function. The women who crossed the very small bridge where the Amantacha Bridge now sits probably had no idea that a magnificent bridge would one day cross that canyon; or maybe they did…Camp has always been a place for dreamers – and a place where dreams come true!
Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.