Forever Wild


Only a few Americans at the turn of the century ever received the engraved invitation to join these Gilded Age elites at their “great camps” nestled deep in New York’s Adirondack forest.  For those favored guests of Uncas, Camp Pine Knot, and Sagamore, the trip by train, steamboat and carriage brought them out from soot-choked skies clouding industrial America to the pristine and unspoiled wilderness.  But what did they see when they arrived?

Join your “Forever Wild” colleagues for a week at the Great Camps of the Adirondacks to explore Gilded Age America from the unique perspective of the wilderness. These camps, now all National Historic Landmark sites, preserve the original buildings and serve as “history labs” for us to puzzle through the ironies and historic themes related to the Gilded Age's American “wilderness.” Morgan’s guests no doubt imagined the wilderness as a retreat to a virgin forest with restful and curative powers. But did they also see industrialization transforming the Adirondack region?  Did any of Vanderbilt’s companions, who embraced the raw and untamed wilderness as a test of manhood, nod with a note of irony at the two-lane private outdoor bowling alley erected on the banks of the Sagamore Lake? In what ways was their fantasy of “roughing it” in the wild undermined by the army of cooks, laundresses, maids, and caretakers who worked behind the scenes? Forever Wild explores the meaning of “wilderness” by anchoring the Adirondacks into its historical context to reveal the political, economic, social, and cultural history of this real and imagined landscape.


What are the landmarks to be visited and topics to be explored?

Forever Wild offers you the exciting opportunity to explore late 19th and early 20th century cultural ideals, social and economic issues, and political conflict surrounding the wilderness from the unique perspective of living within it.  Beginning in Cortland, New York, a typical Gilded Age industrial city, you will become grounded in the social, economic and cultural dynamics of Gilded Age urban life while preparing to think about vital urban connections to the wilderness of the Adirondacks. 

The 1890's House Museum

Photo of 1890s houseThe 1890 House Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located in the historic downtown district of Cortland, NY, functions as a museum and educational resource illustrating the domestic life of Cortland's industrial elite, the Wickwires. 

Alumni HouseSUNY Cortland's Alumni House

Next door, you will visit the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House, another Wickwire family home, and site where the group will hold its opening reception and a morning session to examine primary sources gleaned from The Cortland County Historical Society

Camp Huntington

Camp Huntington (Pine Knot)You will then travel by chartered bus up to SUNY Cortland’s national treasure: Camp Huntington (originally called Camp Pine Knot), which is registered as a National Historic Landmark, was built by William West Durant in the 1870s and is the first of the “Great Camps” in the Adirondacks.  Camp Huntington is itself an inspirational instructional resource. While lodging at Camp Huntington, you will study documents, structures, and industrial processes while inhabiting spaces created by some of the most successful industrialists of the period. First-hand experiences at the camp will bring the era's ideas and debates to life and deepen your knowledge about the period. For more detail on Camp Huntington’s history, please navigate to

Camps Sagamore & Uncas

Camp SagamoreCamp UncasYou will also have the opportunity to visit Great Camps Sagamore and Uncas. These camps, also built and designed by Durant, are National Historic Landmark sites that catered to leisure and recreational interests of Gilded Age elite families. The Vanderbilt family retreat, Sagamore (for the Native American term “sachem”) was built in 1897 and purchased in 1901 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, the great grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. The camp maintains 27 original buildings on nearly 10 acres, restored to their 1897 condition. J. P. Morgan owned Uncas, now privately owned, named after a character in James Fennimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans. Uncas is architecturally significant as the first “compound plan” camp, designed and built as a single plan, rather than evolving over time as was the case at Pine Knot. Durant’s opulent, Swiss chalet-influenced architectural style, common to all three camps, is a reinterpretation of the rustic American log cabin. All three sites maintain original structures that illustrate the Adirondack architectural style, which influenced subsequent building designs as seen throughout the National Park Service. 

Adirondack Museum  

Adirondack MuseumIn addition to the Great Camps themselves, you will engage in learning experiences with nearby partner, the Adirondack Museum, which houses artifacts representing the people, industries, and arts of the region. The museum’s industrial history collections illustrate the tension between the “wilderness ideal” of unspoiled nature and a late 19th century industrial economy as evidenced in the region’s economically important timber, rail, and mining industries. As the exhibits so clearly document, the Adirondack region was as much an industrial site as any Gilded Age city and faced the same economic, labor and class dilemmas as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Chicago.


What will the schedule and workload be like?


On Sunday evening, you will gather for dinner and an opening session at the 1890's House, and meet history professors, Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch from SUNY Cortland’s history department, who will facilitate the week’s program and events, and Kerri Freese, Forever Wild’s project assistant. At this opening event, you will be briefed on the week’s activities and logistics and introduced to the technology we will be using for the group projects.


On Monday morning, you will engage with historical sources, artifacts and urban landscapes in the 1890 House, at SUNY Cortland’s Parks Alumni House, and throughout the City of Cortland. We will expect that you have completed readings posted on our blackboard site and are prepared to think about what it was like to live in a Gilded Age industrial city.

After morning sessions that probe primary sources to explore themes of urbanization and industrialization, we will board a chartered bus and make our way to Camp Huntington.  While bussing, we will watch the 1951 Paramount film A Place in the Sun and discuss the way that Hollywood portrayed the famous Gilette murder, which took place on Big Moose Lake. Based on the real life murder of Cortland's Grace Brown, and adapted from An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, the film opens discussion about representations of wilderness while connecting to key themes to be explored throughout the week.

Once we are all transported across Raquette Lake and settled at camp, we will meet Rob Rubendall, SUNY Cortland’s Director for Environmental and Outdoor Education. Rob lives at the Camp and will provide an orientation explaining camp protocols and traditions and give a formal tour of Camp Huntington’s buildings and grounds.  The tour and discussion will focus on the history of the Great Camps and guide you as you read the cultural geography of the space.


This first full day at the camp emphasizes the cultural and artistic forces that shaped the 19th and early 20th century wilderness ideal. Historian Philip Terrie will guide a discussion of his book, Forever Wild, to help us explore Tuesday's major question: How did 19th century Americans define "wilderness" and "nature," and how did these concepts contrast with the urban experience? After lunch, historian Scott Moranda will put the Adirondack narrative into an international context by contrasting European and American conceptions of the wild. A guided hike by Rob Rubendall and a seaplane ride, which provides an aerial perspective of the Adirondack’s geography, will help you appreciate the awe-inspired imagination of artists and intellectuals who looked—and continue to look—to the wilderness for aesthetic cues.


sagamoreToday our focus will turn to efforts by 19th century Americans to domesticate nature by building “civilized” retreats for their leisure pursuits. The Great Camps point to key themes of the era: consumerism, leisure, class, gender (including 19th century conceptions of manhood), and modernity. After breakfast, you will travel to Camp Uncas, built by William Durant in 1890-92 and bought by JP Morgan in 1896. Then you will travel to Camp Sagamore, built by Durant from 1895-97 and sold to Alfred Vanderbilt in 1901. In each camp, the group will consider the spaces as an extension of these industrialists’ public personas. How did they use the space? How was space specialized? How were class relations experienced at the camps? In reading these various sites, we will compare and contrast the industrialists’ use of the wilderness as a retreat, understand the architectural history of the spaces, and learn about the relationship between industrial development in the region and the growth of the Great Camp movement. The architecture of the Great Camps and influences shaping their distinctive architecture will be an important component of the discussion. 


Today we will use excerpts from Kristen Hoganson's article "Meat in the Middle" and her ideas about the ways in which commodities and culture move across borderlands to frame our thinking as we spend the day at the Adirondack Museum asking ourselves the following question: How did natural resources from the Adirondacks provide the basis for 19th century capitalism in the United States and how did the region's industrialists turn minerals and trees into nationally traded commodities?

adirondack museumThe museum documents the history of the region through historic structures relocated to the grounds, art and photography, and artifacts relating to daily life, work and industry.  Curator led-tours of exhibits will showcase the history of the region’s several industries, as participants make connections between the wilderness environment and an urban economy. You will tour a 19th century blacksmith shop, a one-room log cabin hunting retreat, a 19th century watercraft and a luxurious early 20th century Pullman railcar to understand the transformation in the use of the land and its resources over time. You will learn about the technology (and on-the-ground inventiveness) that made this transformation possible. The focus here is to help you understand the industrial and economic character of the wilderness as experienced by local inhabitants who resisted encroachments on their unspoiled landscape by industrialists who built rail lines and factories to reap economic advantage from the region’s timber and mineral stores, and by progressive-era reformers who applied science to the conservation and management of its natural resources. 


Today you will explore ways that “wilderness” became a central focus of progressive era debates. Threads of the week’s activities (from cultural, economic, industrial and social history) reveal what was at stake in the conflict over the future of the industrial economy. The 1894 “forever wild” debate showcases in microcosm tensions pitting industrialists, progressives, and naturalists against one another as they used the political system to secure advantages. Historian Rebecca Edwards will lead a morning workshop using primary source materials to help participants understand the broader context of progressive-era politics into which this discussion of wilderness fits. Edwards will develop a framework to understand the political dimensions of turn of the century environmentalism. You will take home a collection of primary source materials, references to the scholarly literature, and instructional resources to use with your students.

In the afternoon, you and your group will engage in your final “teaching projects workshop,” facilitated by project historians. After dinner, group digital stories will be shared in a culminating experience.


Saturday morning departure follows breakfast, with stops at the Syracuse Airport and Cortland. Those flying out of Syracuse should take into account the time it will take us to get there from camp. The earliest we can arrive at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport is 12:30 PM, so no returning flight should be booked before 2:30 PM.


Culminating Projects

Skills developed and practiced during the weeklong workshop will be incorporated into culminating group projects. These projects take the form of a short digital documentary to be completed during the week and showcased Friday evening. For these small group projects, you will work collaboratively through the week to produce a ten-minute documentary on one of the following themes connected to the workshop’s late 19th century content focus: the cultural meaning of wilderness; wilderness and the industrial economy; wilderness and leisure; or the politics of wilderness. Group participants are responsible for interpreting the theme, collecting primary and secondary source materials during the week (including audio and video clips of workshop leaders, photographs of artifacts and sites, scans of documents, etc.), organizing materials into a coherent and logical sequence and, using Apple’s iMovie app for the iPad, creating a digital story to share with colleagues and ultimately students. Materials collected during the week by each group will be uploaded to the workshop’s Blackboard site to be permanently available to participants and their students as they develop future instructional activities. The group project is a particularly critical component of the Forever Wild design: it encourages collaborative learning, builds community, and, importantly, helps participants to process and understand the material they encounter during the week. Facilitated by Christine Widdall, a SUNY Cortland Instructional Design and Technology faculty member, the project develops instructional technology skills participants can model for students, especially as this technology has low barriers to access in terms of prior skill level.

Each evening you will have an opportunity to work with your group members on developing your group projects.


Who will be leading the workshop?

Kevin Sheets (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is a 19th century American cultural and intellectual historian at SUNY Cortland. He has written articles on history education, 19th century systems of memory training and, in the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, an article on the classics in the late 19th century. He has organized and chaired many sessions with K-12 teachers focused on history pedagogy at professional conferences, including at the annual meetings of the National Council for History Education and the American Historical Association. He has been awarded three US Department of Education Teaching American History (TAH) grants, administering close to $3 million in grant funding for teacher professional development. Randi Storch (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), is chair of the History Department at SUNY Cortland. She is a leading labor historian and recipient of the 64-campus SUNY System highest honor, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Storch has collaborated with Sheets on several professional development workshops for K-12 teachers and has published articles on pedagogy, helping teachers incorporate labor and working-class history into their classrooms. She is author of Red Chicago: American Communism at Its Grassroots, 1928-1935 and Working Hard for the American Dream.  She has also been interviewed for a PBS documentary and Chicago Public Radio. Rebecca Edwards (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is the Eloise Ellery Professor of History at Vassar College and author of Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era and New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905. She has been involved in NEH workshops for teachers and is a frequent lecturer for K-12 teacher workshops, including TAH grants. Jeffrey Flagg (Ph.D., Bowling Green) is Program Director at the Sagamore Institute with primary responsibility for educational programming at Camps Sagamore and Uncas. He will lead the tours and workshops at the camps. Scott Moranda (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) is a modern environmental historian and author of The People's Own Landscape: Nature, Tourism, and Dictatorship in East Germany (Social History, Popular Culture, and Politics in Germany). His current project explores transnational environmentalism between early twentieth century American and German scientific foresters.  Philip Terrie (Ph.D., George Washington University) is a Professor Emeritus from Bowling Green State University and is a leading scholar on the cultural history of the Adirondacks. He is the author of Forever Wild, A Cultural History of Wilderness in the Adirondacks.


What academic resources will be available?

Though we’ll be in the Adirondack Park, Camp Huntington provides cutting edge instructional technology, including “Smart” classrooms and Wi-Fi connectivity. Huntington’s library provides resources in addition to the world-class library and archive at the Adirondack Museum.


When will Forever Wild take place?

There are two, one-week opportunities to participate in this unique workshop. You can choose from Sunday, July 12th through Saturday, July 18th or Sunday, July 19th through Saturday, July 25th. Because of the remote nature of the camp, you will not be able to join late in the week or leave early. Please indicate your week's preference on your application form.


How much is the stipend and what does it cover?

The NEH $1200 stipend will defray expenses associated with your participation in the Forever Wild program, such as travel and books. All participants will receive their stipend at the end of the week’s program, less $345 for the week’s all-inclusive room and board at Camp Huntington and Sunday evening's event at the Historic 1890's House. Participants are responsible for reserving/paying for their own lodging Sunday night at the Cortland Country Inn and Suites 607 - 753-8300 and the SUNY Cortland shuttle from the Syracuse Hancock International Airport to Cortland (more details to follow). 


May I get SUNY Cortland credit?

SUNY Cortland’s Center for Educational Exchange will provide participants with certificates attesting to professional development hours completed during this Landmarks workshop. Participants may submit these certificates to their school districts in support of their efforts to earn professional development hours. Participants may earn 3.0 graduate credits from SUNY Cortland by enrolling as a “non-matriculated” student in HIS 529 TP: Gilded Age & Progressive Era. Tuition and fees are approximately $1,390.55 in-state and $2,617.55 for non-residents.


What and where are the accommodations?

In Cortland, you will stay at the Country Inn and Suites close to the SUNY Cortland campus (see Housing & Transportation link on the sidebar for reservation information).

The rest of the week, you will lodge at Great Camp Huntington. The camp was originally built in 1870 as a summer retreat. The facility, now more than one hundred years later, will accommodate all of our participants in dorm-style and historic buildings. The rustic charm and historic nature of these buildings means that some buildings have shared bathrooms, others will require participants to leave their building and walk a short distance to a shared bathroom. All beds are single, bunk-style beds. The camp’s lack of cellular phone service and its distance to the nearest hospital (75 miles) exemplify its remote nature. With its mission to promote environmental education, Camp Huntington offers the group a variety of outdoor equipment and resources to experience nature. These include approximately four miles of hiking trails, the self-guided Waldbauer Nature Trail, canoes and kayaks, and an outdoor fire pit.  SUNY Cortland has remained true to the tradition and history of the camp, and has only added a few modern updates, including Wi-Fi service in some buildings, in order to facilitate interaction with the natural environment and to deepen students’ connection to the experience of camp living. This is an incredible opportunity to experience nature as Gilded Age industrialists did. For details on each of the camp’s buildings, please navigate to the college’s link:


Am I eligible to apply to Forever Wild?

Forever Wild seeks a diverse group of full and part-time educators from a variety of humanities disciplines, including teachers and librarians in public, charter, independent and religiously affiliated schools, as well as home-schooling parents. While the content focus might be more appropriate to the middle and high school student, all K-12 educators are invited to apply. To foster creative discussions related to pedagogical approaches, we aim to create a cross-discipline and mixed grade-level cohort.


How do I apply?

All applicants are invited to submit materials postmarked before the March 2, 2015 deadline. Please consult the NEH Eligibility statement

Applications must include the following:

1. A completed NEH application cover sheet. (You will submit this cover sheet on-line directly to NEH.  Print a copy of your completed cover sheet and submit it with the rest of your application to the SUNY Cortland address below).

2. Resume or biographical statement detailing your educational qualifications and professional experience.

3. A one-page double spaced essay describing your interest in Forever Wild, special skills and experiences that would contribute to the workshop, and a description of how you expect this experience would enhance your teaching or school service.

4. A letter of recommendation from your school principal, department head, district administrator or home-schooling association president as appropriate.  Letters of recommendation should be included in your application packet. Please ask your referee to sign across the seal on the back of the envelope containing the letter.

One copy only of your completed application (cover sheet, resume, essay, letter of reference) should be mailed to:


Kerri Freese

Bowers Hall

SUNY Cortland

Cortland, NY 13045

ATTN: NEH Forever Wild


How do I travel to the Workshop?

Participants should make travel plans to arrive in Cortland, NY by Sunday in time for the 5:00 p.m. welcome, dinner and orientation at the 1890's House. The Syracuse Hancock International Airport is approximately a 50-minute drive to Cortland. Participants can sign up for one of the shuttle runs SUNY Cortland will provide on Sunday for $35.00. A chartered bus will take all the participants from Cortland to Camp Huntington on Monday afternoon (no extra charge). Saturday morning, the chartered bus will pick up the group at Camp Huntington at 10:00 a.m., making a stop at the Syracuse airport at approximately 12:30 P.M. Those flying out of Syracuse on Saturday should arrange airline departures not earlier than 2:30 p.m.


What about meals?

On Sunday evening we will have a light meal at SUNY Cortland’s Alumni House during our evening session.  A continental breakfast is included in your rate at the Country Inn and Suites and it will be expected that you have breakfast before being transported to the Alumni House on Monday morning.  For lunch that day, we will take a bagged lunch on the charter coaches for our ride up to the Adirondacks.

For the rest of the week, we will eat the majority of our meals at Camp Huntington in the Fuge Dining Room, named after George Fuge director emeritus. These delicious and plentiful meals are served family style at 8 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m. A fruit bowl and some desserts are available in the dining hall after dinner.  Drinks at Camp Huntington are non-alcoholic and do not include sodas.  If you would like to bring alcoholic beverages or soda products, you are welcome to coordinate with other participants and bring them on your own.

Camp living requires that people from each group help with the Camp kitchen duties, known as the kitchen patrol or KP's. Everyone will take a turn pitching in and helping. The Camp is able to accommodate most dietary concerns, but individuals will need to indicate their dietary needs in their application.

The two exceptions to our family-style meals include lunch at Camp Sagamore on Wednesday, and lunch Thursday at the Adirondack Museum where you will have a choice of either taking a bagged lunch or purchasing a meal at the museum’s café at your own expense.


What do I do upon arrival at the hotel?

Vans will transport you from the Country Inn and Suites to the 1890's House at 4:45 P.M. on Sunday.


What should I bring with me?

Unlike some other NEH programs, Forever Wild has unique requirements given its Adirondack location. Participants will be living in one of the great Adirondack camps and its rustic character suggests the following:

Clothing: Comfortable and casual. We’ll be wearing t-shirts, shirt-sleeves and shorts, sneakers, hiking boots, and water shoes for those wishing to kayak and canoe. Bring swim suits and a beach towel, in addition to one or two bath towels. It is warm in July but evenings at the lake can be chilly. Prepare by bringing clothes to layer, including a jacket and/or fleece pullovers, and pants. Depending on accommodations, some participants will be assigned to buildings without bathrooms. Showers and facilities are only a few steps away but you might want a robe or other cover up for the walk between bed and bath. Shower sandals are a good idea.

Incidentals: Participants should bring personal care items, including shampoo, soap, and toothpaste. Such incidentals typically provided at hotels are not available in camp. (Camp Huntington is accessible only by boat so quick trips to the drug store or pharmacy are not possible. Pack what you need!) Bring suntan lotion and bug spray and allergy medicine, if necessary. 

Bedding: We will be contracting with a company to provide participants with bed linens. The camp provides pillows but you may want to bring your own. Often guests pack their own sleeping bags.

Technology: laptops or tablets are a great idea. (The grant will have several iPads for our use.) You will want to bring a camera because the camp is stunningly beautiful (no one takes a bad photograph!) Cell phones, however, are tricky because reception in camp is hit or miss.


Anything else I should know?

The State University of New York, College at Cortland, which owns Camp Huntington, is a non-smoking campus. Therefore, smoking is absolutely prohibited in camp. Be advised that the camp has basic first aid, but the nearest hospital is in Utica, NY, approximately 80 miles away. Pets are prohibited. Unfortunately, families cannot be accommodated.




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What Our 2013 NEH Summer Scholars Had to Say:

“The Forever Wild seminar has affected me like no other. I am a stronger teacher of the Gilded Age because of this week.”

“This was by far the best seminar and learning experience I have ever had as an adult.”

"The directors Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch and their assistant Kerri Freese were amazing--they were enthusiastic, generous, fun-loving, hard-working, passionate and well-organized in executing the program."

"The visiting faculty were intense and highly qualified to speak on the topics they did. The readings they assigned were excellent and will be highly adaptable as references in my classroom."

"The participants were amazing--it was a history nerd extravaganza in the best possible way."

"The activities were sublime--from touring the great camps to the excellent Adirondacks Museum to kayaking and swimming in Raquette Lake before breakfast--sublime!"

"This was simply a superb institute and experience. It will PROFOUNDLY affect my teaching of the Gilded Age and the beginnings of environmentalism in our history."

"The directors were knowledgeable, hands-on, and very engaging. They did not pontificate, but rather created wonderful lectures and groups that we as participants could actively be involve in as well as thrive in. The visiting faculty were outstanding, the use of primary source materials valuable, and the mix of colleagues was second to none. It was a pleasure to be around all the participants, faculty, and staff."


Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program and website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.