The history of Camp Linden dates back to 1903, when Dr. S. Burns Weston, the Leader of the Philadelphia Ethical Society was also the Head Worker at the Southwark Neighborhood House, a settlement house serving Southwark, a low income neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Dr. Burns led efforts to fund and operate a summer camp experience for the children of Southwark. In 1915 the Ethical society purchased a small farm in the Perkiomen Valley for use as a children’s overnight camp. That property was sold in 1926 and Samuel Fels donated a 69 acre property along the Brandywine in Chester County, the current site of Camp Linden. The camp program was managed by Southwark House, and its successors, after Southwark merged with other settlement houses to become United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia, a United Way Agency. In 1981 United Communities closed the camp because it was unable to find funding to make necessary repairs and improvements. Responsibility returned to the Ethical Society, which was unable to find another organization willing to operate a children’s overnight camp at the site.
For 10 years, starting in 1985, members of the Society undertook efforts to reconstruct and reopen the camp. Eleven acres of the property, including the dining hall, were sold in 1987 and the receipts of the sale were used to rebuild the infrastructure. Only the pool and bathhouse were retained. The cabins were demolished. A main cabin, including a caretaker’s residence, one bunkhouse, and a separate cabin for counselors, were constructed. Work was also completed on the foundation for a new dining hall when construction stopped.
Ethical Society volunteers began transporting children to Camp Linden for day trips in 1988. In 1990, and for a few years thereafter, members paid for a bus, a lifeguard and extra food for the children. By 1993 counselors were hired to serve a few city day camps two or three days a week. In 1994 a development plan was approved by the West Bradford Township Council for a multi-purpose camp “for children of diverse backgrounds, and as a retreat for groups and organizations reflecting the values of Ethical Culture”. An Executive Director was hired in 1997 to raise funds, plan and run the summer day camp program. The program gradually expanded to providing services 5 days a week with four paid staff. In 1999 EducationWorks, which operates educational enhansement programs in Philadelphia public schools serving low income populations, began sending children to Camp Linden.
Upon the resignation of the Executive Director before the 2010 summer season, management of the camp became the responsibility of the Society’s Camp Linden Committee, under the leadership of Jeffrey Dubb, M.D.. Leonard Weeks, who had experience running summer camps as Executive Director of Diversified Community Services, volunteered to assist Dr. Dubb, and write funding proposals. He secured several foundation grants for general operating support as well as funding for Shelley DePaul, of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, to spend a week at Camp Linden in 2011, introducing campers to Native American culture and values. Chief DePaul has been in residence for one week each summer since 2011.
In 2010 the Camp Linden Committee retained a consultant to assist it in determining whether to pursue completion of the infrastructure, as specified in the 1994 development plan, to resume operation of an overnight camp for children, with ancillary use as a conference center; or continue with the current day-trip program. In 2011, following consideration of the consultant’s report, the Committee decided against pursuing development of an overnight camp program. As a result of this decision-making process, the current mission statement was adopted.
In July, 2011, Dr. Dubb became Board President of the Ethical Society, and Leonard Weeks became chair of the Camp Linden Committee. Mr. Week’s wife, Sharon Wallis, volunteered as Program Director. They converted the bunkhouse to a classroom setting, (“Nature Center”), and instituted a hands-on gardening and environmental education program which has been repeated, with refinements, each summer since 2011. In 2015 EducationWorks staff and campers made a short film entitled “EW at Camp Linden”, documenting campers’ response to the Camp Linden program.
By 2015 nearly all of the children attending the Camp Linden Summer Children’s Program were being brought by EducationWorks’ as one of their weekly field trips. In March 2016 Education-Works gave notice that they were eliminating weekly field trips for their entire program, and consequently would not be sending children to Camp Linden. This information sparked an intense recruiting effort which resulted in the establishment of six new partnerships with agencies operating summer school age programs serving low income neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Wilmington. In the summer of 2016, as a result of these new partnerships, Camp Linden operated close to maximum capacity, serving over 200 children one day a week for six weeks.