The Talking Feet of Camp Martin Johnson


Thank heavens my master took off those hot sneakers. I literally choke to death in there. Ah? Fresh air! I wonder what those other six tootsies think about their masters’ tennis shoes? At least I get a little airing out in this tent although it also is a bit musty in here. Great! My master is putting on his swimming trunks and that means one last time in Big Bass Lake this summer. He’s heading back to Chicago tomorrow as camp will be closing down.

Wow that cool grass feels good. Yes, these great steps that lead down to the waterfront are so cool they make me feel like a new foot again. I won’t be seeing them again for awhile. Oh, yes, going up, but down? Not until next summer. That sand feels so good. I often wonder why my master brushes that off after swimming?

Even better! Oh that is refreshing! That first run in to the lake and now I am totally submerged and feeling better by the minute. Us feet take a pounding in the event that you did not know. We’re hard to reach to clean so these times in the lake feel really good.

You know, to tell the whole truth, I heard this is the last summer at this camp. From now on when I get to go into water it will either be at Lake Michigan by Chicago or in some hard bottom pool. It’s just not the same as Big Bass Lake. I’ve been coming here three straight years and each time, for some reason, I seem to be getting bigger. I’m sure glad that my master keeps getting new shoes or else I think I’d be squeezed to death in those sneakers of his.

Well, I’m out and for the last time. Yes, up those stairs too for the last time. You know, some day, after this camp closes for good, I’ll be back here again. I will not be de-feet-ed!

Bluegill Lake

Bluegill Lake is another reason why Camp Martin Johnson should NOT have been sold. The camp owned nearly 70% of the land around the lake and this should have been sold off to perpetuate the existence of the summer camp. Sure, the camp once held water skiing here but Big Bass Lake could also have accommodated that or even Little Bass Lake.

Bluegill Lake, at the time, was largely underdeveloped and many home sites could have been purchased to keep the camp going strong, Yes, the camp would have lost some major acreage but it still had plenty left to make the camp more than viable.

Today, perhaps a channel could be constructed between Big Bass Lake and Bluegill Lake such as the one that exists between Big and Little Bass Lake. Even the five Sauble Lakes have channels between each of them. I think that a link between Big Bass Lake and Bluegill Lake would only enhance the latter. They are in very close proximity one to the other. Thoughts on this idea?

Camp Martin Johnson Forever

I have a 1963 video today from Camp Martin Johnson. CMJ The camp closed in 1980 because the Hyde Park YMCA torpedoed the founders dream of a camp on Big Bass Lake. This website will keep that dream alive forever. Feel free anytime to explore our category Camp Martin Johnson. The rally cry is Camp Martin Johnson Forever.

CMJ at Sauble River

how many former Camp Martin Johnson campers recall canoe trips on the Sauble River? How far did you canoe? Did you camp out on the side of the river overnight? How many adults and kids went on those trips? How did you like the trips and was the food good? Lots of questions for former campers to answer so please leave a comment to start the discussion.

The Selling of Camp Martin Johnson- Part Two

When the Hyde Park YMCA suggested that the reason for closing Camp Martin Johnson was that it had gotten too expensive to operate then why not sell lakefront plots on both Little Bass Lake and Bluegill Lake to continue to be able to operate the camp? The main camp is largely located near Big Bass Lake so why not sell other less used areas to keep the main camp alive? I have outlined the areas that could have been sold on the map.

Did the Hyde Park YMCA make every effort to try and sell the camp to another YMCA, perhaps in Michigan, or even a Boys Club of America? Perhaps the Detroit Boys Clubs might have been interested? I would like to know how diligent the Hyde Park staff were in trying to keep the camp with another youth organization? Or what steps were taken by the Chicago Metro YMCA to connect with other youth organizations?

Camp Mishawaka, where I served as a counselor, is celebrating its centennial this year and they sent me an invitation to come to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to join in the celebration. However I saw it as a massive fund raiser as events related to that very thing were taking place every day of the three day event. I wonder if that camp is also in financial distress?

Why not also raise campers fees to attend camp or add a gasoline fee? I do believe that if Hyde Park had tried to just sell parcels of land on Little Bass and Bluegill Lakes they could have kept operating Camp Martin Johnson for several more years if not much longer.

I also don’t buy that dwindling attendance argument as in 1976 the camp was full of over 500 campers for their 50 year anniversary. And, what about Martin Johnson’s will? It was his vision for this property to remain a camp for kids even if those kids were no longer from the Hyde Park YMCA.

No, I think the Hyde Park YMCA took the easy way out and destroyed not only a man’s dream but also the dreams of countless campers that could have enjoyed this camp for decades to come. Now the area is full of residential mansions and even the boulder over Martin Johnson’s grave has no marker to it. One would think that something could be done about that for a man with such a vision as Martin Johnson.

The Selling of Camp Martin Johnson- Part One

I have been asking many questions of late about why Camp Martin Johnson was sold. In 1976 the camp celebrated its 50 anniversary and things were going quite well at that time with up to 500 campers attending CMJ and then a scant four years later it was being sold. The Hyde Park YMCA came up with these reasons:

(1) Dwindling Enrollment: That reason I find hard to fanthom giving what was said a mere four years earlier.

(2) Financial Problems: Funds for transporting the kids 350 miles to camp but that always existed. They also cited stiff and rising real estate taxes as well as strict Michigan Building Codes. Yet these all existed in previous years too.

(3) Too expensive to Operate. A slight raise in fees would have solved that problem.

Four years earlier NONE of these were mentioned as problems. Mike Reynolds has informed me that schools in Ludington and Scottville often rented the camp for various purposes in the off season and that was additional income. The Hyde Park YMCA also gave an alternative option of using Pinewood Camp also in the area but would not that camp have the same financial problems? The real culprit in all this was the Chicago Metropolitan YMCA which had the final say on CMJ.

Initially, in 1926 the camp was sold by Martin Johnson himself for the fee of $9,000 of which he was to receive a 6% annual anuity of about $545. Johnson’s lawyer urged him to sell the camp to the YMCA for $50,000. But Johnson had a God inspired vision for his property to be used by boys and girls for camping. He was also to retain his personal house to live in at the camp.

If the camp was in financial problems why not sell some of the land off of Bluegill Lake or even Little Bass Lake to pay for the taxes and upkeep while retaining the main camp area around Big Bass Lake?

I would also be interested to learn about the will of Martin Johnson and if it allowed selling the camp for any reason. In Part Two tomorrow morning I have even more questins to purpose about the selling of this camp. Presently this seems to be the only website that is active about the camp. Former campers can send pictures to my email address page on the menu.

“Camp” Bluegill

Camp Martin Johnson use Bluegill Lake for water skiing for some time before switching to Big Bass Lake. The camp directors house was located on Bluegill Lake. The camp not only used Bluegill Lake but also big and little Bass Lake. It took heads from the YMCA in Chicago to the property once owned by Martin Johnson. And Bluegill Lake figured prominently in all the camps activities.

Camp Martin Johnson and Bluegill Lake

Not a hoot and an easten holler from Big Bass Lake was Bluegill Lake. What many people may not know is that Camp Martin Johnson was also involved in this lakefront. Within their camp they had a Bluegill Lane. In fact, their layout (pictured elsewhere on the BBL and Beyond- Under Category CMJ) included Big Bass Lake, Little Bass Lake, and Bluegill Lake!

I understand that some of their activities on Bluegill Lake included that of fishing. I don’t think many speedboats use that lake as opposed to Big Bass Lake which is filled to the brim with them.

Perhaps some former CMJ staff or kids will enlighten us as to what else they used Bluegill Lake for?

Dan Schultz: We used Blue Gill in several ways during my stay at CMJ. When I was a camper, waterskiing was on Blue Gill. Eventually, this moved to Big Bass Lake. I don’t remember anyone fishing.

The camp director’s house was on Blue Gill for a while as well. This house, named Broadway after camp director Jerry Broadway, eventually became a camper’s cabin. First, the older boys stayed there. In about 1971 or 1972, we moved the older girls from Four Winds Island to Broadway and sent the boys to Four Winds. The girls were getting harrassed and stalked out on the Island so we made the switch.

We also visited the cemetery that abutted Blue Gill at night to tell ghost stories to the kids. This activity did not endear us to the community. However, I guiltily admit that it was fun.

A Couple of Antique Views at Big Bass Lake

Here find a great view of Uncle Otto’s Big Bass Lake Store taken in 1950 by my Dad, Clyde Bartlett. At the time of this photo the store was a bustling mercantile catering mainly to the many visitors in the area.

And an earlier view of the YMCA Camp also taken by Dad. I don’t remember much about the camp but there are many memories on this blog.

Camp Martin Johnson by Dan Schultz


Since the camp existed for 54 years, there were a number of configurations of which I only became aware recently when people began sending in maps of camp. For the first 30 years or so, CMJ was an all boys camp. Girls came in the late 50s.

There were different styles of cabins. In my last year, I slept in Mau Mau which was a single cabin for the waterfront director. However, at some earlier point, it slept 4 in two pairs of bunk beds.

The camper cabins when I was last there in 1973 included:
Four Winds-Oldest Boys
Broadway-Oldest Girls
Boys Villages
Frontier (Younger)
Voyageur (Older)
Pere Marquette
Girls Villages (Indian Villages)
Valley- Younger

Program staff (supervisors) lived in a variety of other cabins including Mau Mau, Lewis and Clark, Rawley Lodge, Valley Lodge, The Annex, and the Program office. Each Village had a wash house with facilities. The mess hall had a shower in it that I enjoyed during my last three years (best shower in camp).

The first four week period had more campers than the second period and usually had a waiting list. I remember having up to 300 or so kids the first period. Some kids stayed for two periods or 8 weeks. We usually had a precamp with some other YMCA group. For the last three years, I worked there, the St. Thomas Children’s choir came for those two weeks; they were great kids led by a great priest, Father Oldershaw.

After the August period, we had family camp through labor day. Chicago schools started on the Wednesday after Labor Day so that was the end.

However, the camp was used in the winter for skiing. It owned a ski hill (Ward Hills). We had winter camp for a week and groups would rent out the camp throughout the ski season. I went for two weekends as a high school kid and worked ski camp for 3 different winters. Same kids as the summer although a much smaller group. Only a few cabins were heated.

I was a camper in 1962-63 and worked at camp from 1969 through 1973. From 1970 through 1973, I taught swimming. From 1971 through 1973 I participated in the running of the waterfront. I was assistant waterfront director in 1971 and director in 1973.

The waterfront was a central part of CMJ. We had 3.5 miles of lake front between Big Bass, Little Bass, and Blue Gill Lakes. We had swimming, canoeing, boating, sailing, and waterskiing programs. We had 9 sunfish sail boats and one Arrow class sailboat. Kids were very active in all of the programs. They loved coming down to the waterfront for classes, for general swim, for free activity, and for cabin activities.

We did use the buddy system as part of our safety program and were very vigorous in safety.

We taught lifesaving to staff mandatorily from 1971 through 1973. All of the kids were expected to be able to swim or had to take swimming classes until they could. We routinely taught 300 kids to swim each summer.

We did have a classification system for ranking swimmers and for granting privileges:

From 1971 through 1973, this was the system:
Red: Non-swimmer-Had to take daily classes.
Yellow: Swam 100 Yards and could use Row Boats.
Green: Swam 200 Yards and could canoe and use Row Boats.
White: Swam 500 yards and could use all activities.

The waterfront was used from 6 am for early staff canoeing classes to 9 p.m.. We taught two to three classes a day, had two cabin activities, had a very popular General Swim before dinner, a free period after dinner, and rest hour lifesaving classes for staff.

Thus, it was a 12 hour day for the waterfront directors.

We also sent canoe trips out of camp on the area rivers. We had a very popular Canadian tripping program for the older kids that sent them up to Ontario rivers and lakes for two weeks. The training for this trip was rigorous for campers and staff. This trip was instituted by Peter Moffat who is Canadian himself and an unbelievable and legendary canoeist.

Many of us are still involved in aquatics. Many still go on canoe trips. In the last 10 years, I have gone up to Ontario twice with old CMJers. Two years ago, a group of us did the Pine. I know that others have canoed many places including in countries other than Canada and the US.

On a personal note, one of my favorite jobs in my life was running the waterfront. I have many strong and fond memories of those years.

Camp Martin Johnson Through The Era’s Of Time

Here are two pictures of Camp Martin Johnson on Big Bass Lake in different era’s of time. In the black and white shot you can observe Grandma’s Hat Island somewhat easier in the background than in the color photograph. The black and white picture is from the camp in its heyday whereas the color photograph would be as it would be seen today.

I have often said how difficult it would be for former campers and staff to see it as it is today and the same would go for me and my family of our former property. Each has been built upon with large homes and with the old buildings scrapped living only in our memories now. Yet it is the kids that have suffered the most. Big Bass Lake should have a resident camp on it even now to share in the lakes history and recreational potential.

If former campers or counselors are reading this post, you might want to describe your memories of these photgraphs by way of a comment.

In winter you see it; in summer you don’t

IMG_20171115_024329 what part of Camp Martin Johnson can you see now? It’s summer and you can’t see a thing! Yet beyond that tree line are the remnants of that camp including cottage’s and campfires. In winter you can see all of the remnants of Camp Martin Johnson. Yet please don’t tresspass on the island as it is private property. If you want to see the cottages, check out our category Four Winds Island and you can see what’s on the island without violating private property.