Camp Bil-O-Wood is a private Canadian corporation led by four generations of the Ludwig family. The Ludwig family has dedicated their time and energies mentally and physically to the planning, building, and developing of a successful summer camp environment, in which every camper and parent becomes part of the ever-growing Bil-O-Wood family. Beginning in 1946, with Mr. & Mrs Horace Ludwig, followed by the second generation Woody and Dotty Ludwig, and on to the third generation which included Woody & Dotties three sons Tom, Jim, and Gary and their wives, we are now under the fourth generation of leadership with husband and wife team, Paul and Trisha Ludwig.
Meet the Directors
Camp Bil-O-Wood is currently under the direction of Paul and Trisha Ludwig. Paul has over twenty years of experience in camp programming and camp operations. He holds a master’s degree in education and teaches marine biology during the off-season. Trisha has been a camper, counselor, and area director at Bil-O-Wood since age seven. She has over 15 years of summer camp management experience and holds a master’s degree in nursing from Yale University. Together, they have three children and split their time between Connecticut and Camp Bil-O-Wood.
The Founding of Camp Bil-O-Wood
(As remembered by Uncle Jim Ludwig)
The visit to see the property near Blind River that would eventually become CAMP BIL-O-Wood occurred because Bill Slick (he is the Bil in Bil-O-Wood) had been there numerous times when it was a hunting and fishing camp. During his visit in the early fall of 1945 he learned that the 160 acre property between Bass and Allen Lakes was for sale. He knew Uncle Woody (the Wood in Bil-O-Wood) had been looking for a place to start a new camp. Woody had previously been in four other camps, all owned by others. After many phones calls to the parties selling the property all agreed we needed to take a look.
The Trip to Canada
In early November 1945, (I was only 4 at the time but do remember much about the 1st trip) we left Pottstown, Pa. Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop Ludwig, Uncle Woody and Aunt Dottie and I were loaded in Pop’s Packard. The trip to Blind River in the 40’s took about three days. Most of the roads north of Toronto were under construction or dirt. The first night we stopped at Niagara Falls. The second night was near North Bay, ON (Hwy. 69 did not exist). About mid-afternoon the third day we arrived in Algoma, ON. (7 miles from Blind River, 11 miles from the soon to be camp). We met Bill Slick (Woody’s brother-in-law) at a group of small tourist cabins along Lake Lauzon, where we stayed. We had dinner and made arrangements to visit the property on the next day.
"It Didn’t Look Like BIL-O-WOOD"
After breakfast we drove to Blind River and found the dirt road leading to Bass Lake. The leaves were gone and we could see the lake long before we reached the hunting lodge. At the bottom of the road on the crest of a hill we saw a square two story building covered in unfinished boards. There were small windows and a front and back door. It looked like an old wooden farm house you would see anywhere. The current owner, Bill Clark, met us when we arrived. Before the property was a fishing camp it had been a farm and some of the area around the building was partially cleared land. Pop, Woody and Bill began the tour of the property with Mr. Clark. Mom-Mom, mother and I waited in the farm house. It was a chilly November day, normal for Ontario at this time of year.
The main building included two nice sized rooms on the first level including the living room, kitchen and eating area. Upstairs there were four small bedrooms and a bath room. The tour of the property included four small cabins, three near the lake and one on the hill across from the farmhouse. Bass Lake is spring fed, crystal clear and one and one half miles long and a half mile wide. There were no other buildings in sight. It was beautiful. After hiking most of the property lines Woody, Bill, Pop and Mr. Clark returned to the farmhouse for lunch.
"This is the Place for Our Camp"
After a warm lunch and some rest the group hiked down a rough path to Allen Lake. We all went this time. Mr. Clark wanted everyone to see this spot. The walk to the lake went through a wet area of low trees. As we approached the lake the road opened up to expose a very large white rock. As we continued to walk we began to rise above the surface of the lake. Now the lake opened up in front of us and we were standing at a place that would later become Vesper Rock. We were about 40 feet above Allen Lake. We could see to the far end over a mile away. There were no cabins or any sign of mankind. We would learn that the high point five miles in the distance was Old Baldy on Lake Lauzon, a 17 mile long lake with 186 miles of shoreline.
"If We Can Find the Money We’ll Buy This Place"
This was a SPECIAL place and we all knew it. Everyone was very quiet. It was Uncle Woody who spoke first. Addressing Bill, Pop and the ladies he said “If we can find the money we will build a camp on this place”. Everyone was in agreement. It didn’t take long to make a decision that would have a major effect on the lives of everyone present and a major effect on thousands of families and children for many years in the future. It was November and the sun was getting low in the sky. The air was getting cooler by the minute. We took another look over Allen Lake and quickly walked back to the farmhouse.
Pop-Pop, Woody and Bill left Mr. Clark with a verbal agreement to purchase his property. We headed for our cabin in Algoma and a warm fire. After dinner the conversation about our new found home and how it would become a camp went long into the night. Everyone was on an emotional high that has continued to this day in the SPIRIT of Camp Bil-O-Wood.
We Head Home the Next Day
When we awoke the next morning the ground was covered with a light dusting of pure white Canadian snow. It was still falling as we packed the cars and headed to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 90 miles to the west. We arrived in the Soo around lunch time. The road like most northern highways in the mid-forties was not very good so we had to go slow. After lunch we waited at the boarder crossing for the ferry to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (no bridges yet). By mid-afternoon we said goodbye to Ontario not realizing how much of our lives would be spent there in the future.
Two hours south of Soo, MI we encountered another wait for a ferry. This one was much longer for we would cross the Mackinac Straits (the bridge wouldn’t be built for another fifteen years). Late that evening we found some tourist cabins in Michigan’s southern peninsula. We didn’t realize that this was the beginning of hunting season in Michigan and most of the overnight facilities were full. But we were really very lucky to be going south. We had waited an hour to get on the ferry south. Those waiting to go north were looking at waits of 6 to 8 hours because of hunters going north.
Back in the States, Heading for Ohio
The snow was falling steadily when we started out the next day. The roads were getting better and most of the traffic was heading north to hunt for deer. We left early but it was very late when we finally arrived at Bill’s home in Zanesville, Ohio. The next day was spent talking about the future and what would be needed to make Camp Bil-O-Wood a reality. After a rest day Mom, Pop, dad, mother and I began the long drive back to Pottstown. We arrived late that night weary from over a week on the road, but excited because of the plans for the future.
The Money is “Found”
Ever since that day on the white rock at Allen Lake the adult conversation was non-stop. They all knew that their plan would come together. Pop-Pop Ludwig had a plan. A few years before he had been a co-owner of Pottstown Pipe and Nipple Co. in Pottstown, PA. That company had been very successful and had supplied many of the fittings used to build the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 1938. Pop had recently sold his share of the company and was semi-retired. He would use some of the funds received from the sale of his share of the company to buy the property that would become CAMP BIL-O-WOOD. Some of the profits from the building of the “great” bridge would help create another bridge. One that would help children become young adults at CAMP BIL-O-WOOD.
Over sixty years ago a bridge was constructed and more young people cross it every year.