There once was a time when family vacations meant loading up the car and hitting the road for a camping trip that involved setting up a big canvas tent or parking a silver Airstream camper in a vaguely wooded area, and enjoying some time in the great outdoors. It was a simpler time, when mom packed sandwiches in a wicker picnic basket, or dad helped cook dinner by sliding a hot dog on to a stick that would be hovered over the fire for an indeterminate time.
Fortunately, that era isn’t completely lost to us thanks to the Museum of Family Camping located in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. The museum was the brainchild of one Roy Heise, who first proposed such a site back in 1990. Heise spent years collecting all manner of camping gear starting with his years with the Boy Scouts and extending to his later life, when in 1955 he opened the first public campgrounds in New Hampshire. Heise’s collection became the launching point of the museum when it finally opened its doors back in 1993, and since that time, the number of items on display has risen to more than 1500.
This slice of camping Americana begins with the building itself. The museum is housed in a wooden bunkhouse that dates back to the 1930’s, with several 50’s era campers flanking it on either side. Moving inside, you’ll find all manner of vintage gear, including old lanterns, coolers, tents and sleeping bags. There is even a full campsite set up in a manner of the time period, that gives us an indication of just what “roughing it” meant in bygone years.
As if all that old gear wasn’t enough of a draw, the museum is also home to the Family Camping Hall of Fame, which includes such luminaries as Teddy Roosevelt, L.L. Bean, and Roy Heise himself. One wall inside the old log cabin is filled with plaques dedicated to memorializing those that made camping fun and adventurous for families everywhere.
The museum is a perfect walk down memory lane for those who have fond memories of camping with the entire family, but modern campers will get a kick out of it too, as they realize how much their gear has evolved and changed over the years. If you’re ever in Allenstown, stop by to see how camping in the U.S. has changed over the years and be glad that our tents now weigh a third of what they once did and our campfire dinners have improved immeasurably.