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Culver-sponsored summer camp gave rise to Culver Military Academy

Jeff Kenney, Culver Academies Museum Archives Manager

Members of the summer camp in 1894 in a photo promoting the opening of Culver Military Academy that September. 


Culver Summer Schools and Camps had its official start with the opening of the Summer Naval School in 1902, but considerably lesser known is the fact that it was a Culver-sponsored summer camp which gave rise to Culver Military Academy – and thus Culver Academies – eight years earlier. 

In March, 1894, Henry Harrison Culver received a letter from Henry C. Adams, a summer resident of Lake Maxinkuckee's east shore (and active in Indianapolis politics and business), suggesting a summer school be opened on Culver's property on the north shore of Lake Maxinkuckee.

H.H. Culver, a successful stove manufacturer from St. Louis (though he was born and raised in Ohio), had launched the Culver Park Assembly Christian Chautauqua camp at the location in 1889 to much acclaim and attendance, but he shuttered the wood frame hotel and tabernacle auditorium building following that first summer, briefly utilizing the grounds as an agricultural fairground. 

Adams' summer camp idea resonated with Culver and in April of 1894, the 40 acres comprising the former Culver Park Assembly grounds were set aside for school purposes, even as Culver contemplated something far more substantial: a year-round educational institution. 

However, the agreement by which "a permanent School of high grade at what is known as 'Culver Park' near Marmont, Marshall County, Indiana, to be known as 'Culver Military Institute'" (as it would initially be called) was not made until May 4, 1894. 

The earliest name of the school was no coincidence. Much of its earliest history is intertwined with that of the Ohio Military Institute near Cincinnati, owing at least in large measure to the fact that Henry C. Adams' son, Henry C. Adams Jr., and close childhood friend Elijah Martindale Jr (known as "Lige") had enrolled together at OMI in the fall of 1891 and were members of the corps there for the next three years. They would be among the leaders of the group of 16 Ohio cadets who came to Culver as a substantial part of CMA's original enrollment, and Adams and Martindale (later an Army colonel) went on to become CMA's very first graduates in 1895 (technically Adams, due to the alphabetical order of his placement in that first commencement ceremony, is considered CMA's first graduate; he was also Culver's first-ever Cadet captain).


Chataqua hotel as first school building circa 1894-95. 


But while Henry Harrison Culver was moving toward the opening of his new military school that fall, his summer camp was preparing to open at the future site of his school. 

While an actual start date for the camp appears to be lost to history, by July 11, the Logansport Pharos-Tribune reported (quite erroneously) "that there were 74 cadets already taking the summer course of instruction at Culver academy, Lake Maxinkuckee." 

The summer camp's approximately 18 boys (according to one member of the group writing later) appear to have been comprised primarily, if not exclusively, of OMI cadets, likely encouraged by Adams and Martindale, who had already enjoyed several prior summers on Maxinkuckee (where the Culver Alumni Magazine later reported that they "spent their summers fishing and sailing, and riding horseback along the trails around the lake"). 

David Braden, CMA class of 1896 and another 1894 summer camp attendee, wrote in the 1914 Roll Call that, "This small band of young men had come for a summer school outing from the Ohio Military Institute where we were cadets. We put in a most enjoyable summer and during our stay, Mr. Henry H. Culver became enthusiastic and began to talk about establishing a permanent school. I well remember his remark to my father (who was here on a visit) that if he did start a school, he would make it one of the finest schools in the world. It was right then that my brother and I became Culver cadets, for my father's reply to Mr. Culver's remark was : 'Mr. Culver, you can count upon my two boys for a starter.'"

Braden has an important place in Culver's history for several reasons, including his launching of the retail venture that would eventually become today's Shack. He also holds the distinction of being the first Culver graduate to have a child attend a Culver program, in this case another tie to Culver summers: his son Frederick Braden enrolled as a Woodcrafter during the second summer of the camp's existence, in 1913. 

An excerpt from the Marmont Herald newspaper of Friday, July 20, 1894, notes that the editor, strolling near that first summer camp, heard "the sweet and soul thrilling strains of music as it floated through the air" and learned that it came from "musical instruments in the hands of the Academy's band."

The article continues: "The academy boys spend a glorious time camping in their tents upon the campus...We are pleased to say that the boys show the result of their training by being courteous to all persons they meet."


Henry C. Adams was CMA's first graduate in 1895.


Showing the versatility of the boys who made up the first enrollment, another item from the same paper noted that, "The summer session ball team has been organized and daily practice is held" (the Academy baseball team defeated the local Maxinkuckee team 27-11).

The July 13 edition of the Herald stated that ”Mr. Culver at once commenced the construction of a building suitable for a school, but before it had progressed far, arrangements were made for a permanent school, which should be known as the Culver Academy; consequently a change was made in the architectural designs of the buildings, and as they stand today completed, they are models of architectural beauty; and are commodious, and provided with all the modern convenience for health and comfort."

The work undertaken that summer was the conversion of the three-story Chautauqua hotel into a multi-purpose building containing barracks, classroom, and dining facilities, and the tabernacle building into a gymnasium. 

Earlier in the spring of 1894, H.H. Culver had already hired the first superintendent for his planned military school, reflecting another OMI connection. Dr. J.H. McKenzie, an Episcopal priest, had been superintendent of the Ohio Military Institute and was thus a friend of the Henry Adams family and instructor of the OMI boys. McKenzie would serve as CMA superintendent for only one year, resigning in June, 1895, after a tumultuous year of disagreements with H.H. Culver (McKenzie left Culver to serve as rector of the Howe School, later Howe Military Academy, where he served with distinction until 1920; his former school, OMI, closed in 1958).

And while H.H. Culver may have first patterned his school's name (the initial Culver Military Institute) after OMI, newspaper advertisements from July, 1894, show that he had chosen the name "Culver Academy" by that summer (without the later "Military" in the title). It was around this time that H.H. Culver penned the first promotional catalog for the school (the only known copy of which is on display at the Culver Academies Museum today), and the name "Culver Academy" headlines that publication. 

During the summer, the following advertisement had appeared regularly in the weekly editions of the Marmont Herald and other area newspapers: “The Culver Academy will open the fall term - September 24. Superior advantages are offered in the various departments. Liberal education under MASTERS OF EXPERIENCE."

Newspaper advertisements show that, sometime between August 19 (when "Culver Academy" was advertised) and October 2, 1894, the school's name officially became "Culver Military Academy."

By September 24, 1894, all was ready, and the first 45 cadets graced the halls of Culver Military Academy. The fledgling school saw its share of triumphs and tragedies during its first year, but those are stories for another time. This year, as hundreds of campers enjoy the delights of a summer of Lake Maxinkuckee's north shore, it seems nearly impossible that it all started 130 years ago with a mere handful of boys, a handful of tents and a few buildings, and the burgeoning dream of a retired stove maker from Ohio.


Culver Park Chautauqua hotel circa 1889.



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