Camp History

An excerpt from an interview in 1983 with Camp Dunnabeck Founder, Diana Hanbury King:

“After my teaching job at Sidwell Friends in Washington D.C. and then on to a few summers at Camp Mansfield, I knew what I wanted to do. I decided if I ever had any money, I would start a camp for dyslexic students. In 1955, I was left a $7,000 trust fund that made it possible. In February, while I was in the hospital having my second child, Sheila, my mother and husband found a suitable camp site in Western Pennsylvania. It had acres, the requisite stream, eight cabins, a lodge, and a barn. I named it Dunnabeck after a stream and a cottage in the English Lake District. A beck is a stream, and I think Dunna meant tan after the color of the water flowing over the pebbles.

In June we opened, with seven students and a staff of five. I did all the tutoring, and in the afternoons the marketing down at Potter McCune, at the bottom of the mountain 15 miles away. Every morning one of us had to drive into town to pick up the cook. Food was prepared on a wood stove (one counselor chopped the wood and got the fire started). We used an ice box—a great economy until I found out the price of ice. There was a hole in the lodge floor that we covered with a large basket of rhododendron—to save the cost of fixing the hole. We lost money, but the students flourished, and the next summer there were 13 of them. The camp population grew steadily to between 50 and 60.

I was young and energetic in those days, and stayed up until midnight regularly with the young staff, sitting around the lodge fire. Sometimes we would leave a skeleton crew on duty and go spelunking after the students went to bed, returning from exploring nearby Dulany Cave (not then the commercial venture it is now, but a real wild cave). In those days you could shimmy down the Devil’s Staircase. Once I got lost for an hour or so in a section called the Liberty Tubes.

We did a lot of playing. We always stayed on after the students left to relax and write reports. One year we left our caretaker, Dalton Smithburger, to feed the horses—of course there were horses—and drove off to Rehobeth Beach for two days, arriving in time to sit on the beach and watch the sunrise. Another time, as a practical joke, the staff stayed up all night and painted my cabin yellow with purple shutters. We put blocks under Shirley Kokesh’s car (yes, she was there), and tire boots to the wheels. We were all young—at 28 or so, I was sometimes the oldest. Looking back, I can also see that we were incredibly lucky. Nothing serious ever went wrong.

After a few years, I received a letter in the mail telling me that I was apparently operating an illegal school. Since it was, in my view, a camp, I was aghast. However, we did succeed in getting the various requisite documents, and soon had a license. One day, Harrisburg called and the Director of Private Academic Schools announced that he planned to inspect the academic program. I explained that the camp was for dyslexic boys. “Please spell that,” he said. When he came, it was evident to me that he had not done his homework—”Fine looking boys.” “Handsome young men,” he kept muttering. God only knows what he expected. Dyslexia has made some progress since then.

Through the years we steadily improved the facilities. We added another 55 acres, a stable, an art center, an infirmary, and many cabins. A parent, Bill Scarlett, lent us the money to build a pool.

The campers flourished. They fished for crayfish in the stream, built dams, went on long trail rides hoping to see deer, built bonfires and roasted marshmallows and hotdogs, and enjoyed the early morning mists, the incredibly dramatic and sudden thunderstorms, and the clear and cold starry or moonlit nights. I loved the place.

This past spring I sold it to an organization called Pioneer Crafts. They renamed it Touchstone. The old sign, a gift of Mark Donohue, is gone. My teaching cabin over the stream is now the Fiber Shop, the old Senior cabin is the children’s center. The stable is the blacksmith’s shop. It is a good use for the property after all, it might have become a trailer park or a strip mine. But I shan’t go back lest, like Lot’s wife, I turn into a pillar of salt.”




‘In 1983 the summer program, Camp Dunnabeck, moved from Pennsylvania and became a part of The Kildonan School in Amenia, New York, where it thrived. After Camp 2019 The Kildonan School closed its doors and sold its campus.  The Kildonan organziation still operates Camp Dunnabeck and will be celebrating its 65th anniversary this summer for Camp 2020.  Camp Dunnabeck 2020 will run from The Marvelwood School campus.

The original Camp Dunnabeck location, in Western Pennsylvania, where it flourished from 1955 to 1983.

Camp Dunnabeck founder, Diana Hanbury King