By S.K. List
Camp Street was named for Hermon Camp (1787-1878) and for the Camp house, the impressive Greek Revival-style home he built between 1845 and 1847, which stands almost alone on one entire Trumansburg block.
Originally, the street was called “Lawn Street,” and on an 1853 map of the village, Camp’s residence is shown there with the name “Lawnside.”
Lawn Street persists as the location of Camp’s house on an 1866 Trumansburg map, and, into the 1870s, it is the listed address in his ads for the manufacture of “pure flax seed oil” in copies of the Tompkins County Sentinel. These ads continued to run after the year of his death and continued to list Lawn Street.
By the 1880s, “Camp Street” had begun to appear occasionally as an identified location in the local papers, but so did Lawn. However, as late as October 1965, on a Trumansburg tax map, the street with Camp’s house is printed as “Lawn Street,” although a copy of the same map shows a hand-written amendment to include the word “(Camp)” in the labeling. Subsequent maps, including the current (2017) village tax map, firmly indicate Camp Street.
Born in Connecticut, Camp arrived in Trumansburg at age 18, from Owego, to the south, and stayed for the rest of his life. Once a casual purveyor of whiskey, Camp underwent religious conversion in 1831 and took up a host of causes.
According to the History of Trumansburg (1890) by local newspaper editor A. P. Osborn, “the light-hearted, open-handed, free-thinking man became an austere and uncompromising Calvinist. He abandoned the sale of liquor and began the war against its sale and use that he fought to his dying day.”
Not just a temperance man but a vigorous advocate of the Sunday School movement, abolition, and other reforms, Camp served as postmaster, shopkeeper, library founder, county sheriff, state assemblyman, banker, and as a cavalry colonel in the War of 1812.
He was also the dominating presence in the social and cultural life of Trumansburg. Recognized in his day as “the foremost merchant in all the country between the lakes,” he was likewise, Osborn notes, “no saint” and could be “inflexible in purpose.” “He would brook no opposition,” Osborn reported, and “everything must yield to his imperious will.” He wrote that Camp:
made more friends and more enemies than any man who has ever lived here; he never occupied a neutral position in business, public affairs or to individuals, he was always for or against, and as like begats like, the people with whom he was surrounded were either for or against him; but there is no doubt that for more than half a century he was the master spirit in all the affairs of this place.
This view lingered, as illustrated when 1930s Ithaca Journal columnist Romeyn Berry commented that Camp “came pretty close to being King of Trumansburg, Duke of Ulysses and Overlord of Tompkins County.”
Camp married, but in 1825, Osborn says, “occurred the most important event of Mr. Camp’s life, namely, his separation and subsequent divorce from his first wife.” This parting from spouse Lucinda reverberated throughout the village, creating rifts that affected church congregations, political affiliations, jury deliberations, families, and friendships, even reportedly spilling over to the next generations.
The reasons for such an impact are cloudy: it’s been suggested that Camp became displeased that no issue was proceeding from the union, but hints point to some other cause. Trumansburg historian Lydia Sears referred to a contemporaneous diary entry indicating that Camp “hoped that God would forgive [Lucinda],” but Sears alleged that “the lady, for she was indeed a lady, had been framed.”
Lucinda remarried in 1828, to Joseph Goodwin, of the settler family at Taughannock Point (once known as Goodwin’s Point), and Camp himself married three more times and fathered 13 children. The names of Wives Two through Four are inscribed on the commanding granite obelisk at Camp’s grave (and, presumably, theirs) in Trumansburg’s Grove Cemetery. The fourth, who survived him, had been the widow of his nephew. The Camp house remained in family hands until 2002 and is a village landmark today.
While no specific declaration of the block’s name change has come to light, it seems that Camp’s out-size persona, along with the imposing stature of his house, in time led to the gradual morphing of Lawn Street in the public mind and to the eventual permanent designation of his seat of power as Camp Street.
S.K. List, the Trumansburg village historian, is a writer, editor, and former journalist living in Trumansburg. She has been a goat farmer, blacksmith, painter, publisher, arts center director, and hippie-communard. As the editor of the Ithaca Times and then Ithaca Child, List has covered local news extensively. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, American Demographics, Rock & Roll Confidential, and various other publications here and there across the country.
Berry, Romeyn. Ithaca Journal, January 6, 13, 1936.
Osborn, A.P. History of Trumansburg, Free Press, Trumansburg, New York, 1890.
Sears, Lydia. A History of Trumansburg, New York, 1792-1967, Trumansburg, N.Y., Privately published, 1968.
Tompkins County Clerk, New York. Certificate of Appointment (Estate), Instrument Number 421582-006, October 23, 2002.
Tompkins County Clerk, New York. Deed Book CD2513 Page 2944, October 25, 2002.