NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 27, 2013

Camp Sea Haven reunion event tomorrow

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT -- Most hosts who plan parties know how many people will attend but Ann Harrington Lagasse isn’t quite sure of the projected attendance at the upcoming reunion of Camp Sea Haven on Sunday.

“It could be 50 or it could be 200,” said Lagasse, whose grandfather started the camp. “I’ve heard from a lot of people so I think we’ll get a good turnout.

“This is just the first year, and many people are looking forward.”

Camp Sea Haven ran from 1947 to 1988 on Plum Island, and was open to youngsters with polio and other conditions.

Lagasse has planned a reunion Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Newbury Fire Hall. A presentation with photos is scheduled for the Parker River Refuge headquarters Monday at both 5 and 7 p.m.

Organizers have sent invitations to former campers, counselors, staff members and supporters.

Lagasse, a former real estate executive in this community, said she is determined to record some kind of history of the camp.

She launched the project after discussions with local historian Ghlee Woodworth and she has been aided in the planning by her father, former director Daniel Harrington Jr.

Her grandfather, Daniel R. Harrington Sr., founded the free camp, which was built on the uninhabited end of the island.

The family ran the camp for more than two decades. Daniel Harrington Jr. said his father had polio as a young man, and wanted to provide a healthy and fun environment for children.

The early years of Sea Haven were part of an era when youngsters with infirmities often couldn’t attend “regular” camp.

As polio was eradicated in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the camp welcomed others with frailties, including those with cerebral palsy. In 1972, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation took over the camp and continued until it closed in 1988.

Reasons for its disappearance included the high cost of administration and the push by federal officials to develop the island as a wildlife refuge.

The facility included about a dozen “half moon of cottages” with a saltwater swimming pond in the center. This was pumped in from the sea and was changed frequently.

About 100 could attend per session, and there were four two-week sessions.

Lagasse said she will be recording oral histories this weekend, with the goal of creating a valuable history of the camp.

She said five of her six siblings will attend, as will her father, who resides in a rehabilitative hospital in Haverhill after suffering a stroke.

“You probably couldn’t have a camp like that today - it didn’t have ramps or other things that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) would require,” said Lagasse, a former real-estate executive here.

“But it was a great experience and we’re trying to bring back a lot of people this weekend.”

Lagasse said that reservations are not required, and that all “alums” are welcome to the Sunday and Monday events.