If you’re in your 40s or 50s, and you grew up in Montville, chances are good that you remember swimming at Schultz’s Point, and buying candy from the little store there.
If you’re older, you might remember paying 25 cents to use the beach, and $1 to rent a picnic table for the day.
And if you were around in 1918, and you could still summon memory, you might recall Charles and Schnookie Schultz (their given names were Oscar and Gretchen) buying the 50 acres for $1,000, and building a road from the farmhouse down to the shore of Gardner Lake.
That was the glimmer of the beginning of Laurel Lock campground.
The real camp came into being in the summer of 1967, when Ann and Bill Breda – Ann was the granddaughter of Charles and Schnookie – came up with the idea, and made the first eight campsites.
Laurel Lock celebrates its 45th anniversary on Saturday.
BACK WHEN LAUREL LOCK BEGAN (“Laurel” for mountain laurel, “Lock” for hemlock), it cost $2 a day to camp. There were no utilities. Campers used outhouses, and filled their water containers from a faucet at a pump house, according to a fascinating history of the camp, written by Katie Hornat, one of the Bredas’ children. Check the pdfs in the photo box for the entire history.
Now, the camp has 130 sites. Each site has cable TV, water, its own meter for electricity, and is connected to a sewer system. The $2,800 fee for the summer (prime sites pay an additional premium) includes all these utilities.
When the camp started, says Val Hornat, Katie’s sister, (Val and Katie married brothers, Pete and Tom respectively), a good-sized camper was 20 feet long. You can pretty much double that now. Some of the campers are what is called “park campers,” which are not intended to be moved. They look like houses, some with log siding or dormer windows.
Many regular RV campers have built-in decks, some with sunken patios, fountains, waterfalls, and more. Campers return year after year after year – one family is in its fourth generation – and not only decorate their sites, but improve them, too. People have built retaining walls, planted perennials, put down paving stones and gravel. Most people, Val says, leave their RVs over the winter.
“Once you get a deck on there,” she says, “it’s pretty hard to move them.”
LAUREL LOCK IS CLEAN, QUIET AND ATTRACTIVE, and the Hornats work at keeping it that way. If you’re a new camper, your RV must be newer than 10 years old. There is a beach for families with children, and a beach for adults only. The Hornats don’t allow jet skis.
The campers keep their places neat. Transport through the camp is generally by golf cart, and the speed limit is 10 mph.
One side of the camp borders St. Thomas More School. The other side borders Hopemead State Park. Gardner Lake borders the campground to the west.
It is quiet in Laurel Lock on a weekday. Val says that on the weekends, it can get noisy, as families gather and kids come in.
That’s part of it, she says.
It is a hideaway, it is a sanctuary, but it is a community, too, and life happens here. As we walk through the campground, she points to this RV and that, noting people who have come here for decades, have been joined in the park by their siblings or their children, in campsites just over there. She talks about this one – no names - who lost a spouse recently, that one who is in the hospital. It is life in the village of Laurel Lock, as it would be life in any small town.
BUT IT'S A SUMMERTIME PLACE. A vacation spot. Once a medical technologist, Val now goes to work in flip-flops, and wears a bathing suit under her dress. In addition to helping run the camp (the sisters and their husbands lease the camp from the Bredas), she helps run the store (T-shirts and spaghetti sauce, videotapes and garden hoses, soda and candy and chips - the kind of stuff you’d come up needing on vacation), accept payments, solve problems and keep things going.
“Things” include, in addition to the campsites and beaches; a basketball court; rest rooms throughout the campground; a recreation room with pool table, ping-pong table; arcade games and a teen area; the adult recreation room with internet access and a computer; a fireplace and comfy couches.
JACK SOVA OF WALLINGFORD has been coming to Laurel Lock for 35 years, though this is the first time he’s staying all summer.
“It’s like a second home,” he says.
His daughter and her husband have taken a campsite at Laurel Lock, and his son rents one of the campground’s cottages.
Sova was a truck driver, and now, he’s retired. At Laurel Lock, in addition to driving his golf cart around at night, looking for deer, “We just plain relax.”
HOWARD FOWLER LIVES IN FLORIDA during the winter, and Laurel Lock during the summer, in large part to be near the grandkids.
He was an engineer before he retired, then had a sign business in Florida, and now he works part-time at the campground.
“It’s the best campground in the state,” Fowler says.
LORETTA HOTCHKISS OF UNCASVILLE has had her spot for the past 10 years. She and her husband used to visit campgrounds all over, going to NASCAR races. Now, Laurel Lock is their spot.
Their campsite is one of the most decorated in the campground, with a hibiscus-covered entry arch, stepping stones, a curved purple bridge, trees and a fountain. On her deck is a swing, a large TV, plants and a spiral staircase that leads down to a fenced-in dog area.
"It's my little bit of heaven," she says.
IN THE CAMPGROUND'S NEWSLETTER, Katie Hornat has recorded people’s memories of Laurel Lock over the years.
Toni-Marie (Prete) Maher writes that she remembers camping at Laurel Lock “at a very young age. … There was always lots of food, music, singing and laughter. I met my first friend at Laurel Lock, Nancy (Sherbo) Pritchard. We remain best friends as of today.”
Katie Hornat writes about “the decrepit little shack (the little store).” First, she writes, “circa 1918, the building was used as an ice house and was located right up to the lake front. I’m told that my great grandfather used to harvest ice from the lake in blogkcs and stack them to the ceiling, layering hay between the blocks of ice.”
The ice would last through the year, she writes.
Later, “the little store served hamburgers, hot dogs, candy, ice cream, soda, chips and a free dose of German sensibility and manners (in case you entered and didn’t have any.)”
Sharon Barone writes that “Joe and I watched our kids and grandkids grow here, and come full circle. Now 33 seasons later we are all still here. Joe in spirit, he passed last July. I’m still enjoying one of Joe’s and mine favorite pastimes, watching some of the most spectacular sunsets you could ever see.”
To reach Laurel Lock's webpage, click here.