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The site that is now Camp Al-Gon-Quian was originally a farm on Burt Lake with a beautiful homestead called the "Elms." In 1925, Ann Arborite Herbert H. Twining purchased the land with the intent to start a summer camp.  Herb was a University of Michigan graduate (1923), who initially wanted to be a medical doctor. However, an eye injury as a child prevented this and instead Herb pursued a profession that he found parallel: He dedicated his life’s work to establishing Camp Al-Gon-Quian as a private boys’ camp on the leading edge of camp programming. Mr. Twining was well-recognized in the camping community and actively involved with the American Camp Association, of which he was the first national president in 1935. He was the director of Al-Gon-Quian for 42 years until his retirement in 1967, when he sold camp to the Ann Arbor YMCA.

Mr. Twining chose a Native American tribe name for the camp because of the great campers they had been. The name Al-Gon-Quian comes from a predominate Native American language. In the English language, Al-Gon-Quian means "bow of a canoe". Along with the name of the language, Twining also borrowed several names for camper groups. He divided the campers into groups by age, grade, height and weight. Throughout the years, the tribes included the Ottawa, Chippewa, Cree, Ojibwa, Miami, Nipissing and Mississauga. One common element that joins these native tribes together is that of them were a part of the Algonquian linguistic family and spoke Algonquian when together. Al-Gon-Quian is still the universal language for the children who spend their summers with us.

In 1925, Mr. Twining opened camp for its first season.  Sessions lasted 8 weeks, and boys came from all over Michigan and surrounding states.  Prominent families from of the Ann Arbor community and the Midwest sent their sons to Camp Al-Gon-Quian. A brief list includes the Proctor & Gamble sons of Cincinnati, the Wrigleys of Chicago, the Strohs of Detroit and Grosse Pointe, and the children of noteworthy University of Michigan figures Alvin Bentley, C.S. Mott and G. Mennen Williams. Prominent members of the university community that served as staff members include Ben Oosterbann, Dr. Roger Howell, Roscoe Bonisteel, Dean Stason and James B. Edmonson.

In addition to providing a fun outdoor experience for campers, Camp Al-Gon-Quian aimed to improve the character of young men. In 1932, the aims of camp were to develop strength of character, a purpose in life, a clear moral character, self-reliance and the ability to achieve. This was accomplished through two months of camaraderie and living in the great outdoors away from the stresses of city life. Campers often took an overnight train up north from Chicago or Detroit, spending their entire summers on Burt Lake.