California: The San Francisco Bay Area and Other Northern California Camps – Part 1

San Francisco and other Bay area Camp Fire councils sponsored more than a dozen resident camps for varying lengths of time during the twentieth century. Among these were Wasibo, 1923-1948; Caniya, 1948-1986; Kilowana, 1946-1961; Maacama, 1948-1986; Thayer, 1928-1945; and Wastahi, 1927-1975. North of San Francisco were Seabow, 1939-1975 and, the most northern Camp Fire Girls’ camp in California, Kimtu, 1929-1967.

Wasibo in the Santa Cruz Mountains was one of California’s first Camp Fire camps. A 1943 article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel refers to the twentieth season of Camp Wasibo and the 1938 camp brochure says “Fifteenth Season” so the camp was probably established in 1923. [1]

Brochure 1

The brochure briefly describes the camp.

“Camp Wasibo is in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the heart of a once famous redwood country. Since its development by the Camp Fire Girls fourteen years ago, great care has been taken to preserve the beauty of the site, and to increase its usefulness to the campers. Two streams flow through the property. One gives an abundance of clear spring water which is piped for drinking and cooking purposes, the other supplies the swimming pool. Tents, each with accommodations for four girls, are grouped under the trees. There is sufficient open space for games and a secluded hilltop for Evening Fires and Council Fires.”

During a 1931 visit the Red Cross suggested ways to use the seventy-five square foot swimming area more efficiently and to incorporate aspects of the Red Cross program. [2] In 1938 girls were required to purchase bathing caps in colors to indicate swimming ability for 10¢. Health certificates were also required and the Council had arranged for women physicians to examine the girls at the San Francisco Camp Fire headquarters.

Girl Jumping into Water

Real Photo Postcard of girl at Camp Wasibo

 

Photos of Wasibo’s outdoor dining hall appeared in Everygirl’s in April 1926 and on real photo and Artvue postcards. Tents where the girls slept are shown on other postcards. Six real photo postcards, mentioned in a previous post, show the same two girls in various parts of Camp Wasibo. The girls’ shorts and ankle socks worn with middies suggest the photos were taken in the 1930s.

Dining - Everygirls's

Photo which appeared in April 1926 Everygirl’s

 

Wasibo was located “about a mile and a half from Zayante R.R. station.” In 1938 girls could travel to camp by train from the Southern Pacific Station at Third and Townsend for $1.45, or 75¢ if under twelve. They left at 8:17 in the morning and were accompanied by counselors. That year there were four camp periods, each of a different length, twelve days, ten days, fourteen days and seventeen days. The final seventeen day period was reserved for high school and college girls.

Tents 1

Real Photo Postcard of Tents at Camp Wasibo

 

In 1948 the San Francisco Camp Fire Council acquired Camp Caniya near Sierra City. Caniya, more than two-hundred miles from San Francisco, required a bus ride of several hours. At an elevation of 5,200 feet Bay Area Camp Fire Girls experienced the cold Sierra nights. While Caniya was being prepared for campers, San Francisco girls were invited to Oakland’s Camp Celio. In 1949 fifty San Francisco girls twelve or older were invited to live outdoors, hike and take pack trips “over the well marked trails to the many mountain lakes” at Caniya. For almost forty years Caniya campers enjoyed the wealth of beautiful cirque lakes and the towering Sierra Buttes. When I was a counselor there in 1968 girls came for two weeks and slept outdoors; tents, large enough for six or seven cots were used for dressing and for shelter when it rained. Campers enjoyed exploring the creek which ran through camp, and sailing on nearby Packer Lake. The camp had a swimming pool and dining room. [3]

 

Creek

Campers enjoying the Creek at Camp Caniya in 1968

 

When other Camp Fire Girls’ camps closed girls were welcomed at Camp Caniya. In 1963 the San Francisco and San Mateo Camp Fire Girls merged, forming the Golden Gate Council and making Caniya available Marin County girls. At that time Camp Caniya accommodated 175 girls for each of three sessions. By the time I was a counselor there in 1968 there were four two-week sessions. In the 1970s Ukiah Camp Fire Girls were also attending Camp Caniya.[4] In the 1980s Caniya was sold to the Girl Scouts, as Wasibo had been more than thirty years earlier. Today Camp Fire Golden Empire, located in Vallejo serves the San Francisco Bay area and sponsors Camp Gold Hollow.

[1] Santa Cruz Evening News June 26, 1925; Santa Cruz Sentinel June 10, 1943; “Camp Wasibo for the Camp Fire Girls of San Francisco” 1938 brochure.

[2] Santa Cruz Evening News August 18, 1939; Van Slyck, Abigail A. A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960 Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 84.

[3] “San Francisco Camp Fire Girls: Summer Activities 1949”

[4] Ukiah Daily Journal June 13, 1977; Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California) April 1, 1963.

California: The Lake Vera Camps

 

Lake Vera Postcard (color)

Postcard view of Lake Vera

 

 

Among my postcards of Camp Fire Girls’ camps are five green letters. Each one is a single sheet, folded like the blue airmail letters I used to send to friends in Europe and Australia; one side serves as the envelope and the letter is on the other. Unlike the airmail letters, these have the stamps affixed instead of printed, and the return address “Camp Celio, Nevada City, California” is printed on the envelope with a pine tree underneath. The letters were sent by fifteen-year-old Lorraine Peterson to her parents in Oregon in July 1938. In the first one she writes “Don’t you think the stationary cute? They gave everyone twelve of these and twelve Celio post card. They do not sell stamps here so would you please send me some.” I have no postcards from Camp Celio, but a brochure, published by the Artvue Postcard Co., and possibly from about the same time, includes 10 photos of the camp, accordion-folded and ready to be stamped, addressed and mailed.

Green Celio letter

One of Lorraine Peterson’s letters from Camp Celio

 

Lorraine was one of six exchange campers from Oregon’s Camp Namanu who were sent to different west coast camps in 1938. She traveled by train from Portland to Auburn, California where she was met and continued her trip to Celio by one “of those new streamlined greyhound buses”. Another Portland girl would go to the Sacramento camp, Minaluta, also on Lake Vera. Celio and Minaluta were two of the three Camp Fire camps on fifteen-acre Lake Vera near Nevada City in 1938. [1]

Ten years earlier, under the leadership of Lucia Searls, the Oakland Camp Fire Girls had begun looking for a permanent camp. They sought a site that was “located near a city where supplies might be obtained . . . free from poison oak, well wooded, [and] with a stream or pond suitable for swimming.” At the same time Nevada City leaders thought that a girls’ camp on Lake Vera would bring tourists to Nevada City. W. H. Celio and his son Gove, purchased twenty acres of land on Lake Vera, and gave it to the Oakland Camp Fire Girls. The land adjoined that belonging to Mills College. [2]

Celio folder 10

Photo from Camp Celio folder

 

In April construction of a dining room, kitchen and sanitary system commenced and on June 11, 1928 Camp Celio opened for three two-week sessions. In December 1929 the Oakland Tribune provided a detailed description of Camp Celio’s lodge which contained a forty by forty-foot screened dining room, an immense fireplace and a sixteen by twenty-four foot kitchen. With thirty tent platforms and a washhouse Camp Celio was equipped for 150 campers. That year the Oakland Camp Fire Council was able to purchase sixty more acres. The Kiwanis, East Bay Camp Fire councils and Camp Fire Girls all helped with the buildings and equipment. Girls could travel from the East Bay to Colfax by train and then transfer to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad which ran to Nevada City where they boarded buses for the nearby camp. Oakland Camp Fire Girls, joined by Berkeley Camp Fire Girls in 1930, continued to attend Camp Celio for more than six decades. Activities and events at Camp Celio were well-covered by the Oakland Tribune and Berkeley Daily Gazette throughout the 1930s and 40s. [3]

Camp Minaluta, the Sacramento Camp Fire camp was also established in 1928 and was enjoyed for more than six decades, but I have found no information about it before 1940 when, twelve years after its founding, the Sacramento Camp Fire Council was able to pay off their mortgage on the camp. In the 1970s, when the Sacramento Camp Fire Camp Fire Council suffered from financial problems the Alameda-Contra Costa Council ran both Celio and Camp Minaluta, calling the two camps Camp Okizu. In 1982 Camp Fire Girls from as far away as Ukiah were attending Camp Okizu. [4]

In the early 1980s John Bell and Dr. Michael Amylon acquired Camp Okizu and started a camp for children with cancer. In 1999 they needed a larger camp and moved to a site above Lake Oroville. It is not clear what became of the original Okizu – i.e. Celio and Minaluta – property.

While the Berkeley, Oakland and Sacramento Camp Fire Girls were establishing their camps on Lake Vera, Piedmont Camp Fire Girls had been visiting various camps in California. Rhea Rupert, who had been in “charge of all Piedmont Camp Fire Girls camps” dreamed of a permanent camp on Lake Vera for Piedmont Camp Fire Girls. She was introduced to William and Charlotte Ehmann who had inherited $3,900.00 from Charlotte’s mother, Augusta J. Collins. The Ehmanns agreed to finance property on Lake Vera; this became Camp Augusta which Rhea Rupert directed from 1930 until 1947. Camp Augusta was the site of a Camp Fire Guardians’ course in the summer of 1939 and the Guardian, a Camp Fire publication for leaders of Camp Fire groups described the camp:

“Picturesque Camp Augusta is on Lake Vera (near Nevada City). It is full of surprises for the new visitor – delightful spots reached by winding trails. There is the outdoor theater, for instance, where a tinkling brook, separates audiences from actors and furnishes incidental music. In a pine grove overlooking the lake there is the Council Ring, guarded by a tall totem carved by campers with the symbols of their happy days. There is the beautifully proportioned and appropriately furnished rustic lodge given by Mr. E. W. Ehmann in memory of his mother. There is the Big Oak under whose branches campers and counselors gather to discuss their plans, and many other places of charm and interest which you will discover for yourselves if you attend this course.”  [5]

 

Lake Vera postcard B & W

Real Photo Postcard of Lake Vera – probably taken at one of the Camp Fire Girls’ camps

 

 

In 1993, after the national Camp Fire organization ordered the Piedmont Camp Fire Council to merge with San Francisco or Oakland, the Piedmont Camp Fire Council became a new entity called Camp Augusta Inc. They continue to operate Camp Augusta as a non-profit camp for boys and girls. [6]

In 1927, before Camp Celio, Camp Minaluta or Camp Augusta was established, Mills College in Oakland was looking for a camp site. W.H. Griffith offered the college trustees fifty acres of land on Lake Vera; an adjoining fifty acres, called the reserve, could be sold to faculty and alumnae. A rustic lodge one-hundred by thirty-five-feet was built on the Lake Vera property and called Gold Hollow Lodge. Mills College students sometimes spent weekends there and in the summer of 1928 the college opened a summer camp for girls aged fourteen to twenty and called it Gold Hollow. During the 1930s the Girl Reserves of the Y.W. C.A. held camps at Gold Hollow and in the early 1940s Girl Scouts used the camp. [7]

In 1944 Luther Gibson, a senator and newspaper owner from Vallejo, purchased Gold Hollow from Mills College for the Vallejo Camp Fire Girls. In July 1946 the four Camp Fire Girls’ camps held their “second annual all-camp water carnival”. The carnival included swimming and canoeing contests, as well as various kinds of races and each camp elected a Queen. [8] The Vallejo Camp Fire Girls, formally the Sem Yeta Council became the Camp Fire Golden Empire Council and still operates Camp Gold Hollow.

 

 

Camp Gold Hollow

Undated Postcard of Camp Gold Hollow

 

Piedmont Girls Community Services Inc. acquired land on Lake Vera in 1934. In 1955 the Alameda Camp Fire Council acquired forty-four acres of this land and in 1956 they opened Camp Watanda, which then accommodated thirty girls; by 1966 the camp had grown to accommodate fifty girls. In the late 1960s, Celio and Watanda were administered together by the Alameda and Contra Costa Camp Fire Councils as Camp Celio-Watanda. When the Alameda-Contra Costa Camp Fire Council merged with the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club in 1998 the camp was too small for the Boys and Girls Club; they sold Watanda to John and Kathryn McNitt in 2002.

Lorraine Peterson was not the only girl to participate in a camper exchange among West Coast Camp Fire Girls’ camps in the 1930s. Their names are found in Oakland, Portland and Seattle newspapers, but their stories and adventures are mostly unknown. Lorraine’s five letters provide a glimpse of these stories.

In the spring of 2015 my niece and I visited Lake Vera. Driving from Nevada City we came first to Camp gold Hollow. Just past it was Camp Watanda. Across the road from Watanda was Camp Augusta, where crews were working on construction and maintenance. We did not find signs for Celio, Minaluta or Okizu. There was another camp, Camp Del Oro, which is run by the Salvation Army but I have found no history about this camp.

 

Road from Camp Augusta

Road away from Camp Augusta (left side) toward Camp Del Oro – Lake Vera on the right

 

 

[1] Mowrey, Freda Goodrich, “Girls Named to Represent Namanu at Neighboring Camps,” Oregonian 3 July 1938;

Lorraine Peterson, Camp Celio, to Mrs. W.C. Peterson, 8 July 1938, in collection of Mary Alice Sanguinetti; Kaiser, Marge “The History of Camp Augusta” October 2013 http://campaugusta.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/History-of-Camp-Augusta-Brochure.pdf

[2] Oakland Tribune 22 January 1928, 4 March 1928; Berkeley Daily Gazette 21 April 1933; Kaiser p. 14.

[3] Oakland Tribune 1 July 1928, 11 May 1941; San Francisco Chronicle 21 May 1930, 9 June 1930, 22 May 1932; Berkeley Daily Gazette 21 April 1933; Kaiser 21-22.

[4] Sacramento Bee 20 April 194, 25 April 1940; Daily Review (Hayward, California) 23 May 1974; Oakland Tribune 19 May 1974; Ukiah Daily Journal 16 April 1982..

[5] The Guardian April 1939.

[6] Oakland Tribune 29 June 1924, 14 July 1925, 12 June 1930; Kaiser p. 17, 24; “Mrs. Collins Leaves Bulk of Wealth To Daughter” Oakland Tribune 5 June 1930.

[7] San Francisco Chronicle 12 September 1927, 12 November 1927, 20 May 1928, 18 May 1937, 17 April 1938, 13 May 1938; Oakland Tribune 8 September, 1940, 21 June 1942; San Mateo Times 8 June 1944.

[8] Oakland Tribune 28 July 1946; Sacramento Bee 13 July 1946.

California: Camp Minkalo

 

The Sierra Nevada mountains will always be a magic place. When I was growing up we would get in our car, or board a bus, in the hot, flat Central Valley and drive and drive, and then, finally, get out into a cool, shady forest of towering conifers, filled with the scent of sun-warmed pine.

My mountain days began when I was two months old, so I was well imprinted with pine forests by the time I went to Yenis Hante for the first time. The quintessential Camp Fire Girls’ camp is in the Sierra Nevada, where we could sleep outdoors every night for an entire summer, after sunny days among the pines, firs and cedars.

I have never visited Camp Minkalo, but I have a postcard that evokes the enchantment of a Sierra Nevada summer. The card shows sailboats, water, and granite rocks; behind them is a large building with a stone chimney. Another Minkalo card also shows boats, water, rocks and lodge but the color is unnatural and it lacks the beauty of the first card.

 

Minkalo 1

A postcard view of Camp Minkalo

Minkalo was one the earliest permanent Camp Fire Girls’ camps. However, before a permanent camp was established on Silver Lake, the Stockton Camp Fire Girls camped in several different places, calling each Camp Minkalo. These camps are recorded in four brown paper books preserved in the Holt-Atherton Special Collections of the University of the Pacific.

The first book, dated 1919, was written, and decorated by the girls and counselors at camp that year. For this camp, in August 1919, the girls traveled to the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, not far from Yosemite Valley. One day they visited Hetch Hetchy where the controversial dam was being built. They do not mention John Muir or the controversy over Hetch Hetchy.

On the evening of the tenth day, August 8, 1919, the name Minkalo, Meaning “Mountain Inn of the Starry Sky” was selected. [1] The girls conclude the record of their two-week camp with the words:

Tribute warm, sincere and tender

Do they bring to leaders splendid—

Mrs. Swenson, the great-hearted, Mother, sister, leader, friend,

With her strong and patient chieftain

Ever ready by her side;

To the citizens of Stockton, who in gifts

In time, in thought, forget self

In deeds of service, Made the

Way of Wohelo a pleasant path

To be remembered as the years may come and go. [2]

The name Camp Minkalo traveled with the Camp Fire Girls to Tomales Bay in Marin County in 1920 and 1921 and then to Silver Lake in 1922. [3]

Stella Swenson, the camp director praised in the conclusion of the camp record, was twenty-nine years old in the summer of 1919. A native of Nebraska, she and her husband Bert had first moved to River Falls, Wisconsin where she taught in the state normal school and became involved with the Camp Fire Girls, and where her son Harold was born in September 1915. [4] In 1918 the family moved to Stockton where Bert was Superintendent of City Playgrounds. Their daughter Helen Jean was born in September 1918, making her almost a year old when Stella Swenson directed the first Camp Minkalo. The camp record does not mention a baby, although babies spent summers at both Camp Sebago-Wohelo and Camp Sealth, and “babycraft” was part of the Camp Fire Girls’ program. In September 1925 the Oakland Tribune gave Stella Swenson credit for bringing Camp Fire to California. [5] This might be difficult to prove, however, Stella Swenson helped the Stockton Camp Fire Girls become leaders in California. The following May a national convention of Camp Fire Girls executives was held in Stockton. [6]

Everygirl's Minkalo 1

This photo and caption appeared in the April 1926 Everygirl’s, a magazine published for Camp Fire Girls.

 

Bert Swenson was among those who helped arrange for the City of Stockton to lease 30.2 acres of Forest Service land to use as a public family camp. Another member of this group was Edith Tubbs, a graduate of the River Falls State Normal School, whom the Swensons had encouraged to come to Stockton. She would also serve as director of Camp Minkalo.

Everygirl's Minkalo 2

A second photo and caption which appeared in the April 1926 Everygirl’s

In July 1922 when Camp Minkalo came to Silver Lake the Camp Fire Girls opened the new Stockton Municipal Camp on the south end of the lake. The Oakland Tribune reported that the 150 girls from Stockton and twelve girls from Lodi were “under the chaperonage of Miss Edith Tubbs, San Joaquin county Camp Fire Girl executive. Mrs. Stella S. Swenson, manager of the municipal camp, is in supreme charge,” and continued “The girls will occupy the camp during the pioneering period and on their return will leave their entire equipment for the use of Stockton residents who may pass part of the summer at the lake.” [7]

A year later Camp Minkalo moved to its own site a quarter mile from the Municipal Camp. In 1936 they moved again, to the northeast end of Silver Lake. Chuck Stewart, who worked at a camp on Treasure Island in the late 1930s, remembers visiting Minkalo and seeing the “lodge that was rather large and fitting well its location among the granite outcroppings.” Chuck also remembered that sometimes staff from Minkalo would come down to Plasse’s Resort at the south end of the lake, traveling “in a large ‘war’ canoe that the camp used for boating.”

Minkalo 2

Another postcard of Camp Minkalo with unnatural color

The 1966 ACA directory says that Camp Minkalo had cabins, and a tipi. There were four ten-day and one seven-day sessions for almost seven weeks of camp. The camp accommodated one-hundred girls, seven to seventeen years old. I have not found the reason for giving up the camp twenty years later; it may have been declining camp attendance, increased costs or a problem with the water supply. Lack of potable water was a problem for the Boy Scouts who could not afford to install the necessary water system and in the 1990s they also gave up the camp and the land reverted to the Forest Service. The large lodge is gone and today there is little left to tell the stories of thousands of girls who once sang and paddled their canoes across Silver Lake.

[1] “Register of the Camp Fire Girls (Stockton, Calif.) Summer Camp Scrapbooks, 1919-1922” 1919, 15. Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University Library, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

[2] Ibid. 23.

[3] Ibid. 1922, [1].

[4] “Marginalia,” California Historical Society Quarterly 28, no. 2 (1949): 190.

[5] “U.C. Girl Aids Camp Fire Head,” Oakland Tribune 25 September 1925; “Pioneer in Work Will Head Camp Fire Girls,” Oakland Tribune 27 May 1925.

[6] “Camp Fire Girls Prepare for Big Stockton Meet” Oakland Tribune 11 May 1926; “California Sparks,” Everygirl’s April 1926, 16-17.

[7] “Girls Camping at Silver Lake” Oakland Tribune 17 July 1922; Swenson, Stella S. One Hundred Years at Silver Lake – Amador County California: 1848-1948 –The Swenson Team (Bert & Ella) A Report presented to Doctor Rockwell D. Hunt, Director of California History Foundation, College of the Pacific, April 1948, 47-49.

California’s Camp Fire Girls’ Camps: Introduction

 

On my desk I have the 1966 Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys and Girls published by the American Camping Association. I used this directory when applying for summer jobs many years ago. Yenis Hante was a small camp with a relatively short season of only five weeks. I wanted to work as a camp counselor for at least two months. At Yenis Hante I had met counselors who had worked at other camps and sometimes had jobs lined up for the month of August after Yenis Hante closed.

Crafts at Yenis Hante

Crafts at Camp Yenis Hante 1967

 

In 1966 California had twenty-one Camp Fire Girls’ resident camps accredited by the American Camping Association. (Now the American Camp Association) They spread north from Camp Wolahi, the San Diego camp near Julian, to Camp Kimtu in Humboldt County and east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains

To collect data about camps, I used various ACA directories which I found in libraries. However, they were not available for every year, and camps were not always accredited. Also, sometimes there were errors and discrepancies from one directory to another, such as the year a camp was established. In 1967 we assumed Yenis Hante was opened in 1927 because that date was on the bell; later newspaper research showed that Yenis Hante opened in 1930. Camp Kimtu is not in the 1966 directory but an article in the Times Standard (Eureka, California) for August 14, 1967 reports “Camp Fire Sessions Under Way at Kimtu.” A year later the Eureka Camp Fire Council offered the 364 acre camp site to the county for $4,500 because they had found that sending girls by bus to a camp in Mendocino County would be less expensive than continuing to maintain their own camp. [1]

Bell at Yenis Hante

The Bell at Camp Yenis Hante

 

If we examine the entire twentieth century there have been more than three score Camp Fire Girls’ camps in California. Some of these, for example Mawahua and Woape, were ephemeral, listed only once in The Handbook of Summer Camps or a newspaper article. There might have been others which left no record at all.

In 1915 Los Angeles introduced the concept of municipal summer camps. These city owned and operated camps, in national forests, were available to families and to groups such as the Camp Fire Girls. Usually a camp had a kitchen, an open air dining room, an assembly hall and cabins or tents on platforms. By 1921 Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton each had a municipal camp and Lost Angeles had two. Camp Seeley, owned by Los Angeles, and the Oakland camp were both used by Camp Fire Girls for a summer or two. [2] Camp Fire Girls also used camps belonging to other groups such as the YWCA’s Camp Estelle in the San Bernardino Mountains, the “Kiddie Camp” at Glennville and Boy Scout camps.

Just over a dozen of the sixty camps, mostly sponsored by San Francisco Bay area or Los Angeles area Camp Fire councils, operated for fifty years or longer. Those with the longest time spans are Nawakwa, Wolahi, Gold Hollow, Wastahi, Wasewagan, Minaluta and Minkalo. Other long-lived camps were Celio, Yallani, Augusta, Metaka and Okizu.

California is blessed with magnificent mountains. The San Bernardino Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and coast ranges have all been the summer homes of California’s Camp Fire Girls. Camps in the Sierra Nevada include Me-Wa-Hi near Sattley, Nawata near Placerville, Yenis Hante at Greenhorn Mountain, Minkalo in Amador County, Caniya in Sierra County and the camps around Lake Vera, near Nevada City, Augusta, Gold Hollow, Celio, Watanda, Okizu and Minaluta. A newer camp, Adahi, is located near Oakhurst. A number of Los Angeles area camps have been located in the San Bernardino Mountains; these include Wasewagan, Nawakwa, Li Tanda and Yallani near Seven Oaks, Metaka, Hemohme and Deer Ridge near Wrightwood, Wintaka at Running Springs, Cohila at Big Bear Lake, and the elusive Mawahua.

Skit at Caniya

Campers performing a skit at Camp Caniya in 1968

 

Other camps have been located up and down the coast. One of the earliest was Wasibo, a San Francisco camp located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pacific Palisades in the Santa Monica Mountains was the location of at least two camps, Temescal and Wasewagan. Wasewagan later moved to Seven Oaks. Camp Wa-Sta-Hi was located in Big Basin, south of San Jose and Campbell.

By 1919 there was already one permanent Camp Fire Girls’ camp in California. The number increased during the 1920s and through the depression and World War II. At the end of World War II there were more than twenty and by 1960 there were nearly thirty. In the 1960s camps began to close but there were still at least twenty-five in 1970. They continued to close through the rest of the century until there were only six in the year 2000. Today, in 2016, Wintaka, Adahi, Gold Hollow, Natoma and Nawakwa are the only resident camps in California listed on the National Camp Fire web page. I can only feel sad when I think of the mountain days that many of today’s children are missing.

 

[1] “County May Acquire Kimtu Site for Park” Times Standard (Eureka, California) July 25, 1968, p. 15. The Mendocino County camp is not named but might have been Seabow, near Laytonville, about 45 miles south of Camp Kimtu.

[2] “Municipal Summer Camps of the West” New York Times January 16, 1921, p. R7; Swenson, Stella S. One Hundred Years at Sliver Lake – Amador County: 1848-1948 – The Swenson Team (Bert & Stella), A Report Presented to Doctor Rockwell D. Hunt, Director of California History Foundation, College of the Pacific, April 1948, page 48.

Names of Camp Fire Girls’ Camps

 

Places, people and Native American words have all been used for the names of Camp Fire Girls’ camps. At least 153 camps have had unique names; many of these are based on words in Native American languages. Camps named after people include Harriet Harding in Nebraska and Camps Kirby and Sealth in Washington; Chief Sealth was the Native American after whom Seattle was named. Camps in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas Montana, Michigan and Washington have been named Kiwanis or Rotary, after the organizations which helped many Camp Fire Girls’ camps get started and sometimes owned and maintained the camps. A number of camps, including Cimarron in Oklahoma, Tuckabatche or Tuckabatchee in Michigan and Ohio, Toccoa in Georgia and Wyandot in Ohio have been named for places.

Camp Kiwanis Massachusetts

Two books often used by Camp Fire Girls for selecting personal names as well as for naming camps are The Name Book and Indian Names: Facts and Games for Camp Fire Girls.. The Name Book, researched and compiled by Charlotte Vetter Gulick, has been reprinted many times. My Camp Fire group used this twenty-nine-page book in 1957 when we selected our names. The book contains an alphabetical list of English words followed by Native American words with the same or similar meanings. Abbreviations indicate if the Native American words are from the Chippewa, Dakota, Klamath, Lenape, Natick or Biloxi and Ofo languages.

The other useful book is Indian Names: Facts and Games for Camp Fire Girls by Florence M. Poast. Published in 1916, this book is now out-of-print but was digitized by Google and can be acquired from Google books. Florence Poast introduces her book by a warning that it is “disrespectful and unrefined” to refer to Indians by some of their common nicknames. She then discusses Native American culture and European mistreatment of Native Americans. Pages fifty to seventy-four have lists of Native American names, subdivided into “Personal Names,” “Camp Names,” “Boat Names” etc. In each subdivision the names are grouped by the language. Several camp names found here, Adahi, Talahi, and Nawakwa, mean “in the forest,” “in the woods,” “in the oaks” or “in the midst of the forest.” Two others are Nissaki, meaning “at the food of the mountain” and Wetomachick meaning “friends.”

Enough camps took the name Wohelo that the first Camp Wohelo, on Lake Sebago in Maine, became Sebago-Wohelo.[1] Another popular name, Kiloqua, means “Lake of the Great Star.” [2] At least two camps one in Oregon and one in California were called Yallani; Yallani means mountain. [3] (The name also appears on a 1915 Camp Fire Girls’ postcard of a girl sitting on a rock, with the caption “Yallani, a Camp Fire Girl.”)

Some names combine Native American words or syllables from words. Zanika Lache, on Lake Wenatchee, combines Zanika, healthy, with Lache, lake for “healthiness by the lake.” I-Wa-Su in New York and Iwaqua in Colorado both use “Iwa” meaning “among the hills or mountains”. Since “Su” means “lake,” I-Wa Su” must have been a camp on a lake in the mountains.

Other groups including the Boy Scouts and YMCA and YWCA have used some of the same names; sometimes, but not always, this is because they have acquired camps that were formerly Camp Fire camps. Far more names are not found in either of the two books above and are probably based on local Native American languages.

 

[1] Dorgan, Ethel Josephine Luther Halsey Gulick: 1865-1918, New York, New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University 1934, p. 113.

[2] Gulick, Charlotte Vetter The Name Book of Camp Fire Girls, New York, New York: Camp Fire Girls, Incorporated, p. 17.

[3] The Name Book, p. 19.

The Postcards

The only Yenis Hante postcard in my collection is one of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, with Yenis Hante printed on a sign. We were given these cards on the first day of camp so we could write a note telling our parents of our safe arrival. The card served as a “ticket” to dinner that evening. This one is unused and may have been an extra when, as a counselor, I distributed cards to the girls in my cabin.

Tony Tiger at Yenis Hante

Girls at some camps had a greater selection. My postcard collection currently comprises more than three-hundred cards from sixty-six camps in twenty-five states. Occasionally I have found a set of cards from one camp. However, seventy-two percent of these sixty-five camps are represented by fewer than six cards. Only four camps, Iowa’s Camp Hantesa, New York’s Aloha, California’s Wasibo and Camp Kiwanis in Massachusetts are represented by more than eleven different cards.

Hantesa, one of the oldest Camp Fire camps in the United States seems to have the greatest variety of cards, created over the longest span of time. I have twenty-three different cards for Camp Hantesa; they depict the camp’s swimming pool, swinging bridge, tents, cabins, lodge, campers and staff. The cards include real photo postcards, black-and-white Artvue lithographs and more modern cards in color. The earliest legible postmark is 1946. Eight of the other nine mailed cards have postmarks in the 1950s or 60s; one is postmarked 1985. The oldest are real photo post cards showing tents on platforms in an area called Shady Glade. Hantesa campers acquired and sent black-and-white real photo postcards as recently as the 1980s and may still be sending them today. Of the four camps, Hantesa is the only one that remains a Camp Fire camp, now attended by both girls and boys.

 

Tent at Hantesa

Artvue postcard mailed June 12, 1946

Camp Fire has a long history in Iowa and I also have eight cards from another Iowa Camp Fire Girls’ camp, Hitaga. In my current collection, New York with forty-eight cards, and California with thirty-two, are the only states for which there are more Camp Fire Girls camp postcards than Iowa. Massachusetts, with thirty cards, has almost as many as Iowa.

Swinging Bridge at Hantesa

Real photo postcard mailed July 22, 1952

New York’s Camp Aloha is represented by twenty cards showing fourteen different scenes. The swimming pool, “Sky Pond,” and “Stony Bottom Creek” are all featured on Aloha’s cards as well as girls preparing a campsite, raising the flag, hiking, practicing archery and playing volley ball. Their shorts, instead of bloomers, and triangular Camp Fire scarves with white blouses, instead of middies, indicate that the photos were probably taken in the 1940s and 50s. A majority of the Aloha cards are real photo post cards and the seven that were mailed are all postmarked in the 1950s. One of three unmailed Artvue cards has a back matching another Artvue card with a 1938 postmark. Camp Aloha celebrated its 75th birthday in 2004 but had been sold by 2009.

Aloha girls preparing campsite

Real photo postcard mailed August 14, 1952

Sometimes camps move and keep the same name. Camp Kiwanis in Massachusetts remained in the same place but changed its name, becoming Camp Kiwanee in 1957. Camp Kiwanis opened on June 25, 1923. All together I have twenty postcards for Kiwanis and Kiwanee. The most popular subject is Maquan Lake where the girls swam, sailed and canoed. There are also cards of the store and main lodge and of girls raising the flag and riding horses. Almost all the Kiwanis/Kiwanee cards were mailed and the postmarks span the years from 1923, the year the camp was established, to 1966. Only three of these are real photo postcards; Artvue printed more than half and the oldest cards were made by the Albertype Company.

 

Waterfront - Camp Kiwanee

Waterfront at Camp Kiwanee

Camp Wasibo was one of the first Camp Fire Girls’ camps established in California. Sponsored by the San Francisco Camp Fire Council from 1925 until 1949, Wasibo was located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1949 it was acquired by the Girl Scouts. Available newspaper articles don’t give reasons for this transfer; however, the Golden Gate Council opened Camp Caniya near Sierra City in 1948. My thirteen Camp Wasibo cards include seven real photo post cards which appear to have been made at the same time. They have much wider borders than most postcards, giving them a homemade look, and several of them feature the same two girls possibly sisters, in various places around the camp. The girls wear middies with long ties rather than the triangular ties introduced in the late 1930s. Other cards show tents, and girls eating at long tables under the trees. The only mailed cared is an Artvue lithograph postmarked 1938.

2 Girls at Camp Wasibo

Real photo postcard with wide border

 

The cards described above show the range of subjects shown on postcards of Camp Fire Girls’ camps. Camps on lakes naturally wanted to show off their waterfront facilities. Camp stores, lodges and tents or cabins were also popular subjects. Including campers in the photos helped to illustrate the fun girls might have at Camp Fire camp. More unusual scenes such as a swinging bridge or the inside of a cabin also appeared on postcards. Today we can look at these postcards and get a glimpse of twentieth century Camp Fire camp life.

Dining at Camp Wasibo

Artvue postcard – Outdoor dining at Camp Wasibo

 

 

The Camps

A decade ago, somewhat by chance, I started collecting postcards of Camp Fire Girls’ camps. I was searching eBay for copies of the Camp Fire Girls’ magazine, Everygirl’s when I found the first camp postcard and before long I had enough cards to start organizing them by camp and grouping the camps by state.

Concurrently I was collecting data about the number and names of Camp Fire Girls’ camps throughout the United States. This project started when I recalled an event from my first summer as a counselor at Yenis Hante. That summer, 1966, enrollment for the last camp session was so low that the director had to send half the staff home. I remembered the meeting when she told us that the Camp Fire staff had been calling camps all over southern California, looking for positions for these unneeded counselors, but all were suffering from the same problem of declining enrollment. Declining resident camp participation continued for the final decades of the century. As the baby boom grew up camp enrollment and school enrollments declined. At the same time, more mothers were working so fewer were free to lead the Blue Bird and Camp Fire groups which had always depended upon volunteers. In A Manufactured Wilderness Abigail Van Slyck notes that “By about 1960. . . traditional camps seemed to be on the decline, outpaced by camps teaching special skills and eventually outnumbered by day camps (which often function as summertime day care centers for school-age children). Although traditional camps began to enjoy a renaissance in the late twentieth century, camp – a term now used to describe any summer experience for youngsters – plays a somewhat different role in American life.” [1]

The initial purpose of my data collection was to examine the decline of summer camps but it also complemented my postcard collection, showing where and when Camp Fire Girls had been the most popular and successful. Libraries provided early editions of Porter Sargent’s A Handbook of Summer Camps and the American Camping Association’s Directory of Accredited Camps for later years. Although I did not have access to directories for every year, I was able to compile a list of over three-hundred Camp Fire Girls camps located in forty-three states. Some camps were ephemeral, a few tents, a fire circle in a clearing, and a name, in a borrowed campsite for a week or two, or a couple of summers. Others lasted ten, fifteen or fifty years. Eventually some were sold or given to other groups or to private owners.

Allegheny State park - girls on logs

Compiling a complete and accurate list of all the Camp Fire Girls’ camps would be impossible even if libraries had directories for every year. Not all camps were accredited and directories can have errors. The names of camps sometimes change and may be inconsistently spelled. Camps moved but kept the same name. In the 1920s some camps were simply called “Camp Fire Girls Camp” Sometimes a camp moved and kept the same name, or the name of the post office or nearest town associated with a camp changed.

Allegheny State park - tents

Most Camp Fire Girls’ camps have been located within or near their Camp Fire councils; almost always they are in the same states. Camps in different states include the Spokane, Washington camp, Sweyolakan, on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, Camp Trowbridge, in Vergas, Minnesota which was sponsored by the Fargo, North Dakota Camp Fire council and Chicago’s Kiwanis Nawakwa in South Haven, Michigan.

In his 1924 Handbook of Summer Camps Porter Sargent explains that the Camp Fire program “grew up in private camps. The organization has been developed by private camp leaders and the program of the organization is followed in many private camps today.” [2] The directory lists twenty camps sponsored by Camp Fire Girls’ councils in thirteen states. In some places, such as Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan the Camp Fire Girls were using municipal camps. Others had names like “Camp Fire Girls Camp, Augusta” (Georgia) or “Des Moines Camp Fire Girls Camp.” Nebraska’s “Kiwanis Camp” at Milford, Nebraska, sponsored by the Lincoln Camp Fire Council and “Camp Kiwanis” with a Lincoln mailing address are probably the same camp, owned by the Kiwanis and used by Camp Fire Girls and other youth groups for any years.

Boat Landing, Camp Kiwanis (Nebraska)

Good Times Camp Kiwanis (canoeing - Nebraska)

The Boston Camp Fire Girls Camp, at Hanson, Massachusetts probably became Camp Kiwanis, later called Camp Kiwanee. (The number of Camp Fire Girls’ camps called Camp Kiwanis is some indication of how important the Kiwanis club was in the founding of Camp Fire Girls camps.) Among the twenty camps in this list are three on the west coast, California’s Minkalo, Oregon’s Namanu and Washington’s Sealth. A year later more than twice as many camps were listed in twenty states. This may reflect better data collection as well as Camp Fire’s growth. By 1935 Sargent’s Handbook of Summer Camps listed ninety-six Camp Fire Girls’ camps in thirty states.

Today Camp Fire councils sponsor fewer than three dozen resident summer camps in twenty states. Not quite a score of these can trace their history back as far as the 1940s. A dozen were established in the 1920s. Postcards provide glimpses of these Camp Fire Girls camps, and sometimes messages from long ago campers.

[1] Van Slyck, Abigail A. A Manufactured Wilderness :Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. p. xxvii.

[2] Sargent, Porter A Handbook of Sumer Camps: An Annual Survey 1924 Boston, Massachusetts, Porter Sargent, 1924. P. 97