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.

Advertisements

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

Using  ACA directories from libraries along with the earlier Sargent handbooks I have collected data about Camp Fire Girls’ camps during the last century . However, directories and handbooks 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

 

During the twentieth century there were 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.

Although it did not yet have a permanent site Camp Minkalo was founded in 1919 making it California’s first Camp Fire Girls’ camp. The number of camps 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.