California: The San Francisco Bay Area and Other Northern California Camps – Part 2

Several years ago there were Camp Thayer postcards on eBay. I was outbid but remained curious about Camp Thayer. Recently, while searching randomly in newspapers.com I typed in “Camp Thayer” and California, and a long list of articles, mostly in the San Anselmo Herald appeared. I began reading them in chronological order.

P.R. Thayer, president of the Marin Lumber Company, provided land for Camp Thayer and also donated lumber for buildings. In 1928 Camp Fire supporters in Marin and Sonoma County were busy preparing for campers by constructing a kitchen and other buildings. The twenty-acre camp was located five-and-one-half miles from Monte Rio in the Cazadero section of Austin Creek, and the director was Dorothy Bitner, head of the Marin County Camp Fire Girls. [1] I already knew Dorothy Bitner’s name, both from my Kern County Camp Fire research, and from hearing my father and uncle mention the Bitners, long ago friends from their school days.

I continued reading and there, at the bottom of a June 15 San Anselmo Herald article I found “Marie Sanguinetti has arrived from Bakersfield to take charge of the Camp Library.” Marie Sanguinetti was my aunt! My father had said that he thought his oldest sister, who died before I was born, had worked at a Camp Fire camp, but finding out which camp seemed like finding the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” Marie had attended the University of California in Berkeley, graduating in 1922, so the bay area connection was not surprising. Dorothy Bitner was another link form Bakersfield; she and Marie may have been classmates at Kern County Union High School. As a retired librarian, I was also pleased to see that Marie was in charge of the camp library. She died of cancer six years later. I wish I could have heard about her summer at Camp Thayer. [2]

Camp Thayer was a summer home to Sonoma and Marin County Camp Fire Girls for almost twenty years and Dorothy Bitner was not the only director from Bakersfield. In 1933 Dorothy Chenoweth, who was a Bakersfield Camp Fire Girl in the 1920s and who had attended special Camp Fire training in New York, directed Camp Thayer. Later, when I was in high school in the 1960s she was executive director of the Kern County Council of Camp Fire Girls and her daughter directed Camp Yenis Hante. [3]

Girls at Camp Thayer enjoyed swimming, canoeing, and crafts like girls at other camps. In 1928 they made 38 pine needle waste baskets as well as developing a discriminating taste in literature. Campers were also enjoying horseback riding, swimming, canoeing and archery. [4]

natural-bridge-near-cazedero
Postcard showing scenery near Camp Thayer

 

By 1945 Camp Fire’s growth in Marin County made Camp Thayer inadequate. The Livermore family provided twenty-five acres on their ranch in the St. Helena foothills and this became Camp Kilowana. At an elevation of 1800 feet, the site provide a meadow, a tree-lined mountain stream, and timbered hills with Douglas fir, knob-cone pine, black oak, alder and madrone. The site already had a swimming pool and several buildings which could be adapted to camp use.

Camp Kilowana was still operating in 1961, but I have not been able to find any information about it after that date. That year Laura Warren was the camp director. Other staff included an assistant director from Michigan, a water director, a nature counselor, six unit directors, seven counselors and the cooks Mr. and Mrs. Porter. Kilowana offered the four-week counselor-in-training course, starting on July 14th and concluding on August 14th. The four regular one-week sessions started on July 7th, so the counselors-in-training had the camp to themselves for their last week. [5]

The most northern Camp Fire Girls’ camp in California was Kimtu in Humboldt County. Kimtu had two different locations. The camp is mentioned in the May 1929 Everygirl’s which says, “This camp site, consisting of four acres, is located on the bank of the beautiful South Fork of Eel River . . . . It is truly a community camp, for the Kiwanis Club, the school superintendent and members of this staff, as well as generous fathers and mothers have helped to make it a reality.” [6] In 1931 the Ukiah Daily Journal reported “Camp Kimtu lies in a beautiful grove of redwood trees on the south fork of the Eel river near Garberville.” This camp was relocated to a site near Willow Creek in 1946. [7] The Willow Creek site provided native clay which campers used for pottery. However by 1956 growth surrounding Camp Kimtu was making the Humboldt Camp Fire Council consider searching for a new location. The camp also needed repairs after winter floods and in 1968 the Humboldt Camp Fire council decided it would be more cost effective to transport girls to a camp in Mendocino County than to maintain Camp Kimtu. [8] Kimtu was subsequently sold to Humboldt County and is now a county sponsored campsite.

kimtu
Camp Kimtu campers in Everygirl’s magazine

 

Seabow, established by the West Contra Costa Council in 1939, served girls from Richmond. [9] Girls from Ukiah, who had attended Camp Kimtu in the 1930s, began attending Camp Seabow in the 1940s. By 1967 more than 600 girls from Contra Costa County were going to Camp Seabow for two weeks each and in 1968 girls who had formerly gone to Camp Kimtu were being bused from Eureka to Seabow.[10] Seabow closed in the 1970s but there is an alumni group.

Two other northern California camps were Maacama near Healdsburg and Wastahi, originally at Big Basin in Redwood State Park. The 1966 ACA directory listing for Maacama is unusually brief, stating only “MAACAMA – Camp Fire Girls, Helen Hermann, P.O. Box 895, Petaluma, California.” Ukiah girls enjoyed Camp Maacama in 1950. [11] In 1959 Camp Fire Girls and Blue Birds planted eleven redwood trees at Camp Maacama to help celebrate Camp Fire’s Golden Jubilee and to honor Luther Burbank. One tree was dedicated to George Pitts of Healdsburg who built Camp Maacama and donated the twelve acres where the camp was located. [12] The Redwood Empire Council Camp Fire Girls still sponsored Camp Maacama in 1975 and was raising funds for the camp at a flea market at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. [13]

The ACA directory entry for Wastahi is longer and says the camp, founded in 1955 near Felton, was sponsored by the Santa Clara County Council Camp Fire Girls. However, Wastahi is mentioned in newspaper articles throughout the 1930s and 1940s. A “National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form” for the National Park Service says that Wastahi “was established in 1925 in Dolenz Grove, off of Lodge Road.” [14]   In 1954 the Santa Clara council welcomed girls from the newly formed Peninsula council to Camp Wastahi. [15] The camp in Big Basin included “an up-to-date heated swimming pool, drama den, two crafts centers, library, archery range, and ping-pong tables.” [16] In 1956 Camp Wastahi moved to a new site near Felton in the Santa Clara mountains. Plans for the 158-acre site included a swimming pool, a large dining hall and kitchen, an infirmary and twelve kiosks in which girls could sleep. [17] By 1964 the Big Basin site was being developed as a campsite The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported, “This area, incidentally, is a former Campfire [sic] girls camp, and was named by that group by taking the initial letters of the words WAter-STAr Hill. . . .” [18] The Felton Wastahi was still a Camp Fire camp in 1996 but is now a camp for children no longer affiliated with Camp Fire. [19]

These camps live on in the memories of former campers. Sadly, many of today’s children will never know the peaceful joy of days in the woods and nights singing around a camp-fire.

[1] San Anselmo Herald May 11, 1928; Oakland Tribune May 30, 1928.

[2]. San Anselmo Herald June 15, 1928.

[3] Bakersfield Californian June 23, 1933.

[4] San Anselmo Herald June 22, 1928; San Anselmo Herald June 15, 1928.

[5] San Rafael Daily Independent Journal May 30, 1961; Independent Journal June 2, 1961.

[6] “Station EGM Broadcasting Camp Fire Girls Good Times Hour” Everygirl’s May 1929, p. 18.

[7] The Times Standard (Eureka, California May 21, 1952.

[8] The Times Standard (Eureka California) February 28, 1956; April 23, 1968.

[9] 1966 Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys & Girls Martinsville, Indiana: American Camping Association, 1966, p. 25.

[10] Ukiah Daily Journal May 10, 1967; Times Standard (Eureka, California) April 23, 1968,

[11] Ukiah Daily Journal 7-7-1950, August 21, 1950; Redwood Journal Press Dispatch July 7, 1950.

[12] Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar June 11, 1959.

[13] San Rafael Independent Journal February 10, 1975.

[14] http://ohp.parks.ca.gov/pages/1067/files/ca_santa%20cruz%20county_big%20basin%20redwoods_mpdf.pdf “National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form” Section E Page 7.

[15] The Times (San Mateo, California)­ January 19, 1954; February 11, 1954.

[16] The Times (San Mateo, California May 26, 1954.

[17] The Times (San Mateo, California) May 30, 1957.

[18] Santa Cruz Sentinel August 6, 1964.

[19] Santa Cruz Sentinel April 28, 1996.

 

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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.