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.

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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