If It’s Summer, It Must Be Camp Time
by Lynne Rostochil. Photos from the OPUBCO collection at the History Center.
About this time of year when I was a kid, I’d be counting down the days until I could escape the city and head to a far away land of magic and fun tucked into forested, rolling hills out in the country. In other words, I was going to camp. What a treat it always was to get up early and go hike until we were so hot that we couldn’t wait to run into the cool water of the lake that was a staple of every camp I went to. I loved archery, canoeing, and diving off of the high platform but steered away as much as possible from the crafts, where I always managed to fumble through and create a piece that looked absolutely nothing like it was supposed to. Nope, the outdoor stuff was much more up my alley.
I loved these summer experiences so much that, while in college, I even spent a summer in Pennsylvania as a counselor at a posh camp in the Poconos. It was the era of “the wall,” where every girl worked for what seemed like hours teasing, spraying, and cajoling their perm-curled bangs to create a giant, impenetrable wall — the taller, the better. Here’s a photo of me and all of the girls in my cabin trying to compete to see who wins the biggest hair award:
In honor of those halcyon years of sun-drenched summers spent running around in rainbow-colored tube tops and short shorts and arguing with the other girls over who was the cutest Bay City Roller, all while taking in all of the glorious verdant scenery, this week’s Mod Blog is devoted good times at Oklahoma’s plethora of summer camps. Let’s begin with the closest one — Camp Dakani.
The OKC chapter of the Camp Fire Girls started in 1926, and a day camp was opened soon after. Camp Dakani moved to its current location near Frontier City in 1956, and it’s now a co-ed camp for kids ranging in age from five to 17, with older kids able to sleep away. My kids enjoyed many a summer day of fun and activities here when they were little tykes, and here are some fun images other kids enjoying all of the Camp Dakani fun over the years:
Camp Fire girls are creating a friendship tree at the camp in 1963:
Going for a nature hike in 1984:
Camp Dakani even had a drill team in 1978:
Another local camp that started out as girls only was YWCA’s Camp Ione in Warr Acres. These girls welcome campers in 1954:
The camp sprung to life in 1925 and soon created the city’s first girl’s softball team. Camp Ione was situated on 40 acres and boasted a giant pool, seen here ready to be filled for the 1949 season:
By the 1950s, there were also several modern cabins sprinkled around the grounds:
The camp closed soon after Camp Classen went co-ed, and the buildings became home to Warr Acres’ YMCA, but low attendance forced the Y to shutter the doors in 2006 and most of the buildings have been demolished.
There was another one near Newalla for Girl Scouts that was aptly named Cookieland, which was purchased in 1948 using cookie money and personal funds — so the name of the camp makes perfect sense. Here, two sisters are simultaneously excited and a bit nervous to pack up and head out for a week’s stay at Cookieland in 1962:
Conservation was key at Cookieland, and these girls were happy to help by planting trees in 1960:
Other scouts are working on (or maybe watching is the better word) building projects in 1955:
These girls prepare for a week at camp in 1956.
I’m sure that no girl scout camp in Oklahoma was integrated in 1956, so these young girls and their friends of color probably went to camp during a session designated just for them. Ridiculous.
As for Cookieland, it remained a popular and beloved camp until it found itself in the path of a proposed turnpike in 2016. The Girl Scouts sold the camp to the Turnpike Authority and purchased 14 acres east of the Oklahoma City Zoo for a new camp, which will be focused on STEM and outdoor activities. The organization is spending $12 million for the new Camp Trivera, which will open in 2020. It looks beautiful — I can’t wait to see it!
As much as I’d love to, I guess I can’t escape talking about Camp Scott, can I? Darn it!
The infamous camp was located in Locust Grove and opened to Girl Scouts in 1928. Here’s the entrance to the camp in 1946:
For 49 years, Camp Scott was the site of happy faces, laughter, and a lot of joy, but all of that changed on June 12, 1977 when three young campers were brutally murdered in their cabin their first night there. A counselor found their bodies packed in their sleeping bags early the next morning. And that’s when Camp Scott itself died, too. The murders were so horrific and terrifying that the camp closed that sad day and never reopened. It’s now in private hands, but you can check out photos of the site as it looks today at Abandoned Oklahoma.
After an extensive manhunt …
… authorities arrested Gene Leroy Hart:
Although many still believe he was guilty, Hart was acquitted after a tense and sensational trial and the murders remain officially unsolved to this day. A few months ago, the Tulsa World put together a four-part series on the events of that long ago summer — you can read it here and draw your own conclusions.
While I’m generally interested in true crime stories, this one creeps me out way too much, probably because I was the same age as the oldest of the murdered girls and also because I wrapped up my 1977 camp experience the week before the murders at a camp with similar and, as we learned with this case, very vulnerable tent cabins:
Those cabins, if you even want to call them that, were not fun — if you opened the flaps, you’d better be ready for an onslaught of mosquito attacks and critters hiding in your shoes or in your sleeping bag (I found a scorpion patiently laying in wait under my pillow) and if you closed the flaps, it was like living in a dry sauna. Yeah, there was nothing good about those things.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten Camp Scott and all of that sadness out of the way, let’s get back to happy camp memories. The last girl’s camp I found is one that I’ve never even heard of before, Camp Parthenia. There are two photos in the Oklahoma History Center archives from 1937:
Located in Sapulpa, the 40-acre camp was owned by the YWCA and opened in 1919. Interestingly, during the Great Depression, the YWCA opened the camp to more than 1,000 women with no financial resources and offered them free lodging and employment training so they could get on their feet and have a skill to rely on. After the worst of these lean years, the Parthenia reopened as a summer camp and remained in YWCA hands until 1959, when it was sold to the First Presbyterian Church. The church renamed the place Camp Loughridge, which continues to operate today.
One camp that Terri and Paula remember going to as youngsters was Camp Cimarron:
This Camp Fire Girls camp was located near Coyle and opened in 1937. Here’s what the cabins looked like at Camp Cimarron in this 1938 photo:
And a photo of the brand new pool that was built the same year:
Here, girls are crazy with joy and anticipation as they board the bus to camp in 1963:
And these girls look way too dressed up to be going to camp in 1969:
I’m sure those bright white shoes and socks were muddy brown by the end of their time at Camp Cimarron.
These girls can’t wait to get in the pool in 1980:
The camp was a popular for 70 years but closed in 2007 due to financial difficulties within the Camp Fire organization. The land land was sold to private owners in 2014, who has kept some of the buildings intact. Here’s a blog by a person who recently spent some time at the former camp.
What about the boys, you say? Well, there were quite a few camps around the state for scruffy and ornery boys to run and play and have fun, too.
First, there was Camp Kickapoo near Wheatland. Here are the boys on an interesting ropes course in 1975:
And here they are being showing just how scruffy and ornery boys can be in 1963:
This camp opened in 1932 and is the oldest continuous camp property within Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America. I’m happy to say it’s still going strong today, even though it received a name change to John W. Nichols Scout Ranch in 2010.
Another popular camp was the Boy Scout’s Slippery Falls Ranch:
It is now called the Kerr Scout Ranch.
Camp Simpson is located on 2,000 acres near Tishomingo. Here, a group of mentally challenged boys is on a fishing excursion at the camp in 1969:
The camp is still in operation and serves over 2,500 kids every summer.
Although it’s coed now, the beloved and very popular Camp Classen in the Arbuckle Mountains began life in a different location and with a different name in 1912. Originally, there was Camp Cunningham, but when the YMCA had the opportunity to purchase 2,500 acres in the heart of the Arbuckles, they jumped on it and the newly christened Camp Classen opened in 1940. Here’s a model of the camp site and its proposed layout soon after the YMCA acquired the land:
And here’s a brand new rock cabin that was completed in 1941:
Some of the first campers at the new spread the same year:
On one of my flea market jaunts, I found this brochure for Camp Classen from the 1950s:
So much fun!
Here, boys can’t wait to scramble on the bus and head to Camp Classen in 1968:
By this time, the camp was also open to girls:
Today, Camp Classen is as popular as ever, and it’s certainly my family’s favorite since three generations of our boys have attended over the decades and claim years of amazing memories of the place.
Another camp nearby is Falls Creek, which is owned by the Baptist National Convention and opened in 1917. Oklahoma’s oldest church camp is nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains and was popular from Day 1. Here, over 5,000 people arrive at the camp for the annual assembly in 1956:
As far as I can tell, the camp has always been coed — here are a boy and girl enjoying the water fully dressed in 1956:
I’m not sure what’s going on in this 1963 photo, but everyone looks nice and cool in that giant pool:
These girls look resigned to their fate of a life spent in the kitchen doing KP in 1957:
And these kids can’t wait to start having fun as they arrive in 1971:
A much more fashionable arrival in 1955:
Like Camp Classen, Falls Creek remains very popular today and serves over 55,000 kids every summer.
I’m sure I’m missing some camps here, so if you attended a camp I didn’t mention, please let me know and I’ll add it. Also, if you have any photos of your years at camp, please send them my way and I’ll do a follow-up Mod Blog with all of the images I collect.