SILVER LAKE CAMP
Stockton’s Municipal Camp is 101 miles from the city at Silver
Lake in Amador County. The 21—acre camp is located on historic
Carson Pass, on Highway 88, which the “forty—niners” followed down
into San Joaquin Valley to begin their search for gold in the
Mother Lode. Silver Lake Lodge is situated at 7,305 feet elevation and the
altitude climbs to 8,000 feet at nearby Tragedy Springs.
Silver Lake is surrounded by towering granit and volcanic
mountains which rise to an elevation of 10,000 feet. There are 16
small lakes in the mountain meadows within hiking distance from the
camp. These lakes are about one—quarter-mile in diameter and are
surrounded by stands of fir, tamarack and pine trees.
Silver Lake is three miles long and a mile wide at its lower
end. It drains into Silver Creek, which flows into the south fork
of the American River. This peaceful mountain setting provides an ideal camp site for
families, who are looking for relief from the hot weather of the
valley for a period of time. Elmer Reynolds, who was managing editor of the Stockton Record
and a member of the Playground Commission in 1919, can be called
the father of the Stockton Municipal Camp at Silver Lake.
Reynolds was intensely interested in the High Sierra and the
great out—of-doors. In 1919, he began an “Out of Doors” section in
the Stockton Record. The Saturday column was devoted to acquainting
the motoring community with interesting areas in the mountains and
at the sea shore. Automobile caravans were organied for all who
were interested. “Lunches were taken and a big picnic was held at the
designated point,” Swenson said. “It was a splendid social event
and many people saw interesting parts of California which they
probably would not have seen had they not been so stimulated.”
People were drawn to the points of interest by the facts and
pictures that had been assembled by Reynolds and advertised in his
column. “The “Out of Doors” section of the Stockton Record was a
feature known throughout Central Califonria and even the Pacific
Coast,” Swenson wrote. “Stephen Mather, superintendent of National
Parks in Washington, D.C., said that he secured more information
and with less delay from Elmer Reynolds and the Stockton Record
than from his own Park Superintendents of the western area.”
It was Charles B. Raitt, superintendent of Playgrounds in Los
Angeles in 1915, who gave Stockton the idea for a municipal family
camp. During Raitt’s tenure, Los Angeles built three municipal
camps, two of them in the San Bernardino Mountains and one in the
High Sierras, some 330 miles from the city. The idea quickly spread, and before Stockton built its
municipal camp, Sacramento, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco
had begun theirs. Mayor Dana P. Eicke and Councilman D. J; Matthews, who were
avid campers, were the first to ask the Playground Commission to
form a committee and recommend a municipal camp site for Stockton.
The following were appointed to the committee bg the city
council: George M. Ross, chairman and a mining engineer; Charles
G. Bird, Stockton Lumber Company; State Senator Frank S. Boggs;
Harry T. Fee, a Stockton poet; Edward F. Harris, banker; Joe
Losekann, architect; L. A. Mills, Planning Commission; G. E.
Reynolds, editor of the Stockton Record; Bert E. Swenson,
superintendent of playgrounds; Mrs. J. W. Barrett, Board of
Education; Dr. Minerva Goodman, American Red Cross; and, Edith
Tubbs Herring, Camp Fire Girls executive.
The committee selected the Mother Lode community of
Dorrington, which was owned by Edward F. Harris, as a temporary
automobile camp site where families could go with their own camping
equipment for the summer of 1921. Drinking water and sanitary
facilities were provided. The remainder of the summer, the committee investigated other
available sites. Their mission was to find a location at a high
enough altitute so Stockton’s residents could escape the heat in
the summer time and to find a location that was within the Stockton
trading area. National Forest supervisors in the Stockton area
assisted the committee by suggesting possible sites and going with
member to investigate them. Numerous locales along the four roads leading out of Stockton
and across the Sierra were investigated, were looked at by the
committee. Big Oak Flat and Toga Pass, Sonora and Mono Pass,
Calaveras Big Trees and Ebbetts Pass and Amador, Silver Lake and
Carson Pass were all locales that were investigated. Silver Lake
seemed more impressive and desireable each time the committee came
back home via Carson Pass. It finally won the committee’s approval.
Edwin Ford Smith, supervisor of El Dorado National Forest, and
Grant Merrill, road supervisor for Alpine County, helped the
committee a great deal in locating the present camp site.
When the committee turned its report in to the City Council,
its members were not so quick to decide, however. After some time,
the recommendation of the committee was finally approved.
Maurice Plasse, whose father built his cabin on a homestead
at Silver Lake in 1862, gave the city valuable advice about the
area, Swenson recalled. The Pleasse cabin was still standing and
served as the Silver Lake Post Office, when Swenson wrote his
At the time, Plasse and his son, Ray, had a ranch at Jackson
and ranged their cattle at Silver Lane and a nearby meadows.
Plasse helped the city to find springs for a good water supply
and advised the committee about where to locate the camp’s
buildings and how to build them to withstand the winter’s heavy
snows, which at times reached a depth of 20 feet.
Soon after the city council’s vote, the camp committee, with
Joe Losekann as architect, made plans for a temporary camp for the
following summer and began planning construction of the camp’s
Swenson recalled, the Reynolds, Yardley and Swenson families
shovelled their way into Silver Lake for a weekend party on July
4, 1922, when one snowdrift was as high as their cars.
Ten days later, the first group of 150 Camp Fire Girls and
counselors arrived to open Camp Minkalo at Silver Lake.
A four—by—four foot box was placed at the site of the soon-
to—be built spring house and water was piped into a temporary
kitchen, erected at the edge of the meadow.
A 32 by 56-foot tent, borrowed from Moreing Brothers, was
equipped with a temporary floor and used as a dining room. Sanitary
facilities, as prescribed by the Forestry Service, were built.
The girls set up their own tents an cots, which had been
secured from surplus camp equipment from World War I. The task was
a large one to accomplish in just 10 days, Swenson said, but it was
accomplished quickly by a large number of willing workers.
Edith Tubbs Herring, Camp Fire Girls executive, directed that
first Camp Minkalo and Stella S. Swenson served as general manager
and watched over the interests of the Playground Commission.
Earlier that year, the Camp Committee consisting of Elmer
Reynolds, Joe Losekann, Maurice Plasse, Mrs. J. W. Barrett, Dr.
Minerva Goodman and Stella S. Swenson, had decided to build a 32×64
foot log and granite lodge.
Losekann offered his talents free to the city and drew up the
plans for the lodge. Salvatore Riella of Jackson, an expert stone
mason, was engaged to lay the granite foundation, the 12-foot
fireplace and to supervise the construction. Eli Balis, a Sutter
Creek expert woodsman, cut and peeled the logs and rock drillers
from the Argonaut Mine in Jackson were brought in to crack the
stratified granite slabs from stone on a nearby hillside.
William Liddicoat, who remained to work at Silver Lake for nearly
30 years, hung the doors and windows and completed the finishing
work on the lodge.
The building’s cornerstone was laid July 29, 1922, with Mrs.
J. W. Barrett, president of the Playground Commission, presiding.
Also taking part in the ceremony were D. J. “Dad” Matthews, vice
mayor of the city; Clarence E. Jarvis, past grand president of the
Native Sons of the Golden West and personal representative of
Governor William D. Stephens; Grant Merrill, supervisor of Alpine
County Supervisor; A. C. Oullahan, Stockton Chamber of Commerce
manager; Stella S. Swenson, camp manager.
In the cornerstone strong box were placed copies of the
Stockton Record and Stockton Independent and a short history of the
camp project. Bert Swenson recalled that he and Elmer Reynolds each
put in a “four bit” piece.
By October, the building was completed. Its doors were then
locked shut for the winter and awaited the 1923 season.
The following year, on July 30 the facilities were opened to
Swenson recalled that a considerable number of families
arrived to see the camp and to use the tents and equipment that had
been previously used by the Camp Fire Girls.
“They watched the lodge grow log on log and the fireplace,
granite on granite, until it peeked through the roof thirty-five
feet from its base,” Swenson said. “In the evening, they watched
the Alpine glow come down off Thunder Mountain and then gathered
to sit on left—over piece of logs around the evening camp fire.
“There they could listen to a program or just visit and watch
the dying embers and enjoy the restful experience of spending a
vacation among the beautiful pines and massive granite.”
During the month of August 1922, 208 Stockton residents
enjoyed the camping at Silver Lake. It was the first of five years
that Carlos Sousa served as supervisor, taking care of equipment
and driving” the truck in with supplies from Stockton. Sousa
terminated his employment after he became Sheriff of San Joaquin
County in 1947.
Stockton Rotary Club families went to Silver Lake to open the
1923 season and rededicate the completed lodge. The club fastened
a brone plague to the fireplace chimney, designating the building
as Silver Lake Lodge. It was the name chosen by campers, who
participated in a naming contest the year before.
The plaque bears the inscription:
WILVER LAKE LODGE
Dedicated to the
Life-Health—Happiness of the People of Stockton
Erected by the
Stockton Playground Commission, 1922
The Stockton Rotary Club
Ralph Yardley, a Stockton Record artist and cartoonist, made
the Silver Lake monogram, which remains in the center of the dining
room tables. Yardley also designed the covers for the 200 song
books used at the camp and helped with pictures and designs for
camp folders and various maps needed to publicize the new region.
Many of Yardley’s cartoons that appeared in the Stockton
Record depicted High Sierra and mountain activities, many centering
around the Silver Lake reagion.
The camp’s song books contained 100 songs, half of which were
originated by Silver Lake campers.
Because the camp was established to be a family experience,
where parents and children could enjoy a camping experience in the
High Sierra, nominal fees were charged.
The original cost of attening Silver Lake Camp in 1922 was $10
for adults, $7.50 for grammar school children and $5 for preschool
children. The idea was to make the cost of camping inexpensive
enough so that the entire family could afford to spend a vacation
“Camp life is supposed to be simple. Campers bring their own
bed linen and care for their own tents,” Swenson said. “Mothers get
away from cooking three family meals per day, which makes Silver
Lake Camp a “housewives” paradise.”
Silver Lake offers campers the chance to enjoying the sights
and sounds of Mother Nature, as well as hiking, mountain climbing,
fishing, supervised nature lore hikes and sports, such as softball,
badminton, volley ball, horseshoes, croquet and ping pong.
Swimming, with a life—guard present, and programs of children’s
hours that include crafts, music, campfire programs, camp games,
dances, partieis, tournaments and other social activities are also
Because of the popularity shown in the camp during the first
year, the United States Forestry Service built a new eight percent
grade road from the state highway down into the camp.
Swenson said, “The old Plasse road had one 17 percent pitch,
which was really difficult for Model T Fords” to traverse.
Other changes that greeted campers the second year were beds
with springs and mattresses, tents placed on top of permanent
floors, telephones, a modern sanitary plant with hot water for
showers and laundry, food was served cafeteria style, instead of
family style, and campers were not required to help prepare the
vegetables. The cabins, described in the following paragraphs, were
built and ready for occupancy.
Three cabins – the Stockton Record, the Red Cross and the
Languid Lady — were built and given to the city in 1923.
The Stockton Record Cabin, was 14 by 42 feet, and featured
three rooms with a central fireplace.
Elmer Reynolds, Ralph Yardley, Fred Eckstron and George Murphy
built the cabin. Councilman Jim Allen and a group of Record
employees went up for a weekend to help finish the job.
The Red Cross Cabin was built at the urging of Dr. Minerva
Goodman, then secretary for the San Joaquin County Chapter of the
American Red Cross. The cabin also served.the surrounding community
because there was no regular first aid service of any kind within
50 miles of the camp.(Some size or description of the cabin is
Dr. Goodman, who was also president of the local Business and
Professional Women’s Club, with the help of local builders Davis,
Heller, Pearce also built the Languid Lady Cabin. The Elks Club
raised money for the project with an outdoor show given at the
Municipal Baths. The Business and Professional Women’s Club members
promoted the event and sold tickets.
These were the first and only efforts to secure cabins for
Silver Lake Camp.
During her two years as camp manager, Stella Swenson organized
children’s play and the craft hours, which were directed by Dorothy
Wanzer Dozier. Lifeguard and war canoe crews were under the
direction of Theo Wanzer Huguenin. The Wanzer sisters were school
teachers, Dorothy worked in Sacramento and Theo in Stockton.
Mrs. Swenson also organized a nature guide and hiking service,
which was handled by Harry B. Snook, a Stockton High School science
teacher. These programs were forerunners of similar ones adopted
by the directors of municipal camps throughout Central California.
Between August and September of that first year at Silver
Lake, campers edited a newspaper called The Silver Lake Echo. Three
editions were compiled. “The writing, editing and mimeographing of
the Echo was a remarkable example of camp spirit and team work,”
Since the beginning, the San Joaquin Local Health District
furnished public health nurses to care for campers from the Red
Cross Health Center and take care of teh needs of the camp. Nurses
came in for two-week stays and then were rotated back to Stockton.
The health district also sent sanitary inspectors each year to
inspect the sanitation, water and milk supplies and food service.
The Sunday before Elmer Reynolds died, July 21, 1928, he was
standing in the~camp’s cafeteria line“talking to Harry Snook, camp
naturalist, and Mrs. Swenson about his desire to see a nature lore
museum, smaller but comparable to the one conducted by the National
Park Service in Yosemite Valley, built at Silver Lake.
After his death, numerous friends and readers of Reynolds “Out
of Doors” column organized the Elmer Reynolds Memorial Association
to his memory.
Leaders of the organization were:
Mrs. C. M. Jackson, president; Stella Swenson, secretary; and,
W. C. Neumiller, treasurer. Serving as directors were: Horace
Albright, director of the National Park Service in Washington, D.
C.; Tully C. Knoles, president of the College of the Pacific; Fred
Stevenot, member of the State Board of Equaliation; Edwin F. Smith,
supervisor for El Dorado National Forest; Dr. Minerva Goodman,
American Red Cross; Grant Merrill, supervisor for Alpine County;
Thomas F. Baxter, president of Holt Manufacturing Co.; Fred Ellis,
principal of Stockton High School; Walter B. Hogan, city manager;
Edward F. Harris, banker; L. V. Peterson, business manager for the
Stockton Record; Marion G. Woodward, attorney for the Association,
and Joe Losekann, an architect.
The organization made plans to erect the building that
Reynolds had desired for the camp and a sum of $3,700 was raised
from community—interested individuals and friends of Reynolds. Joe
Losekann drafted the free plans for a modest log building and a
Lake Tahoe area contractor, R. L. Pomeroy, was secured to erect the
On August 16, 1931, the Elmer Reynolds Museum was dedicated.
L. V. Peterson, business manager of the Stockton Record and
a boyhood friend and colleague of Reynolds, presided over the
ceremonies that included comments from many of Reynolds‘ friends
and colleagues. Newton Rutherford, a local attorney and Reynolds‘
friend, presented the bronze plaque for the fireplace. Carlton
Case, fellow Rotarian and intimate friend, spoke of Reynolds‘
community leadership and many virtues. Col John R. White,
superintendent of the Sequoia National Park, said Reynolds had
virtually been a member of the park service by reason of his work
in its behalf. Vice Mayor M. F. Richards accepted the Elmer
Reynolds Memorial Museum in behalf of the City of Stockton.
At the same time, a nearby peak on Ebbets Pass Road that stood
at the 9,300—foot elevation and had been commemorated the previous
summer by the Calaveras Grove Association and the National
Geographic Society was named Reynolds Peak. A bronze marker
indicating the new name was placed alongside the road by Mr.
During the winter of 1931, more than 20 feet of snow collapsed
the roof of the new memorial building. However, the walls and
fireplace remained intact.
Carlos Sousa, Stan Lockey, Paul Wilson and Bob Swenson saved
the day, when they skiied in 12 miles from Strawberry on the
Placerville Road and spent the next two weeks shoveling snow from
the roofs of the other buildings, which were also almost to the
The following year, the Reynolds Memorial Association raised
more money and the original contractor was called back to build a
roof that would withstand Mother Nature’s heavier-than—expected
“May the Reyolds Memorial Museum continue to serve the nature
lovers of the High Sierra for “Rest, Recreation and Research” and
as a mark of respect to a great manl,” Swenson said.
“From its inception the Stockton Silver Lake Camp has been
favored with an outstanding group of managers, from James C. Cave,
dean of boys at Stockton High School, to Ivan Buckner, who grew up
with the camp.
“Buck” has done everything around the Silver Lake Camp from
washing dishes and pinch-hitting as a cook to chopping wood and
keeping all the machinery in running order. Ivan Buckner’s first
year at Silver Lake was 1932. The managers‘ wives acted as
hostesses and were as much a part of the management as the managers
Managers to date are:
1922-1923 Stella S. Swenson
1924-1930 James C. Cave
1931-1933 Minord S. Thresher
1934 — J. E. Black
1935-1939 M. S. Hewitt
1940-1942 Austin Coggin
1943-1945 Closed for World War II
1946-1947 Robert L. Breeden
1948-1949 Ivan Buckner
Within the first 25 years of camping at Silver Lake, there
occurred many improvements toward more comfortable camping. Some
of those were:
In 1927, the gasoline lamps in the lodge and the candles used
inside the tents were extinguished in favor of electricity. That
was accomplished when a group of older boys from the Junior Trades
School, under the direction of Harold Mallory, installed a Model
T Ford engine and hooked it onto a seven-horse-power D. C.
Four years later, a fuel oil water heater was installed and
a boiler room built. After that campers no longer had to gather
their own wood to stoke the fire that was used to heat the hot
In 1932, Drs. G. A. Werner and Ernest Stanford taught College
of the Pacific students during the first three—week summer school
session in August at the camp.
In 1935, Camp managers Mr. and Mrs. M. S. Hewitt held the
first Wild Flower Show of the Silver Lake region. Nearby meadows
furnished the more than 100 specimens, which were classified and
exhibited in the Elmer Reynolds Memorial Museum. The show has been
held annually since.
Harry Snook, who is a science teacher at Stockton High School,
and his wife, Betty, began classifying plant life of the Silver
Lake region when the camp first opened. Within the first two years
they had classified more than 200 flowers and plants and mounted
them in herbariums. Anthony Caminetti, commissioner of immigration
under President Woodrow Wilson and an early homesteader at Silver
Lake, told the original camp committee that he had classified more
than 300 hundred plants in this region while working on his
homestead in the early days.
In 1937, the Junior Red Cross raised $100 on a matching basis
with the city to build a craft cabin for carrying on the craft
programs. A lot of native materials are used in this program, which
has always been popular with campers. The cabin was completed in
The following year, a new and larger supply of water was
brouht in from Black Rocks Spring, one half mile up the hill from
the back of the camp. The new source gave the camp a 7,000 gallon
storage of water at the top of the hill and is gravity fed to the
In 1943 and 1944, Silver Lake was closed due to the lack of
gasoline for private cars. In 1945, the camp was reopened by the
Junior Red Cross.
When the Silver Lake Municipal Camp reopened, in 1946, Mr. and
Mrs. Robert Breeden served as camp managers and a 12 by 14-foot
cabin was built and dedicated to the Swensons.
“Bill” Dorcey, president of the Silver Lake Campers and a
former employee, engineered the building and he and his helpers
completed work on it on weekends.
In 1947, the two—room manager’s cabin was completed. The
building, which is situated near the parking lot, now provides an
office and quarters where incoming campers can conveniently check
in. Also during this year, the oil burners were changed over to
burn butane gas, which made a big improvement in cooking facilities
and hot coffee was available in the lodge.
????For 20 years, Stockton’s Silver Lake Municipal Camp has
made a major contribution to youth camps. Beginning in 1929, the
members of the San Joaquin County 4-H Club regularly opened the
camp. That ended in 1942, when the camp was closed for the duration
of the war.
The city staff was available to fed the 125 members of the
group but, because they were very self—sufficient, did little else
during their three—day stay. Farm Advisor Wesley Fleming and his
family, also attended camp with the young people and their
Father Woods took members of the St. Aloysius Club to Silver
Lake for a 10-day vacation during the summers of 1937, 1938 and
1939. The group consisted of 20 to 30 Catholic boys who were given
a section of tents in the regular family camp and taken in as a
part of the group. The boys ranged in age from 14 to 16 and enjoyed
climbing Thunder Mountain and Needles Eye on Thimble Peak, 9,000
feet high; taking pack trips to the surrounding lakes and playing
softball and the evening camp fires.
“Ten years later, they still speak of those wonderful days at
Siler Lake with Father Woods,” Swenson said. “Father Woods was
moved to a new parishhhh in 1940 and, as is so often the case, the
project lapsed due to the lack of enthusiastic leadership.”
The Junior Red Cross Pioneer Camp, San Joaquin County
Chapter’s camp for boys and girls, was founded in 1935 at the
Municipal Camp at Silver Lake by a group of women from Red Cross,
public school teachers and nurses who believed in boys and girls
camping together and who were willing to try the experiment.
“This pioneer co-educational camp was probably the first
Junior Red Cross Camp in America and undoubtedly one of few camps
in this country where boys and girls of this age, nine to 15 years,
were enjoying a camping experience togehter.
“Like the “forty-niners,” the pioneer camp has blazed a trail
in Junior Red Cross service,” Swenson wrote. “The Pioneer Junior
Red Cross campers now hike over the ground made famous by the
“forty—niners” in the Silver Lake region. Some of this historical
background is being woven into the activities of camping, a century
Swenson said the Junior Red Cross camp was, not only in
institution as a coeducational camping experience, but it also was
an experiment in education because many of its directors were
either public school teachers, mothers who had teaching experience
or students at Stockton College or the College of the Pacific, who
planned to enter the teaching profession.
“The relationship of the Pioneer Junior Red Cross Camp and the
public schools of San Joaquin County is unique in that the Junior
Red Cross program of service has been organized in all of its
schools,” Swenson said. He went on to say that principals and
teachers selected those children who would go to camp from the
worthy and needy but none of the children knew who received a
sponsored campership and who did not.
From 1935 to 1950, more than 200 children and their counselors
had. experienced camping at Silver Lake. Boys and groups were
separated and children were divided into Indians — 9 and 10 year
olds; and Pioneers — 11 and 12 year olds. Girls, 13 to 15 years
old, were known as Homesteaders and boys of that age group as
Rangers. An older group, known as Trailblazers, were selected from
the county’s high schools for leadership training and served as
The groups members went to camp during slack seasons, either
before the camp opened or just before its closing.
“In the large urban centers masses of childrennnn are idle
during summer vacation. To meet this situation many parents and
teachers are thinking of a school program that will be in operation
12 months in the year,” Swenson said. “Undoubtedly, camping will
be a part of such a movement. The Junior Red Cross Camp is doing
pioneer work right now under most favorable surroundings,
demonstrating the value of camping as a part of general education.”
In 1950, Swenson wrote: “The men and women who have carreid
on the Pioneer Junior Red Cross Co—educational Youth Camp for a
period of 15 years feel that they are making a significant
contribution to education and that some day this summer training
may be adopted by the public schools and be made universal for all
Among the many attractions that surround the Silver Lake Camp
are numerous smaller lakes, many of which are within hiking
distance. These attractions include Bebee, Blue, Caples, Emigrant,
Fourth of July, Frog, Granite, Hidden, Kirkwood, Mud, Pardoe, Red,
Shealor, Snow, Winnemucca and Woods lakes.
Enlarged pictures of these lakes were framed and displayed in
the Reynolds Memorial Museum, paid for by the famous “Swenson
Swenson said a Sunday collection was taken during the event,
which took place the last weekend of July each year, in conjunction
with the wild flower show.
As Swenson explained, “the event had its origin about 15 years
ago when the writer with a party hiked in 11 miles over the snow
to open camp. The keys to the lodge had been left in Stockton and,
rather than break the doors, the writer offered to take out a pane
of glass and go through the opening, 12 by 14 inches. The feat
seems impossible, but the writer offers to demonstrate when asked
to repeat it for a collection for a worthy cause.
“This act has been performed each year since its origin (about
1935). Of course, there is a proper build-up of the story and a
colorful demonstration. The event has always been good for a laugh
and a good collection so that more Silver Lake pictures could be
framed and preserved.”
Swenson closed his section on the camp with this note:
“This is the story of the Stockotn Silver Lake Camp. It is a
story of pioneeering recreation in the fields of camping and using
the nearby mountain areas with their clear water lakes and virgin
timber, taking families and their children away from the man—made
city back to nature in the great out—of—doors. Living is made as
simple as the twentieth century progress of civilization will
allow. Campers receive a lesson in the importance of conserving the
natural resources of the nation if they are to survive the rugged
onslaught of man. Stockton is fortunate in having Silver Lake Camp
available as a vacation spot for the citizens of this community.”
Maurice Plasse, whose father built his cabin on a homestead at
Silver Lake in 1862, gave the city valuable advice about the area,
Swenson recalled. The Pleasse cabin was still standing and served
as the Silver Lake Post Office, when Swenson wrote his thesis????.