Welcome to Sturtevant’s Camp
This history sign is posted for hikers by the front door of Sturtevant Lodge
Congratulations on your hike into Sturtevant’s Camp, a place rich in history and unique in the country. Over a century ago, this was one of several mountain resorts, complete with ‘honeymoon cottages,’ tennis courts where ladies played in long dresses, men wearing white shirts and string ties to dinner, and everyone danced to the fiddle underneath the stars. From the late 1890’s until the Great Depression, thousands upon thousands of people rode the electric trolley cars out of Los Angeles to the end of the line in Sierra Madre, and then hiked the trails or rented horses and burros, coming to stay at Camp— or to go further into the real wilderness of the San Gabriels to hunt bears and mountain lions. Here you could send and receive mail (picked up and delivered by the pack train of mules,) buy supplies for adventuring, or simply stare up into the big trees, just as we do today.
That was a hundred years ago: since then, fires and flood have wiped away Hoegee’s Camp, Fern Lodge and Robert’s Camp, to name just a few. Now, only Sturtevant survives, complete with original buildings. To your immediate left is the original “Swiss Dining Room,” built in 1897, since closed in for year-round use. Farther to your left at the Camp’s entrance is the Ranger cabin of 1903 (the year the Wright Brothers first flew.) It is the oldest government cabin still on its original site. Continuing to the left, the volleyball and badminton courts were once used for tennis and croquet. The next two buildings (uphill and to the right of the big swing) were built after the 1940’s when the United Methodist Church purchased the camp. Farther up the hill are more cabins including a bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets. But its the small cabin down on the flat, looking up-canyon, that is one of the original ‘honeymoon cottages,’ so-called because they were built just big enough to hold a double bed. All of this is available for rent: pick up a business card below.
Who was Wilbur Sturtevant, and how did this camp start? Wilbur was from Ohio and fought in the Civil War. After the war, he left his family and went prospecting in Colorado, but didn’t find much gold. Instead, he developed quite a business as a mule packer. Always restless, in the 1880s he came to California with a string of 40 pack animals, and settled in Sierra Madre. About this time, a small camp was built on the top of Mt. Wilson for the workers installing the first telescope (much later this developed into the world-renowned Observatory.) The trailmen who supplied gear to the project had their own rough campsites along the way, and soon they hosted friends and others who wanted to hike, hunt and fish in the mountains.
Wilbur saw this golden opportunity and helped pioneer the trail resort business: always the explorer, on one of his sojourns he recognized this relatively level, well-shaded and watered piece of ground. In 1893, he put up some tent cabins and welcomed his first guests. It was such a success, he built the Swiss Dining Room in 1897: then it was an open pavilion with the kitchen underneath (during prohibition, it included a still, and later, slot machines!) Business was good, but the camp was the farthest up the canyon and people still had to hike to the top of Mt. Wilson and then down the Sturtevant Trail to reach camp. Wilbur decided to build a new, more direct trail, starting with the remains of an old abandoned logging road near present-day Chantry Flats. He built the trail up one side canyon, and stopped when winter set in: that became Winter Creek, and his work camp later become Hoegee’s Resort (now Hoegee’s campground.) From there he built straight up over Mt. Zion, following a bear according to his story, and then down into Camp. The new trail brought even more people, dancing and merriment to the mountains.
Today, the mountains are quiet, with the Angeles Crest Highway taking people by car into what was once remote wilderness. But here at Sturtevant, you still have to hike in, just like a hundred years ago: the big trees are all the more majestic, and even the bears are still around (just a few, but be careful!). The Camp is owned and operated by the United Methodist Church, and is available to rent by individuals and smaller groups. If you would like to speak with the Camp Manager, ring the old trolley bell hanging between the two trees a few yards behind you. You are welcome to rest here, drink the safe water from the fountain behind you, and if you wish, make a reservation to hike back into time, and stay at Sturtevant’s Camp.
For the United Methodist Church and all who love the mountains,
The Friends of Sturtevant’s Camp