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Archaeologists examining 1930s-era summer camp at Sugarloaf state park

  • Breck Parkman, the Senior State Archaeologist with the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation, stands at the site of an old cookhouse at Camp Butler, which was run by the Sonoma State Home during the 1930s at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Photo taken in Kenwood, California on Wednesday, November 30, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

A brick fireplace and concrete slab are the most visible remains of what 70 years ago was a bustling summer camp in rugged terrain that now is Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

The camp, which sits on the shoulder of Sugarloaf Ridge just east of Santa Rosa, was for the members of Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls at the Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge.

Camp Butler, as it was called, was open from about 1931 to 1941. It closed for World War II and never reopened.

Almost everything else about the camp, who was there and what they did, has been lost to time.

"It was Depression-era and over the years we have realized how important the 1930s have been to America: what our grandfathers and what our fathers went through. What we went through as a society in the '30s can give us hope," said Breck Parkman, senior archaeologist for state parks.

"Camp Butler is part of that story, it is how we coped at that time," Parkman said. "The kids probably didn't have much, but had laughter and song. It is what was happening here."

Parkman said park officials are just now getting around to documenting the camp site.

Sugarloaf is a sprawling state park, encompassing Adobe Canyon and the headwaters of Sonoma Creek, surrounded by Sugarloaf Ridge, Red Mountain, Bald Mountain and Hood Mountain.

It's occupation goes back at least 4,000 years, when the Wappo had seasonal encampments along Sonoma Creek, and the uses have included homesteading, ranching, an 1860s vineyard that has left faint lines on a hillside and lingering tales of a hippie commune and nudist camp.

Sonoma State Hospital, which is now the Sonoma Developmental Center, acquired the property along Adobe Canyon in 1920 to build a dam to create a reservoir, but were stopped by neighboring residents. In 1964, it became a state park.


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