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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)

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

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.

The camp was built in 1931 and named after Dr. Frederick Butler, who was superintendent of the center from 1917 to 1948.

Alfred West was the Boy Scout troop leader, leaving to enlist in the Army in World War II, and Gladys Hughes the Camp Fire Girls leader.

What is not apparent is whether the campers were wards of the state center, children of the staff or both, Parkman said.

An idea of what the camp looked like is still visible today, situated alongside a historic dirt road that is now Hillside Trail.

The most visible remnants are a brick fireplace, a stove foundation and concrete floor that were part of a cookhouse, which measured about 18 feet by 28 feet.

It is situated on a point overlooking the canyon, where there is now a picnic table, bench and water spigot.

The foundation of another building is nearby, while 100 feet away is a level area, surrounded by oaks, that was likely a third building.

The campers themselves would have stayed in tents.

There is a level area that was a parade ground, with a hole in a cement block that would have held the flag pole.

There is also a spring-fed, man-made pond that was lined with shale for a swimming pool, complete with a diving board. It has since been surrounded by blackberry bushes and is filled with rushes.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

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