Summer camps in Philly: Diversity, frog catching, the maybe-most-expensive camp in the U.S.

Camp – Red Cross marshmallow 1941

One camp in the Philadelphia area costs families $25 per session. It caters to lower income children, giving them the opportunity to enjoy activities they’d normally never experience. Another camp, in the Poconos, costs more than $12,000, and includes web design and rocketry — it’s maybe the most expensive in the country.

Whether camps are a playground for the rich or a place for lower income children to learn, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have (or at least had) all of them. At the peak of summer camp season, here’s a look at summer camps in Philadelphia and beyond from the past and present.

The historical camps

Camp Linden

In 1903, Dr. S. Burns Weston oversaw an organization called the Philadelphia Ethical Society, as well as the Southwark Neighborhood House. Under his watch, the organizations began operating several summer camps in the Southwark area, what is now South Philly. The camp moved to a more rural location in 1915 in the Perkiomen Valley and then in 1926 to Brandywine Creek in West Chester. It stayed in operation until the 1980s, serving children from the South Philly area, but funding problems closed it for a few years. Since the late ’90s, the Ethical Society has returned to running it, and it now allows for North Philly and Camden kids to attend as a day camp.

The camp features nature walks and swimming and lessons in farming, gardening and Native American history. About 50 campers take part each week.

UPenn Christian Association Camp

Two Penn students who were members of the university’s Christian Association started informally teaching Sabbath school to underprivileged kids in the neighborhoods near the Schuylkill River. By 1905, about 75 volunteers, largely Penn students, had started teaching young people and even their parents, hosting cooking classes, basketball and sewing lessons, religious classes and more. The organization started holding a summer camp by Swamp Creek in Montgomery County that was an extension of their work. They called it University Camp for Boys at Green Lane and in 1925 started hosting a girls camp. One of the Christian Association’s main goals was introducing the children to diversity: The camp had to maintain a near 50-50 white/non-white ratio.

Camp Rainbow

Rainbow was started near Perkiomen Creek in MontCo in 1951 and remains 64 years later with the mission of putting on camp for kids who otherwise wouldn’t get to go. Despite struggles with funding after cuts from Montgomery County, It is put on with the help of donors and minimal fees of $25 to $100 per family. The camp features traditional activities but also has counselors teach children responsibility and leadership.   

Camp – rainbow archery

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University, 1974.

Camp Sunshine

This camp was located next to the Delaware County prison in Thornbury Township. It served underprivileged children who attended for free.

Camp – sunshine flag ceremony

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple Libraries, 1942.

Camp – sunshine swimmers

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple Libraries, 1955.

Camp Upland

From the 40s to the 60s, the Salvation Army hosted summer camps here, also for underprivileged children. The area is now called Upland Park and is owned by Delaware County.

Camp — Upland mattress

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple Libraries, 1970.

Camp Yomechas

The Montgomery County Opportunity Board and Montgomery County YWCA would put on this camp for children that included activities like swimming, hiking and arts and crafts. 

Camp — Yomechas flowers

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple Libraries, 1972.

Camp — Yomechas Flag

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple Libraries, 1972.

The rich camps

Tyler Hill Camp

This camp in the Poconos might be the most expensive traditional summer camp in the country. Enrollment for the month-and-a-half summer session this year cost $12,450. It features just about every activity known to mankind, though, including those you wouldn’t normally associate with summer camp: web design, rocketry, frog catching, canoeing, dance and on and on and on.

Lake Bryn Mawr Camp

Also in the Poconos and also expensive. The full summer session for this girls-only camp costs $11,250. Activities are more athletic-minded than Tyler Hill Camp and feature “high-levels” of instruction in tennis, soccer, horse riding, waterskiing and more.

Camp Saginaw

Compared to Lake Bryn Mawr and Tyler Hill, Camp Saginaw — located in Chester County — is almost a steal. Its full summer session costs $9,100. The activities are also far-ranging, from sewing and scrapbooking to tennis and soccer to dirt bikes and laser tag.   

Camp Saginaw has also for 18 years hosted a weeklong camp in late August for children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS called Camp Dreamcatcher.

Weight loss camp

Camp Pocono Trails

Pretty much has the all the activities associated with the traditional summer camps, like soccer, jet skiing, canoeing, horseback riding and more. Then there’s the food aspect. The kids are served three meals and two snacks a day that total up to between 1,650 and 1,750 calories. The food choices aren’t just rice cakes, either. The sample menu features items like pita pizza, chicken wraps and egg white omelets.

Getting in shape isn’t cheap, either. The full summer costs $9,590.

Featured image from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Libraries.

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