The History of Summer Camps

1861 First Summer Camp

The American Camp Association, the national accrediting organization for summer camps in the United States and American camp professionals is celebrating its 100 year anniversary. It was back in 1910 that it was founded under the original name of the “Camp Directors Association of America.”

As part of their celebration, the ACA has published a nice collection of historical photos, documents and interviews. It traces the history of organized camping to a particular event in 1861. Here’s how the timeline starts:

The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful, the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

It’s nice to see summer camps so well represented, and interesting to think that Rockbrook’s founding in 1921 came so soon after the ACA. By the way, if you want to learn more about the history of summer camps, there are some great resources out there.

Be sure to read more about the history of summer camp at Rockbrook.


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  1. Avatar for Donna
    12 years ago

    My parents owned and ran Camp Junaluska for Girls founded by Ethel J McCoy 1913-1970. Can you please give me any more info on its history?

  2. Avatar for Alixandra B. Kolbe
    Alixandra B. Kolbe
    6 years ago

    Hello: I am looking for any and all information about a rather small summer overnight camp (co-ed —for teenagers) that existed in Putney, Vermont. It was there at least in the summer of 1960. I’m not sure whether or not it was open for more than that one summer. It was DEFINITELY there in 1960 and it is not to be confused in any way, shape or form with the camp that The Putney (boarding) School runs during the summer.

    The camp for which I am looking only had about 30 campers. Its Director (or Owner?) was a man who was, I believe, a teacher at one of the prestigious private schools in NYC (in Riverdale possibly). He was present on the day that the parents brought the campers to camp, but, within a day or two, he went off to somewhere (maybe Europe) for the entire rest of the summer and left someone else in charge of the camp. I know! I was one of the campers!

    Thank you,

    Alixandra Kolbe (not my name that summer, as I was in high school then and still used my maiden name).