Stanford Sierra has taken many forms throughout its long history, culminating in the family camp and conference center that are thriving today. This place has been shaped by ice, conservationists, John Steinbeck, Stanford University and families and businesses from across the nation.
The land itself was carved during the most recent ice age when a large glacier slowly moved through the Glen Alpine Valley creating Fallen Leaf Lake, depositing the moraines that you can see along the Angora and Cathedral Ridgelines.
The Washoe Tribe originally called this valley home, surviving off the abundance found in the fertile Glen Alpine Valley and Lake Tahoe Area, including the native Lahontan cutthroat trout. The Washoe People were eventually driven from the land during the California Gold Rush in the infamous Potato War and the valley began to be settled by ranchers and farmers.
1896 was the year William Wrightman Price arrived at Fallen Leaf Lake. A Stanford graduate from the University’s second class, Price was a Stanford engineering professor and a long-time nature enthusiast. He built a boys’ camp upstream from Fallen Leaf Lake, near Glen Alpine Springs. The boys learned to fish, hunt, and live in the outdoors. They climbed the mountains, measured the trails with bicycle wheels, and installed plaques at the top of peaks so hikers could record their visits.
When Price married and brought his wife to the camp, mothers of the boys and other relatives decided it was permissible for “outsiders” to visit. More and more guests came each summer. At nearby Glen Alpine Springs Resort, the proprietors were a bit unhappy that people were staying at the camp instead of their hotel. The story goes that one day there were 75 visitors at the camp and the Resort owners informed Price that they would no longer carry milk and mail for a competitor.
Being a good neighbor, Price moved his business to the south end of Fallen Leaf Lake. He built several tent cabins and a kitchen in 1905, and was just starting on more permanent buildings when a neighbor challenged his territorial boundaries. Price and the neighbor took the dispute to the County Clerk in Placerville and found the Clerk had originally made a mistake; Price moved his controversial camp over a bit.
By 1907, the Prices were building summer cabins for more than just the families of boys at Camp Agassiz. Many of the staff cabins along “Rustic Row ” and on the Point were built, as was Cherry Cottage–the current director’s residence and the oldest cabin on Fallen Leaf Lake. The group of cabins became a favorite summer spot for friends of the Price’s–many of whom were Stanford professors.
The journey from the Bay Area to Fallen Leaf Lake was quite an adventure back then. These days we hear how Highway 50 is harrowing, being only two lanes, and that Fallen Leaf Lake Road is not wide enough for two cars. In the late teens and early twenties, it was very difficult to travel from San Francisco to Fallen Leaf Lake. The trip went like this:
Vacationers took the train from San Francisco to Truckee, then transferred at 4:00 a.m. to a narrow gauge train bound for Tahoe City. From Tahoe City, the steamer Tahoe ferried guests across Lake Tahoe to Lucky Baldwin’s Hotel Tallac (where Kiva Beach is today). Horse-drawn stages met and drove guests to the north end of Fallen Leaf where a barge waited. People and luggage were then loaded on board and taken to the other end of the lake. It often took two or three trips on the stage and barge to get a family in. People stayed for at least two weeks, often as long as six, because it took so long to arrive. Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, traveled to Fallen Leaf by this route.
After Highway 50 was completed and cars became more common, the trip was considerably shortened. An overnight boat from San Francisco brought visitors to Sacramento, and from there the Pierce Arrow stage drove over the mountains with a stop in Placerville for lunch. Guests arrived at Fallen Leaf Lodge just in time for dinner.
More and more Stanford families came to Fallen Leaf Lake each summer. In 1911, ten Stanford professors negotiated with the Forest Service to lease the land above Fallen Leaf Lodge. Each family built a cabin in this area now known as Stanford Hill. Many families there now have been affiliated with SSC for many years.
In 1932, the Old Lodge was built and the East side of the lake began to be settled by more Stanford families. In 1951, a Stanford Alumni Association committee, headed by Mary Curry Tressider of Yosemite National Park, began looking at sites for a Stanford alumni camp. Mrs. Harriet Craven (’23), daughter of Bill and Bertha Price, was operating the Lodge at that time. Mrs. Craven set aside a portion of her summer bookings as “camp” time for Stanford alumni beginning in the summer of 1953. Stanford Summer Camp at Fallen Leaf Lodge quickly became popular–with about 1300 alumni attending each year.
After operating under this arrangement for six years, the camp became a permanent asset of the Stanford family in 1959 when the Stanford Camp Association was organized with the cooperation of the Stanford Alumni Association. In 1960, a week for an adult cost $55, and in 1962 the fee was raised to $65. On February 6, 1966, the Stanford Alumni Association acquired the assets and liabilities of the Stanford Camp Association.
In the summer of 1966, a sign stating that “Baby Beach is for the use of Stanford Sierra Camp guests only” caused an uproar among Lake residents who had been enjoying the beach for years. On Tuesday and Wednesday, July 12 and 13, the stir made the San Francisco Examiner.
In 1967, Frank Hildreth was hired as Camp Associate Director. Baby Beach was enlarged and the restrooms were built. Hildreth worked out a Camp Membership agreement with residents so they could use the beach and enjoy the facilities they had known for years. A faculty speaker program was instituted in the mid-1960s; Provost Dick Lyman was among the first invited orators.
Federal and State laws were enacted in 1968, requiring all sewage in the Lake Tahoe Basin (including Fallen Leaf Lake) to be exported from the Basin. Spurred by the sewer export requirement, the Stanford Alumni Association Executive Board recognized the need to modernize Camp’s facilities. The high cost of the pending Fallen Leaf Lake sewer system could not be justified without renovating the sixty-year-old Camp facilities. Thus, a grand plan for redeveloping and modernizing the Camp was conceived, and construction of new cabins began in the fall of 1969.
The response to Camp’s building program was gratifying. Widely acclaimed by Camp guests, alumni, governmental agencies and conservationists, we are proud of the “naturalness” that has been achieved with the facilities. Camp is now more popular than ever, serving over 3,000 Stanford alumni, faculty, staff, and their families and friends each summer, in addition to accommodating many professional, educational, and recreational groups during the fall and spring.